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Impact of Trump Victory on the Risk Management Profession

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

Everyone is trying to figure out – what happens now?  For the 7.4 billion people in our world, I think we can all agree – the world just got, at least a little bit, more risky for all of us.  But, what about for risk professionals?  I have been recruiting risk and compliance professionals for the past 15 years.  In the year I founded executive recruiting firm Risk Talent, 2001, with Enron, Arthur Anderson, and especially 9/11 – Risk Talent’s focus on risk management seemed to coincide with an inflection point of risk in the world.

Risk professionals, and those of us who recruit and entice them to make a career move, all benefited from the uptick in the financial markets from 2003 through Sept 15, 2008 when Lehman filed for bankruptcy and the mortgage crisis was in full swing – we can call them the boom years.

Those of us who survived the financial crisis have seen a steady flow of risk work since 2011, with the addition of pseudo-risk professionals – thousands of risk/compliance staff who were hired to help regulators”de-risk” the financial system and address the “too big to fail” scenarios.

So, now that President Trump is coming to Washington early next year, what is in store for risk professionals in 2017-2018?  We expect to see a significant uptick in financial services hiring for mid and senior level front office risk professionals, as the Trump administration lessens regulations, and allows banks to dip their toes back into prop trading with the repeal or “realignment”of the Volcker rule.  Bank stocks are already surging since the election. The S&P Financial index, XLF, is up 10% since the election, so the market certainly believes that bank profits will grow. We all know that profits, at good financial firms, are correlated with increased risk taking.

One challenge for financial firms – where to get the strong mid and senior level front office risk managers to sit within these trading desks. No one has been growing these people since Lehman.  Hedge funds have some of them, but hedge funds have been challenged, too.  So, where are these people?  Look for independent (read – oversight) risk professionals who have the market savvy to move into front office roles.  Some of them are out there, but they are few and far between. Look for junior portfolio managers who have risk experience in their background.  Prime brokerage risk professionals are also close enough to the markets to make a move into these key roles.

What else?  It is the responsibility of boards, and of risk professionals themselves, to step up and manage this coming Trump-inspired reduced level of regulation. We don’t want a return to the mortgage crisis or Enron.  Compensation, for the CEO, the portfolio/desk manager, and the risk professional should be longer term focused, and risk positions should be clearly measured, reported and transparent.  I urge the Trump administration to maintain/support many of the positive changes that were made post Lehman, such as the PCAOB and the compensation changes that the industry made.  As of Nov 8, 2016 , the world is already more risky than it was only last month.  But sound risk management is about knowing/measuring the risks that are out there, and deciding what to do about them, so that we can avoid either another Lehman situation, or worse, Armageddon.  Risk professionals, and the ultimate risk officer – boards of directors  – we are in for another wild ride.