Trailblazers 40 Below: VP Scott Assembles the Risk Management Puzzle
Believe it or not, risk management is fun for Kristen Scott, vice president of enterprise risk management at Telhio Credit Union.
If Scott had her way, every credit union would take the time to look at their vision and overall business strategy through the lens of enterprise risk management. Given her title some may say she’s biased, but Scott has likened it to finding and matching the right puzzle pieces to see the big picture more clearly.
“I think every credit union is different with their own risk tolerance and the members they serve in a unique way, so I think it’s hard to tell anyone how they should or shouldn’t approach risk,” said Scott. “That being said, I do like that enterprise risk management takes a systematic approach, which allows each credit union to look internally, better understand the aggregate risks to determine what they need across the entire organization instead of just on the lending side. It’s a way credit unions can make more informed decisions.”
So what is enterprise risk management? Simply put, it takes an integrated or holistic approach to understand and manage all the risks an organization faces. The primary goal of ERM is to improve the quality of decision making throughout an organization.
Enterprise risk management has been a relatively new function at Telhio. Four years ago, risk at the $440 million Columbus, Ohio-based credit union was primarily managed in what Scott called organizational silos.
“The opportunity of this role grew out of the fact that these days with technology, department lines are blurred. It’s not just about loans or share accounts but responding to questions over the Internet or phone or developing partnership with dealers. The fact is that it is rare for risk to present just along product lines or service,” said Scott. “We have to tackle project risk across all products and areas because it’s all interrelated, and the leadership at Telhio recognized that there was a need for a department to spearhead that effort.”
She views ERM as a way to champion the overall mission and empower departments and individuals to remain on the strategic course. She said initially the most challenging part of the process was gaining greater understanding of what everyone in the credit union does.
“I’m not an expert in any one area, but I do need to know enough to ask the right questions to recognize, better understand and learn the opportunities,” said Scott. “I’m very fortunate that the board and senior management are all behind this because without that buy in it would have never happened at the credit union.”
Once she had a firm grasp of what each department does, Scott began shifting the focus from individual departmental reports to a more holistic approach of how they work together.
“It was about shifting into more of a ‘how does what I do affect everyone else’ mindset,” said Scott. “One big thing we did was a reporting project board to have a clear picture of every report submitted to the board and senior management. The first thing we noticed was how much duplication there was and how much we could save if we organized it all in a way that made sense. So it would not just be accounts or loan reports but categorizing the information by how it relates to different areas in the credit union as a whole. What started happening is that it has built a greater sense of camaraderie as everyone has a greater understanding of the whys behind sending a particular report monthly. There’s also a greater sense of pride because everyone sees how what they do really matters and ties back to Telhio’s goals and mission.”
Like many, Scott didn’t know much about credit unions before being a part of the industry. In fact, it wasn’t until she was applying for a job at American Share Insurance straight out of college that she learned about credit unions as part of her research for the interview.
"Once you are in this industry that is so rich with tradition in really helping people, who would ever want to go to the other side and big banks?” she said.
She added that the cooperative nature of credit unions should be a big selling point as an employer of choice for the next generation.
“It’s refreshing to work at an organization where you have a say in making a real difference because as members and employees we are the owners and have a personal stake in its success,” said Scott. “Credit unions have all the tools to be successful, and the more we share and show what makes us different as a financial institution and as an employer, it can’t help but resonate with the younger generation. There’s so much opportunity. Consumers are so tired of being told what they have to do at big banks.”