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你的董事会做好扑灭下一场火的准备了吗?

Faye Wattleton 2011年11月25日

大多数董事不怎么关注风险。企业可不该冒这个险

    灾难性地震袭击日本,严重损害供应链,这种事发生的几率有多大?火山灰云让北欧大部分地区变成禁飞区,扰乱航空交通,破坏经济活动,这其中的可能性有多少?某个大型金融机构在21世纪第一个十年里破产,把全球的金融体系都推向崩溃的边缘,这又有多大的可能性?

    目前为止,人们还认为这类事情太遥远了,因此并未引起企业董事的高度重视。就算有,也只有极少董事会把这类风险的超前评估纳入自己的基本职责。但是,一系列类似事件发生之后,很明显,管理职能的定义已经扩大,风险意识已成为董事会的本分。董事们不能继续被动地参与,风险评估的流程必须由董事会首先带动起来。

    在银行业,监管层正在推动这种转变。英国的银行监管机构最近出台了一项新的“反向压力测试”,要求银行识别潜在的灾难性事件,比如禽流感、粮食供应中断或政变等,同时制定抵御危机的方案。虽然反对者抨击此举是政府的铁腕政策,但拥护者以最近在危机中准备不足的银行为例,强调银行业需要更系统的思维和审慎的规划。

    在美国,《多得-弗兰克法案》(Dodd-Frank legislation)赋予股东更多权力,让其成为企业所有者,从根本上转变了股东与上市公司董事会的关系,并迫使董事更加透明。在社交媒体的新世界里,董事会的行为会像病毒般迅速传播。由此带来的透明度的提高能否带来更好的风险管理呢?

    最近的调查得出的结论并不一致。一项调查显示,68%的董事自认为有能力监管风险管理计划,减轻企业面临的风险。但是,另一份报告指出,近三分之二的受访董事表示,他们不监管风险管理流程,或者只进行临时监管。

    一般的董事会将风险定义为战略、经营、财务层面的问题,以及是否合规。而风险的定义需要扩大到包括无形资产,如企业声誉;或不可预知的弱点,如企业业务上面临的问题。尽管董事会无法预知每一个事件,但是仅仅按照在过去事件基础上制定的既定路线,或者认为照章行事就是完成工作,显然是不够的。

    在风险评估的问题上,没有一个放之四海而皆准的解决办法。诚然,这个过程可能很耗时,令人沮丧,因为风险评估既需要直觉又需要数据分析。一些董事会选择将这一问题交给某个风险委员会来处理。但是要想获得有效的风险管理,整个董事会都需要全程掌握主动权。

    本文作者法耶•沃托顿系奥迈咨询公司(Alvarez &Marsal)的常务董事兼某企业董事。

    What are the chances that a catastrophic earthquake could strike Japan and severely cripple supply chains? Or that a volcanic-ash cloud could turn much of Northern Europe into a no-fly zone, disrupting air travel and impairing economic activity? Or that a major financial institution could fail in the first decade of the 21st century, pushing the entire global financial system to the brink?

    Until recently, such scenarios would have been considered too far-fetched to warrant much attention from corporate directors. And few, if any, directors would have considered the proactive assessment of such risks to be among their fundamental responsibilities. In the wake of these and other events, however, it has become clear that the definition of governance has broadened and that awareness of risk has become a fiduciary obligation. Directors can no longer be passive participants; the process must start with and be spurred on by the board.

    In the banking sector, regulation is driving this shift. Britain's bank regulators recently rolled out a new "reverse stress test" that requires banks to identify potentially catastrophic events and develop plans to withstand crises such as flu pandemics, disrupted food supplies, or political coups. Though opponents slam the exercise as the heavy hand of government, advocates stress the need for more systemic thinking and prudent planning -- pointing to how ill-prepared banks were for the recent crisis.

    In the U.S. the Dodd-Frank legislation has given shareholders more power to act as corporate owners, fundamentally shifting their relationship with boards of publicly traded companies and forcing directors to be more transparent. In the new world of social media, board actions instantly go viral. Will this increased transparency lead to better risk management?

    Recent surveys offer diverging insights. One indicated that 68% of directors feel confident in their ability to monitor a risk-management plan that would mitigate corporate exposure. However, another report revealed that nearly two-thirds of surveyed directors indicated they either did not monitor the risk-management process or did so only ad hoc.

    Typically boards have defined risks as strategic, operational, financial, and compliance. That universe needs to be widened to include intangible assets, such as a company's reputation, or unpredictable vulnerabilities, such as issues facing enterprises with which the company does business. While boards cannot predict every event, it is no longer sufficient to follow a prescribed road map based on past events or assume the job has been done by checking the boxes.

    When it comes to risk assessment, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Admittedly, the process can be time-consuming and frustrating, for it is as much an instinct as it is data-driven. Some boards opt to hand it over to a risk committee. But for risk management to be effective, the entire board needs to own the process.

    --Faye Wattleton is a managing director at Alvarez & Marsal and a corporate board director.

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