Four Steps to Robust Risk Assessment

Any product, service, or process may expose CUs to internal and external risks.

December 9, 2011

Risk can never be entirely eliminated. But using risk assessments as part of an enterprise-wide risk management strategy will help credit unions continue to provide meaningful products and services to members while including necessary safeguards.

That’s the word from Ann Davidson, senior risk management consultant for CUNA Mutual Group. She says credit union leaders, including directors, have a responsibility to ensure their credit unions implement a formal risk assessment process to identify, measure, and control risks that threaten their institution’s net worth and earnings.

Davidson says any product, service, or process may expose a credit union to both internal and external risks.

Internal risks include employee theft and employment practices liability resulting from discrimination, harassment or a hostile working environment.

External risks range from physical threats (i.e., robbery and natural disasters) to automated clearinghouse fraud, data breaches, and identity theft.

Risk assessments should answer:

  • What can go wrong?
  • How can it go wrong?
  • What’s the potential impact?
  • What preventative measures can be taken?
  • How can risks be stopped from happening again or at all?

Subscribe to Credit Union Magazine“It’s the board’s responsibility to determine their credit union’s risk tolerance and formally establish it through approved policies,” Davidson says.

A robust risk assessment process forms the foundation for an enterprise risk management process—and increasingly important practice due to increased regulatory requirements.

The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, for example, issued new online authentication guidance in June that stresses and reinforces the importance of performing periodic risk assessments. Examiners will start reviewing credit union controls under the updated guidance in January 2012.

Risk assessments aren’t “one and done” activities, nor is there a “one size fits all” approach to completing them, Davidson says. Rather, assessments involve a continuous process comprised of four distinct activities:

1. Identify. This step establishes potential sources of loss associated with particular products, services, or processes. It’s the most important step in the risk assessment process and should include existing and potential risks.

Identification resources include checklists, physical inspections, compliance reviews, loss history reviews, educational alerts, and media reports.

2. Analyze. This involves measuring the potential impact various risks can have on a credit union. For service offerings, it means balancing the need for member service with risk exposure and considering the frequency and severity of potential losses.

3. Control. Techniques to control risk include avoidance, reduction, transfer (insurance), or a combination thereof.

4. Monitor. Credit unions should continuously monitor risks because they change, particularly with evolving technology. Risk assessments should be updated when necessary.

The ultimate goal: Reduce risk to a tolerable level.