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Archive for December, 2009

Book Review: “The New Data Imperative: Managing Real-Time Risk in Capital Markets” by Dr. Raj Nathan, Irfan Khan, & Sinan Baskan

Nude Sunbathing
Image by STML via Flickr

It seems that since the arrival of the Great Recession everyone has rushed a book out explaining why it happened and how to prevent it in the future.   The feeding frenzy includes folks from all sorts of backgrounds who barely know what Sarbanes-Oxley, a financial statement or a CobiT control is.  For many of these “experts,” the reasons for the recession are clearly not financial or regulatory or linked to Globalization, but deeply ingrained in our dysfunctional and narcissistic society and by nasty “capitalism,” which to many is as deadly a tormentor of society as the Black Plague was 700 years ago.   The damage caused by the recession is viewed as evidence that there is a need to educate the masses in new righteous ways to make money and  legislate new rules over corporate conduct.   The new Robin Hoods of course  are poised to make lots of money by selling new training programs, conducting seminars in Las Vegas and devising new green and “humane” ways to dismantle capitalism.

Although, writen by Sybase excecutives, The New Data Imperative by Dr. Raj Nathan, Irfan Khan and Sinan Baskan is not one of those new opportunistic books I am so disappointed to see in the book stores today.   This book is a breath of fresh air in that it does not overshoot its scope and intent.   Although, discussing the recession and using it as a backdrop, the book in its 115 pages manages to convey the what, how, when and why of the information infrastructure behind today’s globalized financial markets, and why changes to these are needed.  It does this in language that is understandable to non-technical business people (auditors, compliance, legal and financial management), who for the most part  are the ones who need to understand these things, so they can participate in future implementations and improvements to existing  systems.

In the next three to five years Risk Management will see an increase in the complexity of analysis,  the need for faster data acquisition, faster reporting and the integration of more diverse data sources from in-house and  from “the cloud.”   Not to mention a likely increase in Regulatory Compliance  mandates.  For these reasons, the way we approach the infrastructure that supports the  Risk Management function(s) needs to be  re-conceptualized.    “The New Data Imperative” provides a quick snapshot of how to achieve this.  The book looks at the state of current Risk Management “silos,”  their data feeds, analysis cycles, reporting structures and overall data infrastructure, explaining why these current systems fell short during the recent financial crisis and provides us with a well conceptualized picture of how to transition, often without major and costly changes, into the data environments needed for the new Risk Management processes now being proposed by regulators, the Big Four and some of the leading international financial standards organizations.

In addition to its clarity, in my opinion the book serves another important purpose.   That of attempting to educate “legacy” type IT managers who in many organizations today have “stale” skill sets and  are often ignorant of industry best practices  and trends.   As many an experienced IT auditor can confirm,  these managers are ill prepared for the future  and  can not visualize the infrastructure changes needed to implement and maintain the Enterprise Risk Management systems of the post Great Recession era.  Because these folks can not visualize the future, they tend to be serious obstacles to improving performance and strategically positioning IT investments for competitive advantage.    Although, high in authority because of seniority or organizational politics,  these folks have managed to carve out positions where they appear to provide value not by what they do, but by how they stop others from doing.   They are in a way the “Gate Keepers” against innovation and process improvements.    If by some miracle some of  these individuals were to read “The New Data Imperative,” I think great technological achievements would take place in their organizations.

If you are an IT Auditor or a Risk Manager for a financial institution, I highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with this book.   I believe the book will bring you up to date on the latest real time risk management concepts and will open your eyes to some of the technological challenges we will be facing in the next three to five years as Enterprise Risk Management evolves to a more mature level.

Because the book is small and unassuming, I also recommend it as a gift for those “legacy” type IT managers I mentioned earlier.   It may be the most eye opening technology book they’ve read in the last 10 years!

If you’re wondering about the “Nude Sunbathing” sign above…. let me explain why it’s here.   This picture was taken last July one block away from the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in NYC, on the day the National Enterprise Risk Management Club of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was holding its national awards for the most creative use of Twitter in a crisis situation.   When members saw this sign they Twitted all the participants, and half the Jacob Javitz Center emptied as the men rushed to the Hudson River to watch the annoyed sun bathers.   Now the question being debated by serious Harvard sociologists is:  Did Twitter empty out the Jacob Javitz Center, or was it the naked sunbathers and their uncontrollable effects on the hot Latins from Argentina?

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Response from Senator Bob Menendez to the “Dumb Auditor” Article

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Senator Bob Menendez

Dear Mr. Font:

Thank you for contacting me to express your opinion on banking reform.  Your opinion is very important to me, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you on this crucial issue.

I appreciate you taking the time to provide your ideas on how we can make changes to the banking industry to improve its efficiency and transparency.  Every day New Jerseyans are working very hard to provide for their families, but current market conditions have made it difficult for families to save or access credit.  The financial collapse last year demonstrated the need for increased transparency to protect investors and consumers from fraud and irresponsibility.  Americans simply cannot afford the risks associated with widespread economic instability such as losses of jobs, savings, and benefits.  I am committed to ensuring that our financial markets are fully regulated and operate in the best interest of the American people.

As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, I have long stood for financial reforms that promote smart, healthy, and sustainable development. I rely on the important communications I receive from my constituents to guide my work in the United States Senate.  On this, as with any issue, there are many different view points, but please rest assured that I will continue to work diligently to respond to the many valuable insights I receive from New Jerseyans like you.

Finding solutions to the issues you raise is what drives me to keep standing up for New Jersey families.  Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of more assistance.

I invite you to visit my website http://menendez.senate.gov to learn of other important issues in New Jersey.

Response to Comments from the “Dumb Auditor” Article

Old Compass
Image by Sebastian Niedlich (Grabthar) via Flickr

To all the readers who left comments regarding the “Dumb Auditor” article.   Thank you for visiting the blog and taking time to share your excellent ideas with the group.  The “Dumb Auditor” article has been read by thousands of interested people from around the world, indicating that the issues discussed are of serious importance to our profession.  Most of your comments clearly show “battle scars” resulting from real life work situations,  making them more valuable than I ever expected.

It is also clear from your comments that auditors would like some resolution to these problems. Or, at least some structural changes in the industry that lead to diminishing auditor exposures, while they do their jobs protecting shareholder interests.  Although, many in the business world share similar situations, risks and moral dilemmas, it is the auditor who is expected to uncover fraud and other illegalities with few or no legal and financial protections for themselves.    And, few are similarly bound to maintain confidentiality about their work and the very things that often get them fired.   It is not unusual to hear Internal Auditors tell of stories where they “uncovered to much” and got fired for it, but can’t talk about it!   What does this tell us from a legal, societal and ethical perspective, and where does it put the professional organizations that are supposed to provide guidance and protections for the profession?

From the more than 30 comments left in the blog by readers to date, I am particularly impressed and grateful for the following:

1) From Felix, on November 30th.

Excellent proposals with excellent potential.  Felix discusses four items that  should be considered at the highest levels.  Item # 4 on his list is something I had thought about in the past (and, I suspect other auditors have as well), dealing with Professional Liability Insurance “provided by the PCAOB (or other body holding CFO’s/auditors to ethical/moral standards) for auditors and CFO’s. If a CFO or auditor is fired due to claimed unethical reasons, they are eligible to receive 100% of what they were making.”

There are countless types of liability insurance for professionals, such as errors and omissions for attorneys and accountants and medical malpractice.  Why not develop one that insures against wrongful dismissal of auditors, specially when the dismissal involves a dispute with management due to the normal performance of the auditor’s duties, ethical or fraud related matters?

2) From Mark Pennington, on November 30th.

I was impressed with the brevity, the directness and the underlying picturesque quality of Mark’s comments.

Disregarding his tone….  I think he is correct in that there is a very large segment in management that does not care.  Why should they?  They do not perceive to be negatively affected, and their personal bank accounts keep increasing instead of decreasing with the status-quo.

3) From Rodney Kocot, on December 2nd.

I think Rodney’s comment is the most eloquent posted in terms of describing a situation where auditors get fired for trying to do the right thing.  I think that everyone who has been an auditor for several years recognizes this type of story, either from first hand experience or because it has happened to a peer.  Unfortunately, because of confidentiality agreements and fears of being black listed, these stories rarely get out to the public or beyond auditor circles.

4) From Adis Vila, on December 5th.

I appreciate the visit from Adis, a person that has done a great deal of work in the corporate governance and ethics areas, as well as in government.

The need for “Ethics Training” is clear and I am glad someone with a strong background in this area brought it up.  However, my sense is that ethics training yields future results and it’s something that impacts entrants to the business world, with limited impact on the “old dogs” running lose right now in positions of authority.  Training someone like a Bernie Madoff in “Values” and “Ethics” would be an interesting effort probably yielding few good results.  We auditors are in the trenches dealing with societal and organizational challenges as they are now, not as they should be.  Most auditors I know view compliance training as something that goes hand in hand with ethics.

I agree with Adis that we should concentrate more on a “Values-Based” ethical culture, because I believe that as a society we dropped the ball on this one a long time ago.  I will refer to a few comments posted by Felix on November 30th which reflect my views on this issue:

“What is for sure is also that some crooks would not be crooks if society would not accept as “good” many things that are NOT good. The unfortunate relativism that we live in now a days is contrary to how the United States was founded. It was founded on deep moral principles and as a result there was a key ingredient that was not there in many other countries or societies throughout history: trust. Trust can only exist when the society is a morally correct society that has not transformed values. In other words when a bad act is considered OK by many and vice versa. The problem we are facing in the United States of today runs deeper than audits and rules.

The problem goes to the core of the humanity of our country.”

5) From Ben, on December 8th.

Ben’s comments are well thought out and clearly come from experience.   His suggestion that auditors take a more careful and inquisitive approach during their job interviews in order to improve their chances of accepting jobs in organizations that more closely reflect their ethical values, is excellent.

I also agree with Ben regarding the approach with mid-level management and the need to invest time educating folks in Risk Management.  His humorous call for prayers, relaxation and meditation techniques during audits of sales functions is also unique and worth considering!

Prior to the popularity of “Social Media,” blogs, Twitter and the web, most controversial issues impacting an industry or profession remained in a semi-secret state.  Today, they can be known to thousands of people instantly.  The power of knowledge or as they used to call it, “The Pen” is stronger than the “Sword,” and in most cases it is also stronger than the “Dollar.”  Because of this, I believe that the “Dumb” auditor article will make a positive contribution to the efforts being made to resolve the issues cited in the article.  At minimum, there will be more awareness of the problems from the perspective of the auditor.

Thank you again for visiting, reading and leaving your comments.

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