Risk management practices have tended to lag investment management capabilities. From staffing of professionals to analytical tools, risk management has generally been a secondary consideration compared to investment management.
Huge losses by pension funds and other institutional investors through various crises have exposed the inadequacy of risk management, including underestimation of risks, insufficient risk control approaches and failure of analytical tools to capture all potential risks. In general, there has been a failure to “keep pace with rapidly evolving financial markets and instruments,” according to a P&I story.
While efforts have lagged, institutional investors have sought to incorporate risk management into the investments of their funds since the application of Harry Markowitz's mean-variance optimization, dating to at least 1973. It was “the first risk management system for portfolios,” and “it has proven robust enough to remain in wide use today,” Bruce Jacobs, principal, Jacobs Levy Equity Management Inc., Florham Park, N.J., said in an e-mail.
Pension funds have tended to step up risk management following each crisis. The Barings PLC collapse in the mid-1990s gave rise to strengthening risk management at the entire fund level.
Risk management tools, especially value at risk, began to gain a foothold in the mid-1990s. Some larger pension funds created new risk control officer positions.
The high-tech bubble of the early 2000s and resulting losses exposed the insufficiency of risk management and failure to keep up with evolving complexity of the markets. But the losses of the 2008 financial market crisis revealed the inadequacy of earlier efforts to enhance risk control. It brought to light new kinds of risk, the so-called black swan, or an unprecedented and unexpected meltdown of financial market assets and correlation risk from the flawed perception of diversification advantages of asset classes to mitigate overall downward volatility.
Since then, asset owners working with consultants and investment managers have developed new sets of tools, while enhancing existing ones with the aim of improving risk management efforts.
While pension sponsors focused on toughening the risk management of pension assets, the crisis also exposed the vulnerability of pension liabilities and the need to consider managing the risks posed by underfunding.
Even though individuals, such as Ronald Ryan, founder of Ryan Labs, had earlier developed a liability-driven investing index when he was at the now-defunct Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., pension plan executives “had not gotten the memo” that they should match liabilities to assets, said Phil Shaffer, managing director at Graystone Consulting based in Columbus, Ohio. That realization led to more focus on managing funding levels, doing so through use of techniques such as liability-driven investing.
In addition, the 2008 economic crisis was a wake-up call on systematic risk, an event that can affect the entire market and economy. “Systematic risk cannot be eliminated through diversification,” Mr. Jacobs, pointed out. To enhance early warning of systematic risk, the Department of the Treasury created the Office of Financial Research and the Financial Stability Oversight Council, both established under Dodd-Frank.
They are designed to monitor the financial stability of the financial system and investment practices that might expose the system to risk.