Feeling the squeeze

Victoria Pennington

The op risk jungle drums have been beating with news that there has been a high volume of top operational risk managers moving companies or leaving, some voluntary, some forced, both in the UK and the US. Not wanting to name names (and, given this is such a small community, you probably already know), but a couple of the brightest op risk managers in London have been lured away by HSBC as it ramps up its op risk programme and looks to go AMA. Unfortunately, others have been victims of circumstance, be it through complicated, enforced mergers between troubled financial institutions, or downsizing risk departments. Even with the emphasis being placed on the robust and holistic risk management by politicians and regulators, risk managers are still being targeted for the chop, despite some claims that risk departments are being ring-fenced from job losses. In the asset management and hedge funds sector it is even worse, with the axe falling sharply on the op risk management department. As the regulatory wheels continue turning to ensure hedge funds conduct more due diligence and operational risk management, adopting such a strategy is a risky move.

As banks seek to take a holistic approach to risk management and the consultants continue to beat the drum for increased convergence between risk types and compliance functions, there is a risk this will be used as an opportunity for cash-strapped banks to reduce the size of risk and compliance departments. But experienced risk managers, particularly op risk managers with skills in qualitative analysis techniques, are still in demand and according to recruitment consultants this is set to continue (see page 13). That said, most firms remain conservative about the prospects for external hiring for the remainder of 2009 at least and probably until the new regulatory and market environment becomes clearer.

On the plus side, some op risk managers are reporting that their voices are being heard at a higher level of management, with many having more a direct line to the C-suite. But whether this lasts once financial institutions escape from the yoke of national ownership and control is the million-dollar question.

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