--- Joseph Cassano of AIG on their credit default swap business (Aug 2007)
Well, a house of cards was never built for shock
You could blow it down in any kind of weather.
--- Dire Straits, Solid Rock
Julie Dickson addressed a sold-out audience at the Actuaries' Club of Toronto this week. She's the Superintendent of Canada's most important regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI). Her remarks were informative, interesting and have relevance for you. OSFI oversees the federally-regulated banks, trust companies, insurance companies and pension plans.
Julie was accompanied by my first actuarial boss, Stuart Wason, now a Senior Director at OSFI. We haven't met in years. During my summer job at Crown Life, I learned plenty from Stuart and Henry Essert. They inspired me to pursue my actuarial career. I'm in their debt and haven't thanked them enough.
Offend the tax department and you can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. Offend OSFI and your company risks swift intervention. Don't expect much sympathy either.
Actuaries would be well served to sit up and take notice of the speed at which risk management expectations are changing.--- Julie Dickson
OSFI's mandate is solvency: ensuring that financial institutions have enough capital to weather financial storms. How? By predicting the unthinkable, setting high standards, and intervening early. This process works wells in protecting the public and the politicians. Here only one financial services company cuts dividends (but they cut them in half).
You can protect your own financial solvency as you follow the four steps in wealth management. Let's look at three ways
- predict the unthinkable
- follow high standards
- forget bailouts
Predict The Unthinkable
Your challenge as actuaries is to learn from the past but like your motto says, you need to "see beyond risk".--- Julie Dickson
We underestimate risk, especially during periods of stability. Also, we fear the wrong risks. So we don't prepare for storms and get shocked when the tide reminds us that our castle was made of sand.
We can't predict and prepare for every disaster but we still benefit from planning.
We can look at different "what if" scenarios, especially the bad ones we like to ignore.
- Suppose a car accident confines you to a wheelchair for life. What happens to your savings, your ability to work and your future earnings?
- Suppose you're forced to retire five years early due to a layoff or ill health. What happens to your retirement income?
- Suppose you live an extra 10 years or earn lower returns after tax and inflation. Would your money last?
You can examine your current and projected financial situation more regularly with your financial advisor. Ideally one who know how to stress-test your plans. Maybe you're following simple "rules of thumb". Changing conditions can make them obsolete. In Dumb Money, Daniel Gross identifies four simple but incorrect assumptions that leading to the financial crisis in the US.
Yes, we can over-prepare but we're more likely to do too little.
Follow High Standards
Life is going to be more challenging for "experts", and a premium will be placed on how well you can explain such things as actuarial reserves and capital.--- Julie Dickson
Raise the bar on your risk management. Picking better quality investments does dampen the returns (the perennial risk vs reward quandary) but the chances of potential problems drops too. Diversification helps diminish risk too.
Canada trusts actuaries to apply principles, which requires judgement. The US prefers rules, which makes compliance easier to monitor. Since rules don't change quickly, companies can follow the letter of the law without following the spirit.
You can take on extra risk if you've got someone to bail you out. Maybe you've got a kind rich aunt. The financial sector turns to us taxpayers. Without market discipline, companies can take undue risks with impunity. That's where we rely on the regulators.
We face four key financial risks: outliving your savings, dying too soon, getting sick and getting disabled. What are you doing about them now while you can? You are your own regulator (unless you have a spouse).
- The dangers of visiting OSFI's website
- Text of Superintendent Julie Dickson's speech (PDF | Sept 23, 2009)
- OSFI website
- Only one Canadian financial services company cuts dividends (Reuters, Sep 24, 2009)
- Fearing the Wrong Risks (with examples)
- Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on the Economy and Financial Literacy
- Keeping Promises: Do you care about Corporate Governance scores?
- Our four key financial risks
- The four steps in wealth management
- photo courtesy of Simon Bond
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