Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

Day of Atonement: Al-Chet for Risk Managers

YomKippurTNToday is Yom Kippur. It is the Day of Atonement. The Jewish faith marks this day each year as a day to reflect on our sins and shortcomings we have committed during the past year. It is a day of personal assessment. Calling all to examine how we have failed to live a life in conformance to our highest aspirations and ideals. It is customary to recite an Al-Chet confession prayer. The Al-Chet is a confession of a persons past year sinful behavior. It is hoped that this admission of sin leads to reconciliation with the aggrieved and an awareness that helps to establish a pattern of improved behavior in the future.

It is good that we commemorate such a day and use it to a constructive purpose. After all, how many among us are without sin? How many of us have achieved a level of perfection that obviates the need to reflect on how we can improve and make amends to those we may have hurt? To be sure, even the best among us have fallen short of the glory of God. The divine Higher Power that keeps mere mortals rightsized and humble when our egos and perception of ourselves grows too large and burdensome. The need to keep a strong self will from running riot is critical. It is particularly dangerous when a person or corporation is unaware and ambivalent to the collateral damage its actions spawn through the naked pursuit of self interest and ambition. In a sense, God is the ultimate celestial Chief Risk Officer that keeps wanton will in check.

The Day of Atonement is an important day because it is a day of transformation. It calls for self examination and transformation. Once we have learned the nature and extent of how our actions and inaction have negatively impacted ourselves and others, we are called to make amends to set things right. It is a day that requires considered action to improve ourselves so we can become a positive force for change in the world.

Considering the year that just transpired in the financial services industry, I wonder what an Al-Chet confession for risk managers would include. We need a strong dose of atonement so we don’t repeat the egregious mistakes we committed last year.

An Al-Chet for Risk Managers:

I was not strong enough to stand up to my boss

I put selfish gain ahead of ethical considerations

I falsified or hid data to conceal results

I failed to be objective

My risk model was too subjective

I ignored warning signs

I was in over my head

I did not understand all the risk factors

I failed to get an outside opinion

I was beholden to monetary gain

I was victim to group think

I placed institutional interest ahead of ethical considerations

I failed to admit I was wrong

I was not honest with regulators

I was not honest with shareholders

I looked the other way

I failed to act

I conveniently overlooked infractions / irregularities

I made exemptions

I did not understand the depth of the problem

I know there are many more.

Please help me to uncover, understand make right and overcome.

Shalom

You Tube Music Video: Aretha Franklin, I Say a Little Prayer

Risk: compliance, reputation, catastrophic risk, moral hazards

September 28, 2009 Posted by | banking, compliance, credit crisis, culture, operations, psychology, regulatory, religion, reputation, reputational risk, risk management, sound practices | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IRS Audit Risk Survey for Hedge Funds (Interim Update 3)

irs-and-capitol21The IRS has developed a methodology to determine an audit risk profile for hedge funds, private equity firms, CTAs, RIAs and corporations using offshore structures. Sum2 has commissioned a survey to determine financial services industry awareness and readiness for IRS audit risk factors.

The survey seeks to determine industry awareness of IRS Industry Focus Issue (IFI) risk exposures for hedge funds, private equity firms, RIAs, CTAs and corporations using offshore structures. The survey is open to fund management executives, corporate treasury, tax managers and industry service providers.

CPAs, tax attorneys, compliance professions, administrators, custodians and prime brokers are also welcomed to participate in the study. The study’s purpose is to determine the level of industry preparedness and steps fund managers are taking to mitigate potential exposures to IFI audit risk.

Sum2 will share weekly interim results of the surveys findings. The survey will run for four weeks. This is the second weekly report.

Survey Highlights

  • 76% of survey respondents are from North America
  • 6% are from Great Brittan
  • 13% are from other EU countries
  • 5 % are from Asia
  • 85% of respondents indicate an unawareness of IFI
  • 11% of respondents indicate they plan to alert investors to IFI impact
  • 10% of respondents indicated that they initiated actions to address IFI
  • 8% of respondents indicated that they have received action alerts from industry service providers

    Take the Survey

    We invite you to participate in a survey to determine industry awareness of IRS Industry Focus Issue risk for hedge funds, private equity firms, RIAs, CTAs and offshore corporate structures.

    The survey can be accessed here: IRS Audit Risk Survey for Hedge Funds

    The survey is open to fund management executives and industry service providers to the industry. CPAs, tax attorneys, compliance professions, administrators, custodians, consultants and prime brokers are welcome to take the study. The study’s purpose is to determine the level of industry preparedness and steps fund managers are taking to mitigate potential exposures to IRS Industry Focus Issue risk.

    Sum2 is looking to use the survey to better respond to the critical needs of fund managers and the alternative investment management industry by improving our just released IRS Audit Risk Program (IARP).

    This survey asks ten questions. The questions concern your awareness of IFI and how it pertains to your fund or fund management practice.  The survey seeks to determine overall industry risk awareness, potential exposure to IFI risk factors and any mitigation initiatives you plan to address IFI risk factors.

    It should take no more then 5 minutes to complete the questionnaire. Your participation in this study is completely voluntary. There are no foreseeable risks associated with this project. However, if you feel uncomfortable answering any questions, you can withdraw from the survey at any point. It is very important for us to learn your opinions. Your survey responses will be strictly confidential and data from this research will be reported only in the aggregate. Your information will be coded and will remain confidential.

    If you have questions at any time about the survey or the procedures, you may contact Sum2 at 973.287.7535 or e-mail us at customer.service@sum2.com

    Thank you for your participation.

    March 29, 2009 Posted by | compliance, hedge funds, IRS, risk management, taxation | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    The Black Knight

    Sir Allen Stanford

    Sir Larceny-A-Lot

    Sir Allen Stanford turns out to be no knight in shining armor. He’s just another greedy creep who thought he was entitled to other peoples money.   Sir Allen might just be another garden variety Ponzi Schemer; but compared to Madoff this guy is a piker.   The theft of $8bn is petty larceny compared to Madoff’s massive $50bn swindle.

    It is becoming startling clear that we can no longer view these types of events as isolated incidents. Sir Allen may be this weeks poster child for capitalists gone wild; but the shock and awe of audacious financial crime is becoming a consistent lead story on the nightly news.  Public trust in the financial markets is at stake.  If people cannot trust their financial fiduciary the whole system goes down.

    The SEC’s reluctance to act on information concerning Madoff irregularities and the announcement that over 500 public firms are being reviewed for possible fraudulent business practices are raising a public outcry for more vigorous oversight and protection.  The swirling rumors of bank insolvencies, nationalizations and news of  their egregious failure to adhere to basic risk management precepts are turning the skeptical taxpayers  into vocal opponents of the TARP program and any future bank bailouts.

    The allegations that UBS marketed a tax evasion scheme to attract over 50,000 US clients to their private banking business with the promise that it would shield them from onerous tax liabilities may be the straw that breaks the camels back.   US taxpayers are struggling from the burdensome pain of high taxes they dutifully pay.   They are confused and frightened by the orgy of government spending and how the financial industry bailouts will effect them.  The credit crisis and the stunning losses people incurred in their retirement and investment portfolios is casting widening doubt about the trustworthiness of the banking system.  Citizens are urging their elected representatives that all financial service providers must come under a microscope of  scrutiny and oversight.  Consumers want assurances that all fiduciaries are sound.  Taxpayers are demanding that regulators insist that financial institutions provide a level of transparency to assure consumers that they are in compliance with all regulatory mandates, have a program of risk management controls and offer proof of an ethical corporate governance program.

    The US tax payer has made it clear that they can no longer shoulder an egregious tax burden that continues to finance insolvent financial institutions that failed miserably to manage risk or comply with the barest minimum standards of proper corporate governance.

    The allegations that surfaced suggesting that Sanford Financial may be linked to money laundering for Latin American drug cartels through The Bank of Antigua and related banking enterprises in Venezuela and Ecuador is sure to usher in a new era of aggressive enforcement initiatives by regulators.   The practice of  selling worthless CDs to retail investors that promised high rates of interest is the tip of the spear in a sophisticated money laundering scheme.  This will create some added urgency for regulators to conduct an in depth reviews of financial institutions AML compliance programs.  Examiners will aggressively pursue fund managers  to determine that Know Your Customer (KYC), Customer Identification Procedures (CIP) and Politically Exposed People  (PEP) programs are meeting acceptable standards to detect and deter money laundering.  Of  particular concern will be hedge fund complexes with incorporated off shore structures.  To be sure, examiners will liberally interpret and claim jurisdictional nexus on all offshore structures linked to US domiciled funds.  The US Treasury coffers are bare and it will look to collect taxes on any revenue sources it deems as taxable.

    Financial institutions need to demonstrate to counter parties,  regulators, SROs and most importantly investors; that they have a sound risk management program in place that protects the funds investors against all classes of operational risk.    Sum2 offers an AML audit program fund managers use to maintain compliance standards  that  demonstrate program excellence to regulators and investors.

    You can believe the examiners are sharpening their spears.  Looking to bag a kill and make an example of wayward managers with lax compliance controls.  Be ready, be vigilant and be prepared.

    You Tube Video: Moody Blues: Nights in White Satin

    Risk: money laundering, regulatory, operations, reputation

    February 23, 2009 Posted by | AML, hedge funds, Madoff, off shore, operations, regulatory, reputation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    What Are Sound Practices?

    What are Sound Practices?

    Sound practices are a set of standards and controls that mitigate numerous risk factors in the corporate enterprise. Sound practices must address corporate governance, operational and market risk factors, regulatory compliance, corporate citizenship, and stakeholder communications within a set of defined expense ratios.

    Corporate Governance

    James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank stated, “Corporate governance is about promoting corporate fairness, transparency and accountability.” Sound practices are a necessary prerequisite for effective and ethical corporate governance. Businesses must accept its precepts and clients and investors must demand compliance, ethical trading principles, honest and timely disclosure, operational integrity and a full commitment to its implementation and adherence. Effective corporate governance practices maintains the faith of investors and provide clear measures of transparency, accountability and performance measurement of business managers and owners.

    Financial Health

    The implementation of a sound practices program is a powerful value creation tool. A sound practices program provides investors and creditors an enhanced level of confidence that operational risk factors are minimized and other classes of risk are being monitored and controlled. Corporate and transactional transparency and shareholder disclosure is assured. Investor confidence and a more thorough understanding of a corporations strategy and risk characteristics will be the result of a sound practices program.

    Investor Communications

    The sound practices program advocates the delivery of reports, analysis tools and management compliance statements to investors and corporate stakeholders through accessible media channels. All communications should support a stated level of transparency for investor disclosure. Investors should expect timely disclosure of corporate risk factors and other events pertinent to corporate performance, profitability and potential risk events and factors.

    Brand Building, Regulatory Compliance and Best Practices

    Sound practices require that regulatory compliance programs be embraced as a brand building exercise. Corporations that approach compliance by implementing best practice solutions will mitigate reputational and regulatory risk, attract high end clientele, and command premium product margins.

    February 15, 2009 Posted by | sound practices | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

    For the Want of a Nail: Lennar Homes

    for the want of a nail

    for the want of a nail

    Community developer Lennar Homes lawsuit against drywall manufacturers reminds me of the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme, “for the want of a nail.” The rhyme begins with a nail that was not available to affix a shoe to the hoof of a horse. The loss of the nail loses the shoe, which loses the horse, which loses the rider, which loses the battle, which loses the war, which loses the king which loses the kingdom. For the want of a nail is an instructive tale of how seemingly insignificant or minute events can create consequences that escalate into a catastrophic incident that impacts and endangers many.

    The Lennar lawsuit is yet another egregious example of supply chain contamination that has recently come to light. The discovery of toxic substances within drywall manufactured in China and used in the construction of Florida homes has prompted the lawsuit against manufacturers and a number of installation subcontractors that purchased the contaminated drywall on behalf of Lennar.

    Lennar’s lawsuit alleges that subcontractors it employed to install dry wall, substituted high quality domestic brands with the less expensive contaminated drywall. The subcontractors imported the contaminated drywall from China to save on costs of materials in an attempt to boost profits for their contracted work. The drywall was discovered to contain toxic substances after a number of homeowners began to complain of foul odors, product deterioration and in some cases sickness due to exposure to the contaminated product.

    It is believed that the Chinese drywall was found to contain a quantity of dry ash which was used as a filler substance in the manufacturing process. Dry ash is a waste by product of coal fired power plants that are so prevalent in China. The dry ash is known to contain concentrations of heavy metals that are considered dangerous to humans.

    This event is certainly unwelcome news for the beleaguered construction and real estate industries. Particularly so in deeply distressed markets like southern Florida. It has heightened the risk profile of all parties involved and could spell catastrophic consequences for some of the involved manufacturers, homeowners, and contractors. This event can also impact the profitability of banks that may be forced to write off non-performing mortgages and construction loans sold to affected homeowners and contractors. Insurance companies may be required to pay off clams for product liability and homeowner policies. Municipalities are also at risk due to this event. Tax ratables and property values are threatened due to property abandonment and the suspicion that toxins have been introduced into the community.

    This risk event will require the drywall manufacturers to face severe legal liability. It will impact profitability due to the financial stress of remediation expenses. Most significantly these types of events do severe damage to the company brand and reputation. A great deal of company and product branding is about trust. This types of events compromise the trust of brand consumers. Once that trust is violated it is very difficult to win it back.

    Lennar violated its customers trust by allowing its supply chain to be contaminated. This violation of trust will result in financial loss and may create a long term health risk for Lennars customers and their families.

    The municipalities that welcomed Lennar with the anticipation that development will serve the citizens of their communities have now been scarred by an ecological hazard. This will continue to haunt the reputation of these towns for many years because it threatens the value of both contaminated and non contaminated homes.

    The drywall installation contractors face a high probability of bankruptcy and potential criminal prosecution. This event will fire a deepening distrust of Chinese manufactured products. It will certainly add stress to the delicate political balance of the highly codependent China USA trade relationship. Instigating calls for more protectionism and “Buy America” mantra by American based manufacturers. The prospect of added strain with China is particularly delicate due to China’s important roll in financing government spending through its large purchases of US government bonds. All because some subcontractors wanted to realize a little more profit margin. For the want of a nail indeed.

    The unfortunate realization is that this risk could have been prevented. Master contractors need to put in place service and supply level agreements that prohibit the use of substituted materials. Master contractors need to manage supply chains by insisting that all materials used by subcontractors meet quality specifications and are sourced from trusted and thoroughly vetted providers. Adherence to international product quality and testing standards must be ascertained before those are accepted into the supply chain. This is just one aspect of ascertaining weather a supplier meets acceptance criteria into a company supply chain.

    The Profit|Optimizer helps manufacturers, developers, contractors and lenders conduct a risk assessment of their supply chain. It is something that many businesses often take for granted yet holds the potential to become one of the most dangerous risks to the financial health and stability of the business enterprise.

    Sum2 sells nails. The Profit|Optimizer helps business nail down risks that can deconstruct your business. It is a great set of tools to build profits and construct a healthy sustainable business.

    Next time you read Mother Goose “for the want of a nail” to a child remind them to pay particular attention to its sage advise. It may be the first lesson in effective risk management that they will receive.

    You Tube Music Video: Peter Paul and Mary, If I Had A Hammer

    Risk: supply chain, product liability, reputation risk, ecological

    February 7, 2009 Posted by | disaster planning, ecological, manufacturing, product liability, reputation, supply chain | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

    Peanut Corporation of America

    A salmonella breakout that has been traced to peanut products marketed by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) is an unfortunate and severe example of a company with poor risk management, weak corporate governance controls and questionable ethical business practices. In most instances poor risk management and corporate governance violations primarily victimizes the company that fails to institute them. In the case of the PCA, unsound business practices has unleashed a deadly viral bacteria into a vast consumer market. Since its outbreak in October the salmonella infection is believed to have claimed the lives of 8 people and has sickened over 500. PCA violations will also cast a long shadow on the vibrant US peanut growers and processing industry.

    A brief examination of some of the public disclosures that have come to light concerning the PCA speaks of a telling breakdown in sound risk management practices. These disclosures also hints at potential instances of fraud to cover up lax controls and compliance violations cited by FDA and State of Georgia food safety examiners.

    The PCA had been cited for violations and lax operational controls during past inspections by regulatory agencies. Inspectors found evidence of roach infestation and mold in the production and storage facilities. Inspections also revealed that product quality had been compromised due to a degraded manufacturing process and improper maintenance of the operating facility. After bringing this to the attention of company management PCA executives sought out food testing companies that would provide results to indicate that product quality met federal safety standards and were safe to ship.

    Utilizing industry standard risk analysis tools like the Profit|Optimizer would have revealed several breaches in sound risk management practices at PCA. Lax operational controls, poor facilities and the evasion of corporate governance practices will likely put PCA out of business due to the damage its actions have done to company product brands and reputation.

    Problems and risks associated with process manufacturers like PCA add layers of complexity to determine product risk due to its role as a supplier in an intricate and expanded supply chain for processed consumer food products. The melamine contamination of Chinese milk products and the mortgage backed securities market crisis provide examples of how product liability and consumer risk is leveraged due supply chain complexity. The pervasiveness of products that use the peanut paste manufactured by PCA is very similar in many respects. Cookies, ice cream, crackers and other products are subject to recall. Some of the companies affected by PCA’s contaminated products include premium consumer product and brand marketing companies like Kellogg, General Mills, Jenny Craig, Nuti-System and Trader Joes.

    Severe product liability events like this unfortunately also cast aspersions on an entire industry. Associations like the American Peanut Council are most concerned that the poor manufacturing practices and product quality standards exhibited by PCA will reflect on how consumers view the industry as a whole. It is a valid concern for the industry association and it must demonstrate to the regulators and consumers that its membership is committed to sound manufacturing practices, product quality and corporate governance excellence. This is not a PR problem. Nor is it a problem born from an industries anathema to regulatory control or a problem unleashed by some renegade industry member. Industries and their representative associations must also help address sound risk management and corporate governance excellence as a cultural issue that is endemic to its membership. Then industry excellence becomes synonymous with product quality and consumer satisfaction.

    In all the FDA uncovered 10 violations and has published its report and carries a full listing of recalled products and other resources on the FDA website.

    You Tube Video: Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, Salt Peanuts

    Risk: product, operations, regulatory, reputation

    January 29, 2009 Posted by | associations, manufacturing, operations, Peanut Corporation of America, product liability, regulatory, reputation, risk management, supply chain | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment