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ERM: challenges, concepts and a comprehensive outlook

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Inspired by the challenge of new concepts to develop and implement, Sylvain Fortier, pictured, became interested in risk management early in his actuarial career. And now that enthusiasm has led to him becoming a key enterprise risk management (ERM) professional.

Sylvain, vice-president of models and measures of risks at Laurentian Bank in Montréal, is responsible for ensuring that the bank is prioritizing the right areas of risk. He is also involved in underwriting and investment strategies, risk tolerances and appetites, and establishing the company’s ERM framework.

He developed his taste for this area of actuarial science after being inspired by his professors while earning an MSc at Université Laval. He said, "After my exams I followed the ERM track as soon as it was created. That was a great move by the actuarial profession because we are risk professionals at heart. There was a lot to put in place and new concepts to develop, and the quantitative aspect of risk was evolving in interesting ways."

He first worked as a credit risk analyst, but his knowledge of ERM means he now considers every type of risk, such as credit, market and interest. "In ERM you are involved in all business lines, and you have a comprehensive view of the company. You are involved at a high level. You try to ensure there is coherent management of the risks while the dynamics are changing a lot, and there are constantly new problems and risks to manage."

Actuaries are important to any business, Sylvain added. "They can evolve in any risk field. You need a strong quantitative background, and actuaries have that skill. They have a good understanding of the impact of risk factors, and their impact on the balance sheet, benefits and costs. We are able to understand complex concepts and simplify them for management and the business as a whole. That makes actuaries essential in the role of enterprise risk management."

Those moving into the risk management field needed to be self-confident, he said, and the profession still had work to do on promoting the importance of actuaries to companies considering creating an ERM strategy.

"The main challenge is to believe in your aptitude and competency in doing the work," he added. "Just having an actuarial background gave me a lot of credibility, and you have to believe in your capacity. There are a lot of people in other professions who are involved in risk, and we need to defend our role so enterprises turn to us for risk management expertise and thinking. It is not yet their first reflex to turn to actuaries."

For previous interviews in this series, visit the following links: Minaz Lilani, Mariève Tetréault, Jean-Yves Rioux, Michael White, Altaf Rahim and Kathryn Hyland.


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