EY survey shows that even before COVID-19 nearly 80 percent of board members felt unprepared for a major risk event

Published: Thursday, 23 April 2020 08:51

According to the Global Board Risk Survey, conducted by Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) before the COVID-19 outbreak, only 21 percent of board members believed their organizations were very prepared to respond to an adverse risk event from a planning, communications, recovery and resilience standpoint. The financial services sector felt more prepared, with 80 percent of directors indicating that they felt their firms were very or nearly very prepared to respond to such events.

With COVID-19 now posing critical challenges for businesses, many organizations are experiencing vulnerabilities related to their human capital, significant fluctuations in product demand and heavy supply chain disruption from the affected areas. Unpredictable events and uncertainty related to the pandemic continue to expand the scope of risks, highlighting the heightened need for crisis management planning to build strategic, operational and financial resiliency across the business.

"COVID-19 began as a public health crisis; however, it has rapidly evolved into a significant global economic challenge as well, encompassing nearly every layer of organizations from human capital to supply chains," says Steve Klemash, Partner, Ernst & Young LLP and the EY Americas Leader of the Center for Board Matters. "While participants responded to this survey before the COVID-19 pandemic began, it underscores the importance for organizations to be prepared for these kinds of events. Now, more than ever, it is imperative for boards and directors to adopt a new risk mindset and take a future-first risk approach so that they are prepared for even the most unpredictable issue."

Risk and strategic value

While nearly three-quarters of board members believe their organization's strategy is aligned with its risk appetite, the survey reveals opportunities to adjust this to be more future-fit and turn risk into strategic value. Less than a quarter of board members are very satisfied with their effectiveness in overseeing changes to the risk landscape and adjusting the organization's risk appetite accordingly. Within the financial services sector, directors are more confident, with nearly three-quarters (71 percent) extremely or nearly extremely satisfied in their effectiveness in overseeing how changes to the risk landscape lead to adjustments to risk appetite.

With only 40 percent of board members satisfied with the management of new and emerging risks, boards have the opportunity to challenge how the organization's talent strategy is enabling the transformation of enterprise risk management (ERM). Similar views also exist within the financial services industry, where 42 percent of directors believe that their firms are only somewhat effective in managing atypical or emerging risks.

Risk reporting

Even with significant changes made to reporting over the last decade, fewer than 20 percent of board members are extremely confident in risk reporting from management on a range of significant issues, including business megatrends, new and emerging business models and culture, and conduct-related risks, and only 21 percent are very satisfied with the accuracy, completeness and breadth of the risk reports they do receive.

Among financial services board members, confidence in the quality of reporting varies by risk type, with directors having more confidence in risk reporting related to top or emerging risks (65 percent) and changes to the firm's risk profile and management actions to address those changes (60 percent). Similar to other board members, directors in the finance sector are not as confident in risk reporting pertaining to new and emerging competitors (54 percent) and culture-related risks (51 percent).

However, boards also play a role in communicating their reporting requirements to management, and only 26 percent strongly agree that they have done so.

The Board's role in enterprise risk management

While board members across the spectrum are fairly confident in how they oversee risk, they are still requesting more time on the agenda to discuss emerging risks and trends and setting aside time to discuss scenarios that could threaten the organization's business model.

The survey results also suggest the need to upskill boards, since only 64 percent of board members believe their composition and represented skill sets are adequate for overseeing the organization's risk management.

Within the financial services industry, however, board members hold a different view, since nearly three-quarters (74 percent) strongly or somewhat agree that their board composition and skill sets provide for adequate oversight.

Given the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on organizations across all industries, building risk resiliency is even more important. EY experts recommend that boards should work with management to advance their risk oversight by:

About the survey

This research for this global survey was conducted in October and November 2019. There were 500 participants, of which 81 percent were non-executive directors, and the remainder were CEOs. The participants were from a range of sectors, and spanned the globe, including the Americas (34 percent of the participants); Asia-Pacific (32 percent); and Europe, Middle East, India and Africa (34 percent)

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