Elizabeth Carmichael

Elizabeth Carmichael is the director of compliance and risk management for Five Colleges Inc., which includes Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith College. She can be reached at [email protected]

Risk Insider: Elizabeth Carmichael

Saying ‘No’ to a Risk

By: | March 24, 2016 • 2 min read
Elizabeth Carmichael is the director of compliance and risk management for Five Colleges Inc., which includes Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith College. She can be reached at [email protected]

Being the person who directly says “no” to a risk can be somewhat perilous for a risk manager. As most of us know, the risk manager’s job is more about helping the organization to make an informed decision than being the arbiter of all risk-taking.

It is tempting to support an administrator who has asked for a risk assessment on a proposal that they don’t want to undertake by letting the administrator “blame risk management” for the negative decision, i.e., “Risk Management says we can’t do it.”

All I can say is, don’t do this. Don’t let administrators ever “blame” risk management for a decision unless you actually had the responsibility and authority in your office to make the decision and did so.

This pattern typically exists in organizations where administrators have little or no authority to make decisions, or in organizations where customers (students or parents in higher ed) have easy access to the president or other senior managers who overturn lower managers’ decisions without all the facts at hand.

All I can say is, don’t do this. Don’t let administrators ever “blame” risk management for a decision unless you actually had the responsibility and authority in your office to make the decision and did so.

In performing the risk assessment, be sure to consider the upside of the project, activity or event. Even brainstorm them so that you get a comprehensive list. Then consider the downside, the risks associated with the project, activity or event, and what risk mitigation would be needed for those risks.

Do your best to identify time and money costs to the mitigation efforts. This will give your decision-making administrators the documented ability to say, “We have completed a thorough risk assessment and mitigation analysis on this proposal and collectively determined that the return or reward on the project is insufficient to offset financial or other risks and the administrative costs of mitigating the risks that would be associated with the project. We regret that we cannot undertake this project at this time.”

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Rather than allowing your decision-makers to “blame” risk management, empower them to communicate their educated and well-thought-out decision to stakeholders personally. (They may also surprise you and choose to do it!)

The role of risk management should be to conduct and facilitate risk assessments, and then educate our stakeholders on the outcomes of those assessments. So even if your current administration is comfortable with risk management being seen as the decision-maker, future administrations may not, and you and your department may be seen in a negative light that is difficult to shake, including being labeled as overreaching, lazy (it’s easier to say “no”), and simple nay-sayers, even if that’s not true.

Rather than allowing your decision makers to “blame” risk management, empower them to communicate their educated and well- thought-out decision to stake holders personally. (They may also surprise you and choose to do it!)

Therefore, especially for those of you whose organizations are somewhat dysfunctional, prepare your risk assessment and mitigation plans with the expectation that the president or a future president may be reading it.

Encourage the administrators that you are working with to share the proposal and risk assessment as high up the ladder as possible, and be seen as a positive, helpful force for good management in your organization.

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Risk Insider: Elizabeth Carmichael

Risk Management Is the Natural Owner of Compliance

By: | August 20, 2014 • 2 min read
Elizabeth Carmichael is the director of compliance and risk management for Five Colleges Inc., which includes Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith College. She can be reached at [email protected]

With the adoption of Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), many organizations have already begun to include compliance risks as part of their organization’s risk management portfolio. However, even if the organization has not yet climbed aboard the ERM bandwagon, risk managers should be actively supporting, if not directing, their organization’s compliance efforts in several key areas, namely, interdepartmental risks.

After all, the compliance challenges in most organizations will not be those that land neatly in one department. Dining services managers will be on top of sanitation regulations; comptrollers will file their taxes.

No, the greatest compliance challenges are those that cross division and department lines.

Take a look at some of the compliance requirements that prove challenging to institutions of higher education.

Title IX: Which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, covers not only equity in sports but also sexual assault and misconduct. Consequently, this impacts nearly every division of the institution.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Its related laws and regulations impact academics, student life, facilities, IT, human resources, admissions, athletics  and a multitude of other departments.

Export Controls: A mishmash of laws that similarly effects any department involved with academics, research, technology, and travel.

Records Retention Policy: Required under the tax form 990, covers every division and department and has additional privacy and security implications.

“…the compliance challenges in most organizations will not be those that land neatly in one department.”

Institutions traditionally find it difficult to manage compliance requirements such as these because there is no natural “owner” of the requirement. It is here that risk managers are ideally situated to help their institutions by gathering together individuals from the affected departments into a committee or task force.

Together, they can begin to create a shared management process for the institution. In the absence of hierarchical authority, committees and task forces can wield significant influence, especially if appointed by the president or board.

Furthermore, many compliance requirements are a natural fit within a risk management portfolio because they address insured risks. Compliance with anti-discrimination laws (like Title IX and ADA) is a perfect example, as acts of discrimination may be insured through educators’ or employers’ legal liability policies.

Other compliance matters may directly affect the essential identity of the institution. For instance, if an institution violates the regulations on political speech, it could lose its non-profit status and suffer reputational damages.

While it is impractical for a risk manager to be on top of every regulation that an institution is required to be in compliance with (they number in the hundreds) it is important that the risk manager be a leader in compliance matters that, when not addressed, can directly impact insurance and claims.

Offer to help organize a compliance effort. Make sure to (successfully) follow though.

You don’t have to be a subject expert to do this! Your results can showcase risk management services in the institution, reduce risk, and create a template for your next compliance project.

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