Risk in Focus: Chief Risk Officer, QBE, Equator RE (Bermuda)
The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) asks its members what working in risk is really like and what hints and tips they'd share with people looking to move into the industry.
Jonathan Groves, CFIRM
Chief Risk Officer
QBE, Equator RE (Bermuda)
How did you get your job?
I have been in the (re)insurance industry my entire career so I guess you could say I have grown up with risk. Initially, I was involved with underwriting it, then broking it, then more broadly how to finance it before moving into managing it in the broadest sense. I have always been attracted to the breadth of the subject and its link to the broader economy. When my current role came up, it was a logical next step to assume responsibility for risk in the broader business.
What’s a typical day like as a CRO?
It varies so much that there really isn’t a typical day and this is one of the attractions of the role. I tend to view it in terms of quarterly cycles, short and long term projects and the issues which come up on a day-to-day basis. One of the increasingly consistent themes is the regulatory work that needs to be undertaken. This is particularly the case with transacting business internationally and the ongoing requirements it generates. One of the other areas is the constant need to review, refresh and enhance the risk framework – as the business continually evolves, so we need to ensure the framework remains fit for purpose and supports the identification of real issues.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
In order to be an effective CRO, you need to be across the whole business. But when you start out as a CRO, you have to recognize that you are not (and cannot) be an expert in all areas of the business. So for me, it is both the variety of the things you get involved with as well as the opportunity to learn. It is quite common to have to move out of your ‘comfort zone’ in order that you can listen to an expert in a given area and then determine how best to challenge what is being proposed or has been presented. And much as many complain about travel after they’ve been doing it for 20 years, I still kind of enjoy it!
What are the challenges?
One of the biggest challenges links directly to one of the most enjoyable parts – you can’t be a leading expert in everything so you continuously need to figure out how best to challenge, how best to acquire the knowledge or information you might need, how to get another independent perspective and the like. The effective challenge comes not just from asking the right questions but also being able to interpret the quality of the response. One of the other significant challenges of risk teams generally, is continually ensuring that their role and participation is seen as integral to the business and not an adjunct i.e. you always have a seat at the right table. And this aligns directly with culture in ensuring that the approach to risk is embedded in the way things are done versus the opinion/maturity of any one individual.
In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?
The IRM qualifications provide an excellent base in terms of how to view risk management. They provide a practical framework around it and a structured way of thinking. This is vital to being successful in a risk role (and other roles I have had before moving into a CRO role) and obviously with CPD, ensures you keep it current.
What would you say to others thinking about joining IRM as a member?
I have always been in favour of professional qualifications that really support you in your profession and have actively encouraged anyone that works for me to pursue them. Whilst a lot of learning is gained ‘on the job’, fundamental principles are often learnt through study and then reinforced on the job. So I would definitely recommend the IRM exams as a course of study and membership of the IRM as a valuable, professional body seeking to educate and improve the understanding of risk.
How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions? Has being linked to the IRM helped?
I have spent my entire career in the (re)insurance business, particularly on the broking and advisory side. More recently I have spent a number of years on the company side. Prior to my current role as CRO, my roles were focused on specific areas of the business working directly with our customers. I took my IRM exams in order to help me better understand and communicate with my customers and that still applies today. My career ambitions are very much to develop further in the CRO role but increasingly near to the customer.
If someone were to ask me for my tips on moving into the ‘risk’ space or choosing it directly as a profession, my tips would be:
- Don’t rush into the risk profession but really get to know the industry you want to be in, whatever it may be. Your credibility within your business will be much higher if you really understand the industry and can therefore make your advice, guidance and challenge more insightful;
- Always speak the language of the business. It is very easy to get hung up on the terminology used in risk teams yet it often means little (or worse, something completely different), within the business;
- Develop a strong network and sustainable relationships. Being effective within the risk space (and having an insightful opinion) is supported by having a variety of sources throughout the business (and within the industry).
- And finally, take the exams!