My Journey with IRMSA
The South African internship was one of the best learning experiences in my life to this day. It was amazing to learn a lot about risk management in one of the most beautiful places in the world. While there, my fellow intern Karolina and I visited companies such as Nedbank, Capespan, Marsh, South African National Treasury, Royal Bafokeng Platinum, and Tsogo Sun. In the time Karolina and I were in Cape Town we also attended a Risk Lab held by the IRMSA. Since we were exposed to a variety of banks, a mining company, and consulting firms we could see risk management in several different ways and how these companies handle their risk exposure. We learned the basics from the risk appetite and tolerance for each company to getting hands on experience of assessing risks.
To start off, the first couple days we went to one of the top banks in South Africa which was Nedbank. Nedbank primarily focus on wholesale and retail banking services. Nedbank is divided into four different clusters: corporate and investment banking, retail and business banking, wealth, and rest of Africa. What we did those two days was listen to professionals on what they do on a daily basis from operational risk all the way to security risk and social media risk. Every individual that had presented to us spoke about their role and how they play a key part to Nedbank. At the start of each presentation there was always one thing that was common between them, the risk tolerance and appetite for the company. This was important for everyone to explain in-depth because these issues represent the backbone of risk management. Without determining the risk appetite and tolerance, figuring out which risks you can and cannot take on would not be possible. Distinguishing between these two, risk appetite is how much and the kind of risk the company is willing to take. Risk tolerance is the amount of risk you are willing to take past your appetite. Within each presentation each presenter described their clusters and how each one relies on the information from within their clusters. This was a good representation of how risk management is teamwork based by grouping all the information from in the clusters to prevent or mitigate some of the risks. Even with the different clusters varying in things to focus on you can tell that risk management plays a part in everything to run your business. The main thing we took away from this company is the basics of risk management and how banks handle their risks. We learned all the different clusters and groups within those clusters that were a part of the company that focused on one specific risk and how to mitigate or get rid of some of their risk within that specific group. They took us through the entire process from start to finish because they knew that banks operate differently from normal business when handling risks. With a financial focus in school, I found the wealth management part of the banking to be very interesting. When we were given a presentation, it was interesting to see how they diversify some of their risks by investing and multiple other ways of handling the money for clients. Even seeing how the security behind the company works as well as how they assess their risks and try to solve them was valuable. This would provide more background on how to better control some of the external risks faced by a business, such as if a client is invested into a business that goes bankrupt. You would lose all assets in that company but by diversifying your investments you can reduce the risk of losing all of the money invested.
After Nedbank, we went to Cape Town to the risk labs. At the risk labs, we listened to local industry professionals that explained their views on politics, economy, and risks in South Africa. On the first day, we listened to several people within different industries and how they handle the top ten risks of South Africa. Just a few of the top ten risks are increasing corruption, water crisis, and unemployment. This is when the big bulk of information came to us. During the first presentation, Chief Risk Advisor Chris Palm said, “Think the unthinkable.” This really stuck out to me because when you are dealing with risk in a business you always should think about unexpected possibilities. For example, there has been multiple security breaches in companies that steal customers’ information. Just last year, Chipotle had a breach in certain locations in Normal, Illinois. Chipotle should have thought of the unthinkable that way they could have provided better security of customers’ information. We also learned about how to have a risk become an opportunity for your business. Most people associate risks and their outcomes being bad, but you can always turn that risk into an opportunity. Risks present an opportunity for businesses to examine their processes and look for the potential to innovate.
Terence Singh, Director at Ruhi Consulting, provided a great example about how Kodak first created the cameras that allowed you to take pictures with film and print them out. Then as times changed, businesses began creating digital cameras. Kodak started off strong by creating a digital camera but ended up canceling productions because they assumed people would not catch onto the digital cameras. This relates back to “Thinking the unthinkable.” Back when it was first created in 1975 people would have never thought something so new to them would be the future of cameras. It was the unthinkable aspect for that industry. Since they did not continue with production, they inevitably lost their opportunity to maintain being one of the leading camera companies in the world. Then, with technology becoming so advanced there are several ways that people can increases the threat for criminals to access private information. We heard about the possibility of risks posed by hackers stealing important personal and business information as well as the strategies employed to mitigate those risks. Ways that we learned to mitigate some of those risks were to have stricter password rules.
With the second day of the risk lab, myself and a collection of other interns and locals interested in risk management were separated into four groups. With going into these groups, we looked at risk in four different ways. Those groups were opportunity, governance, innovation, and cyber risks. Since you are in a group of professionals you got to see how they handle those situations and how frequently they see risks on a daily. This added several views from professional businessmen and widened the ideas to me for risk management. It showed me how to handle certain situations such as keeping information secure to others outside of your business. Not only that, but it taught me to be innovative. Seeing the ideas of the others better helped me think creatively on progressing a business to become something better than they actually are.
Next we visited Capespan, a packaging and shipping company specializing in fresh produce distribution. Distribution was not their only specialty, they also provided services for branding and logistics. The Cape Town location we visited stored fresh produce. We personally got to see orange, animal feed, and pipes. We took a tour of the shipping docks to look at how they store, transport, and pack the goods. While walking the docks, we were figuring out some of the possible risks. We got hands-on experience with assessing risks while looking at some problems the workers face at any moment in the day. Having all the information from the previous days really helped when finding risks by looking at some strategic and operational risks while people work throughout the day. After that we went to meet with Antonella Da Cuncha, a group risk manager. She went through her Microsoft Excel sheets and how she organizes the possible risks of that company. She showed us the entire process she goes through from figuring out a risk and how to mitigate the problem. For example, we looked at the possibility of some of the produce becoming contaminated. We then proceeded to find the probability and severity of this happening. Antonella then explained how she would fix that problem if it were to arise. Since she was the creator of the Excel sheets, she went into depth about every cell that was a part of it. It helped to see how someone handles the risks for a business and the processes that they take. Being able to see everything first hand helped in the learning experience to see how everything works in person rather than reading or hearing about it.
Coming back to Johannesburg, we visited Marsh, National Treasury, Royal Bafokeng Platinum, and Tsogo Sun. Marsh is a global leader in insurance brokering and risk management. Marsh helps clients quantify and manage risk and help them unlock new opportunities for growth. They focus on furthering their clients strategic, operational, and risk management goals by providing consulting, brokerage, and claims advocacy services. While visiting this company, Chris Brits helped us mold both risk management and insurance together. We then looked into the steps of assessing risks and providing the right insurances to mitigate some of those risks. We also focused on the operational risks by going into depth of procedures they use to look at businesses and ways they would fix operational problems. Chris gave us multiple examples to help us link the differences between insurance and risk management. The example that stuck out the most was McDonalds. Whenever you think of McDonalds you think their wealth comes from being a fast food chain, but it comes from real estate. McDonalds has several thousand properties across the world so they face a lot of risk. The primary risk McDonalds is trying to control is the loss of all those properties. There have been several operational fixes like preventing fires to stop the buildings from burning down. To give us more insight into what they would do, Marsh took us to a warehouse called Supergroup. In there we could see all the small and big operational fixes to reduce risk. Some precautionary measures included putting up barriers so forklift drivers do not cause damage, or separating one product from another that to avoid cross-contamination within that warehouse. This taught us a great deal on how much you should think about when assessing the risks of a business. Just one small thing can affect your company in a big way, and that is when a risk manager plays a key part. They help you realize those possible losses and give you ways to fix it before it happens.
The next day, we went to the South African National Treasury. The main principle of the National Treasury is to support efficient and sustainable public financial management, which is fundamental to the promotion of economic development, good governance, social progress and a rising standard of living for all South Africans. What we learned here were the main aspects of how the treasury runs their countries budget. Throughout the day we had several speakers that would go through the budget with us to show where the expenditures of the government would go. We also had a government official show us the investment side to see where the value of their currency is at and where it could possibly be in the near future compared to the dollar. Most importantly, they tied everything back to risk management. Thinking back to my experience at the risk lab, corruption was identified as one of the top risks facing business in South Africa. So, when discussing the budget and risks the treasury faces with corruption we saw how the government deals with that type of risk. The true learning experience was to see how the government works and how they manage their money. It was also interesting to see how they are trying to control some of the risks they face with their financial problems such as having a “Junk” status to the creditors.
Next, we went to Royal Bafokeng Platinum where the employees showed us into the mining industry and how they handle some of their risks. Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat) is a black owned and operated business that is located in the North-West province of South Africa. Their primary focus is to mine platinum. They are also a publicly traded company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Just within the first few minutes of Vicky Tihabanelo’s presentation, we learned something amazing about this company. A challenge they used to face was miners would live in terrible and unsafe conditions which was not cost effective and presented a humanitarian issue. They would have to send money back to their families so their families would not have to live in bad conditions. RBPlat management addressed this problem by building safe, secure, and affordable housing closer to the worksite to accommodate miners and their families. RBPlat created payment plans to help the miners pay off their house. They will also add a health services building and schools; this is just one of the innovative things that they are currently working on to build their business.
Throughout the day, they focused on informing us about who they are and what they do. A big part of what they focus on is making a better South Africa for the people and providing that living area is just part of it. They also provide education for children on how a mining company works and the business essentials. With the educational program, they are hoping to reach out to women since mining is overrepresented by male workers. Just like all the other companies that we had visited, they went over the main principles of risk management. We looked at their risk appetite and tolerance as well as how they would treat the risks at hand. They went into depth about their new program and how it is a big risk. With technologies advancing and the world becoming greener, they also explained the possible risk of mining becoming a thing of the past. As green energies transform the auto industry, car companies will have less need for platinum to reduce emissions. Platinum is used to line the exhaust pipes to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released in the air. This trend has the potential to depress the platinum mining industry. This was important for us to see because this is a huge risk. They showed us that to help reduce that risk from shutting them down is to diversify their business. Having all these programs and investing in multiple companies will be the main reason they reduce the risk of failure if companies may no longer need platinum.
After the entire experience, I grew both personally and professionally. Being in a different culture helped me grow in both of those ways. I became a better version of myself after this experience in a way of creating lifelong friends while also adapting to a different culture for the first time. Seeing how some of the people lived in South Africa has made me more thankful and to never take things for granted. With driving to some of the companies, we got to see various ways of living in South Africa. I remember seeing some shacks on the side of the interstates. I thought to myself how thankful I am for my living situation. One thing that stuck out to me the most was how friendly everyone is in South Africa. Kind gestures go a long way and with everyone being so kind and caring it made me change my character to be more like that. It changed me professionally by pushing me out of my comfort zone. That allowed me to develop my networking, presenting, and social skills. Seeing how multiple businesses operate and handle their risk showed me some characteristics that they possessed and gave me more insight into the professional world. Most importantly, we learned how to be ourselves in a corporate environment. You see people conforming to the norms of the business to try and fit in but being able to find a business that you are most related to will make you feel like you belong. It allows you to speak up to make the environment of the company better. Having your values and ideas aligned with those of a business is key to make your job feel more like a hobby than an actual job.
Looking forward, I will use these skills when preparing for interviews and while on the job. Having the chance to meet with several industry professionals gives me the chance to maintain contact with them for any professional help I may need. I will continue to build more of my skills from all the things I have learned through this process and continue to learn more about the industry to go in a field of risk management. I am very thankful for this opportunity to experience a new culture and country but also to expand my skills in several different ways. It was a once in a lifetime experience to see risk management in an international setting, and I will never forget all the knowledge that was provided by the industry professionals
Pictures of my Journey