As the pandemic spurs boards to seek experts in crisis planning and oversight, the role of the risk manager has been elevated

An article by Arianne Cohen in Bloomberg Businessweek says the role of the risk manager has been significantly elevated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Once relegated to the back office, [risk managers] are in demand as Covid-19 illustrates the need for executives to prepare for catastrophes”, she explains.

”Twenty years ago, corporate risk managers had near-zero public visibility,” writes Cohen. ”Most were back-office staffers who focused on securing insurance for environmental and real estate problems (tornadoes, fires, earthquakes, facilities breaches). Young people didn’t aspire to be risk managers.

”The pandemic has catapulted the field into prominence almost overnight. Boards are quickly creating risk committees focused on crisis planning and remote work data privacy — and they want a chief risk officer on speed dial.

While the global spread of the new coronavirus has thrust risk management into the spotlight, the field has been steadily expanding for years, notes Cohen.

“Fortune 1000 companies began to employ a risk manager, and perhaps a staffer or two, usually seated among lawyers in the depths of the legal department and reporting to the chief legal officer or perhaps camped out in the finance department reporting to the treasurer or chief financial officer. Their job was to collect extensive information from across the organization for insurance and risk analysis.

”Ambitious risk managers diplomatically communicated vulnerabilities to their bosses, who often ignored the issues.

”The 2008 housing market crash focused the profession more on enterprise risk management, and recent cybersecurity breaches extended risk managers’ oversight into new areas including hacking and privacy, but the career path remained stunted.”

The COVID-19 crisis has changed all that, explains Cohen. 

”Graduate and certificate programs are already seeing a shift under way. The one-year graduate program in emergency management and continuity planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago enrolls 10 students annually; this month, a recruitment webinar attracted 28, the largest crowd ever, and the program is expanding to meet demand.

”Zach Finn, who directs the risk management and insurance program at Butler University in Indianapolis, says his program has also seen a surge in interest. He’s thrilled to see his profession emerge from the sidelines. ’We’ll finally be respected for holding the world together,’ he says.”