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Operational Risk Management: Overview & Guide

What’s one of the most significant risks businesses face today? That would be operational risk.

Don’t think so? Consider the fates of Enron, Worldcom, Lehman, and myriad subprime mortgage-debt backed institutions.

So, what’s operational risk, after all? It’s the risk of loss resulting from inadequate or failed internal processes, people, and systems or from external events.

These are all risks that overlap with and exacerbate more materials risks. One might even say that in the absence of operational failure, material risks are much less significant.

Mitigating operational risk is the purview of operational risk management. And given the acceleration of operational risk, we’ve created this overview and guide to answer the pressing question, what is operational risk management?

What is operational risk management?

So, what is operational risk management?

Operational risk management (ORM) is a process focused on identifying, assessing, prioritizing, and mitigating risks that arise from an organization’s day-to-day operations and business workflows.

As Reuters Legal defines it, ORM involves the systematic process of understanding, managing, and monitoring risks to minimize the potential negative impact on an organization’s objectives and outcomes.

How does operational risk management differ from enterprise risk management?

How’s that different than enterprise risk management (ERM)? Well, there are overlaps as some experts consider ORM a subset of ERM.

The biggest difference, though, is the goal of ERM is to minimize intentional risk.

What about ORM? It seeks rather to reduce unintentional risk, i.e., those that involve internal processes, systems, people, and external events.

To do so, operational risk managers identify procedures that can minimize the likelihood and impact of unnecessary risks on the organization to ensure that it can continue operating even in the face of unpredictable events.

The benefits of operational risk management

Given the nature of operational risk, ORM must be conducted thoroughly. There should be clear processes and protocols in place to identify and address all known risks.

As a result, effective ORM, i.e., putting those clear processes and protocols in place in a sustainable fashion, offers the following benefits:

  • Improved decision making
  • Embedding a culture of risk, accountability, and compliance
  • Improved visibility
  • Better addresses uncertainty
  • Renders organization more responsive to change
  • Greater stakeholder confidence
  • Facilitates continual improvement

Challenges to operational risk management

The above benefits don’t discount the clear challenges to operational risk management.

One of the more significant is a lack of senior-management interest.

Simply put, many firms don’t believe operational risk is material risk. Instead, they consider operational risk as back-office risk.

This leads executives, in particular, to think that ORM is only about managing control weaknesses in processes at a tactical level.

Too often, these views affect funding and staffing. Funding and staffing, by definition, affect resource allocation and methodology development.

As a result, the following challenges to ORM emerge:

Limited resources for controlling identified risk

Companies might uncover numerous operational risks as part of the risk management process. However, it takes resources (outlays of personnel, technologies, and/or other assets) to tackle those risks. Company resources are finite.

Sheer pace and volume of change overwhelming risk teams

The rationale for getting started with operational risk management today is that the risk picture is deteriorating quickly. Indeed, this change in the threat environment is overwhelming many companies who are facing multi-directional risk.

Lack of a comprehensive, integrated operational risk management approach

Companies often pursue operational risk on an ad hoc and/or siloed basis. This might be fine if a company only faces one risk at a time. But as risk accumulates – itself a sign of business maturation – this approach quickly becomes untenable.  

Lack of internal (communications) tools to properly integrate the knowledge base of risk into systems for managing risk

Companies also find themselves stymied once they’ve identified risks. What to do then? Without internal tools to properly integrate the knowledge base of risk into risk management systems, risks will remain un-controlled.

Principles of operational risk management

So, how to get operational risk management right then? One place to start is to follow the principles undergirding ORM.

According to the Basel Committee, the principles of ORM include the following:

  1. The board of directors should take the lead in establishing a strong risk management culture. The board of directors and senior management should establish a corporate culture guided by strong risk management and that supports and provides appropriate standards and incentives for professional and responsible behavior. In this regard, it’s the responsibility of the board of directors to ensure that a strong operational risk management culture exists throughout the whole organization.
  2. Firms should develop, implement, and maintain a framework that’s fully integrated into their overall risk management processes. The framework for operational risk management chosen by an individual firm will depend on a range of factors, including its nature, size, complexity, and risk profile.
  3. The board of directors should establish, approve, and periodically review the framework. The board of directors should oversee senior management to ensure that the policies, processes, and systems are implemented effectively at all decision levels.
  4. The board of directors should approve and review a risk appetite and tolerance statement for operational risk that articulates the nature, types, and levels of operational risk that the firm is willing to assume.
  5. Senior management should develop for approval by the board of directors a clear, effective, and robust governance structure with well defined, transparent, and consistent lines of responsibility.

    Senior management is responsible for consistently implementing and maintaining throughout the organization policies, processes, and systems for managing operational risk in all of the firm’s material products, activities, processes, and systems consistent with the risk appetite and tolerance.
  6. Senior management should ensure the identification and assessment of the operational risk inherent in all material products, activities, processes, and systems to make sure the inherent risks and incentives are well understood.
  7. Senior management should ensure that there’s an approval process for all new products, activities, processes, and systems that fully assesses operational risk.
  8. Senior management should implement a process to regularly monitor operational risk profiles and material exposures to losses.

    Appropriate reporting mechanisms should be in place at the board, senior management, and business line levels that support proactive management of operational risk.
  9. Firms should have a strong control environment that utilizes policies, processes, and systems; appropriate internal controls; and appropriate risk mitigation and/or transfer strategies.
  10. Firms should have organizational resiliency and business continuity plans (BCPs) in place to ensure an ability to operate on an ongoing basis and limit losses in the event of severe business disruption.
  11. A firm’s public disclosures should allow stakeholders to assess its approach to operational risk management.

Six strategies to manage operational risk

So, how to go about achieving operational risk management based on these principles?

Operational risk management is an actual process (or cycle) of risk assessment, decision making, and implementation (of controls) that needs to be pursued.

The precise strategies needed to implement effective operational risk management include the following:

1. Risk identification

The identification stage consists of isolating all potential operational risks, whether recurring risks or potential one-offs. Risk identification involves staff across the business, not just C-suite executives.

2. Risk assessment

Once identified, operational risks must be added to a risk register where they are to be assessed based on a number of factors, like how likely the risk is to occur, how frequently the risk will occur, and the potential risk exposure to human and non-human assets if the risk is not managed.

The use of a risk matrix, an established risk assessment methodology, is a standardized way of prioritizing risks in a central risk register by likelihood and consequences.

The severity of each risk can then be assessed separately, either as inherent, target, or residual risk, using a common methodology. At the end of the evaluation, risk is traditionally categorized as either very high, high, medium, low, or very low.

4. Analysis

In analyzing risk, teams will consider which risk controls (if any) to put in place. Additionally, teams will provide decision makers with a thorough risk analysis, a clear cost and benefit evaluation as well as outlines of possible alternative measures to take.

5. Decision

Based on the analysis furnished, decision makers will choose the best control (or combination of controls).

6. Implementation

Carrying out the decision taken requires having a plan for applying the selected controls. Adequate time and resources must also be allocated for any control measure to be successful. In addition, implementing controls requires clearly communicating your plan to everyone involved.

7. Monitoring

Implementation, however, isn’t the end of the story. Once they’re put in place, controls will have to be consistently monitored to ensure they are working as expected.

Examples of operational risk management strategies

So, what are examples of operational risk management strategies than can be implemented and monitored? Generic risk management strategies tend to include risk avoidance, risk acceptance, risk transfer, risk reduction, and risk retention.

They mean:

Risk avoidance

The elimination of hazards, activities, and exposures that can negatively affect an organization and its assets.

Risk acceptance

The acknowledging of the possibility for small or infrequent risks without taking steps to hedge.

Risk transfer

The process of formally or informally shifting the financial consequences of particular risks from one party to another.

Risk reduction

The mitigation of impact of potential losses by reducing the likelihood and severity of a possible loss.

Risk retention

The planned acceptance of potential losses.

Implementing operational risk management at your enterprise

So, what can be done, particularly if you find it challenging to fully control all the risks within your company? Well, the most pragmatic approach to effectively implement operational risk management within any organization is to pursue informed risk profiling and decision-making aimed at maximizing returns.

Considering that risk is inevitable, navigating trade-offs in operational risk management is unavoidable. To make more informed trade-offs, stakeholders must adopt a strategic business perspective, anchoring their risk management practices within the broader organizational context.

Translating these principles into action begins at the highest levels, where executives advocate for heightened risk awareness and transparency. Additionally, executives should empower staff to contribute their insights to enhance risk processes and controls.

What’s more, fostering a robust reporting culture will further support a conducive risk environment. How can better reporting outcomes be achieved?

Executives will need to invest in appropriate tools (More below) to enable their teams to comprehensively assess and document risks, including providing detailed rationale for accepting certain identified risks (and rejecting others).

Other strategies for implementing operational risk management within the enterprise include:

  • Restricting risk decision-making authority to leaders with resource allocation powers
  • Establishing clear organizational objectives
  • Defining risk roles and responsibilities
  • Establishing a supportive infrastructure
  • Implementing early warning systems
  • Ensuring that risk decisions undergo a transparent review process

Manage your operational risk with Noggin

Seem overwhelming? It doesn’t have to. Digital operational risk management software helps companies mitigate operational risks and strengthen enterprise resilience.

Solutions like Noggin Resilience, in particular, help organizations proactively identify, assess, and mitigate potential risks that could cause operational failures or disruptions to their normal operations.

Key Features of Noggin for Operational Risk Management

With what features? Noggin’s operational risk management software offers the following:

Track organizational objectives

Align risk management initiatives with organizational objectives to ensure risks are managed in a way that aligns with your objectives so you can effectively manage threats and capitalize on opportunities.

Compliance obligations register

Keep track of your compliance obligations with ease using a centralized register that enables you to monitor breaches and collaborate with your team to ensure compliance throughout your organization.

Risk and controls library

Get a head start with Noggin's pre-existing library of potential operational risks and corresponding control measures, inspired by the best industry practices to save time in recognizing and recording operational risks.

Risk assessments

Proactively identify, assess, and manage operational risks through a centralized workspace that provides a holistic view of risks, and streamlines risk assessment processes while fostering effective stakeholder collaboration and communication.
Gain oversight into the ongoing management of risk controls as they are implemented and maintained in your operational environment, using scheduled audits that personnel can complete from anywhere, on any device.

Document management

Streamline the risk document management process by leveraging Noggin’s centralized document management functionality to ensure personnel have the right information at their fingertips.


Create custom reports that summarize historical data with charts, recommendations, and sign-offs. Export these as PDF or Word documents and share with stakeholders and executives to enable them to make informed decisions, manage threats, and benefit from opportunities.

Data visualization

Consolidate data to gain valuable insights and visualize it through interactive dashboards, charts, risk matrices, and maps in real-time, from any device.

Finally, the rise in operational risk has many asking, what is operational risk management? As this guide and overview have sought to answer, ORM involves the systematic process of understanding, managing, and monitoring risks to minimize the potential negative impact on an organization’s objectives and outcomes.

And key to the process should be digital software like Noggin that provides a holistic view of risks, streamlines operational risk-related processes, and fosters effective stakeholder collaboration and communication.

But don’t just take our word for it. Request a demo of Noggin to see for yourself.

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