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Where Do Chief Risk Officers Come From

Jun 8, 2020
5 min Read

How Do I Get There From Here?

Written by Ed Horwitz, Ph.D., CFP, FBS, ChFC, CLU, CSA

After my last blog article Call for Future Risk Managers, I have received several questions. Many people are interested in learning more about the path to the Chief Risk Officer (CRO) role within an organization. More specifically, how do they get there from where they are today. In this article I am going to take a more granular look at how several existing roles within an organization may be ideally suited for a future CRO.

We can start with the finance risk areas since they are among the more popular sources for CROs. Within the finance areas of an organization, investment risk managers, financial analysts, actuaries and insurance risk managers all have the makings for the needed skills and experience. Since finance and the financial functions of an organization play a critical role from strategic and stakeholder perspectives, those who can become financial experts within their given disciplines are highly valued risk managers.

The accounting area is also a prime path for future CRO’s. The risk and audit functions play a vital role within Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) governance, reporting and monitoring. Having expert knowledge on tax and financial reporting is also a highly valued skill, which is why Chief Financial Officers (CFO’s) also emerge from the accounting area. Of course, many CROs are chosen based on their prior success as a CFO, which is why both accounting and finance areas are popular paths to the CRO position.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking the accounting and financial areas are the only paths to a CRO position. The operational areas within organizations can also provide a path for a future CRO, depending on the nature of the organization. For example, for organizations like Amazon, logistics play a huge part in their organizational value. Therefore, for Amazon, their view of valued risk management and expertise may be more operational than financial. Another great logistics Fortune 500 company, Union Pacific, might look at primary operational risks, which are heavily transportation-based. Another example might be seen with Godfathers Pizza. Their Pizza’s greatness might come from their quality control, consistency of food preparation, delivery and the customer experience as their operational execution risks. A CRO working for organizations similar to these would need to have expert operational knowledge to help manage the risks in these areas.  

Compliance, regulatory, and legal areas within the organization have also been known to produce quality CRO’s as well. If you look at organizations and government agencies which operate in highly regulated industries, risk management takes on a different meaning. The risks for being out of compliance or being found in violation of Federal regulations can be costly. Industries like banking, government contractors, and financial services are all heavily focused on regulatory and compliance risks. Because the financial, brand and reputational risks are significant, the CRO of these types of organizations would most likely have a strong background in compliance, regulations and/or legal areas. If you are seeking a CRO position and have experience in these areas, aligning with the right organization and industry would be important to reach your goal.

The next part of the CRO path involves the experience, skills and knowledge base development. Once you have identified the CRO path as your desired career destination, your task moves to making it a reality. Beyond becoming an expert and leader within your functional discipline, you will need to acquire the specific skills and knowledge base of the CRO. That means ERM! ERM definitions and framework applications are quickly evolving, and foundational education is needed. Since your path to the CRO role is starting from your specific discipline, you need to acquire knowledge and skills of the applications and frameworks of ERM implementation and governance. If your organization has an ERM area and a CRO, understanding your own organization’s ERM governance framework and planning process structures would also provide excellent insight.

Next, I would highly recommend seeking out an AACSB accredited business college that has programs specifically dedicated to ERM graduate degree education. Make no mistake, ERM is a graduate-level, advanced business discipline that combines a rigorous risk management process application combined with a qualitative skill-set built on decades of management leadership experience. If you have yet to acquire your business graduate degree, you’re going to need that as well. A masters in ERM or Finance with an ERM concentration may be preferred. If you have your business graduate degree already, then you should pursue a Graduate Certificate in ERM by that same AACSB accredited business college that has programs specifically dedicated to ERM. Additionally, there may be some professional industry designations which may help based on your desired field of practice.   

While there are many paths that can get you to the CRO position within an organization, this article was a look at several of the most common. The education part, however, is foundational to the CRO knowledge and skill-set. Even if you are not currently in a position or area with a clear path to the CRO role, the educational part can be started right away. Thinking like a Risk Manager is also a great way to begin to develop your ERM and CRO mindset. It may not be a quick or straight-line path, but the longer you wait to get started, the longer it will take. Best of luck on your pursuits of the CRO role!

This article was a contribution by Ed Horwitz, Ph.D., CFP, FBS, ChFC, CLU, CSA. Dr. Horwitz is the Executive Director, Mutual of Omaha Chair in Risk Management (ERM) and Associate Professor of Practice in the Department of Economics and Finance at Creighton University Heider College of Business. A business management senior executive, applied clinical researcher and published author with over 30 years of experience in the Financial Planning and Risk Management industry, Dr. Horwitz is regarded as a knowledgeable and optimistic leader who brings a winning attitude and trusted confidence to all settings. He is experienced in the development, implementation and coordination of new collegiate educational programs for financial planning, insurance, enterprise risk management, and financial psychology and behavioral finance.

Learn more about Creighton University’s Enterprise Risk Management graduate certificate. We also invite you to join our online crisis planning and enterprise communication management course being offered this Summer, 2020.