From my experience, in many companies country risk is treated separately to risks registered in their Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) framework and reported independently to the Board – most often by using political risk maps.
To me, this is an error as country risk has a direct impact on operational risks and this impact should be materialized so that the correct mitigation strategy can be decided and applied.
First, let me define what I mean by country risk. To me, it is the potential negative events arising from political, economic and societal uncertainty in a given country.
Many equate country risk to political risk but as you can see in my definition, I believe that political risk is only a component of country risk – albeit an important constituent – it does not cover its complete scope.
This concept is very mature within investment companies as it is usually one of the criteria applied when deciding whether to invest in one country or another but I think it applies more widely.
All companies face a country risk, some with a higher level than others but all companies operate at least in one country. So, even if this country is rather “stable” today, this risk should still be recorded, assessed and monitored as situations can evolve sometimes more rapidly than expected.
Direct links with your ERM framework
Consider the following situations:
- Do you have operations? If yes, then regulatory changes decided by a government can affect you directly and subject you to new regulatory obligations;
- Do you have production facilities? If yes, in extreme cases, you may be facing unilaterally decided nationalizations;
- Do you have sales activities? If yes, then these can be significantly impacted by the national economic climate, especially if you are in a B2C business;
- Do you have employees? If yes, then these can be at risk if there is a sudden outburst of unrest. On a less drastic scale, a change in labour laws can also directly influence your HR organization and even decrease your profitability;
- Do you invest in innovation? If yes, you may have to agree to technological or knowledge transfer to be able to supply the local market with your products, increasing your competitive risk.
In another post (The Critical Role of Marketing Executives in the Risk Management Process) I had discussed the fact that reputational risk is a direct result from other risks. Well, I believe that country risk is at the opposite side of the spectrum and can be a trigger for many operational risks.
As such, even in low risk profile countries, assessing and regularly reviewing the risk level is part of a sound risk management practice.
How to assess country risk?
There isn’t one common agreed measure to assess this risk category but I would like to try to suggest a simple method:
- Likelihood of occurrence: here would be assessed the combined probability of potential evolution of the political, economic and societal conditions. Some countries have a stable political environment either because it appropriately represents the opinion of the population or because the government secures its re-elections by different means. Nevertheless, this does not mean that societal conditions can’t evolve rapidly, as precisely illustrated during the Arab Spring. Taking into account these three criteria will therefore result in a more truthful probability of occurrence;
- Impact: here would be documented the potential direct impact of a country risk for your company and its different activities carried out in the country: manufacturing, sales, R&D, etc.;
- Speed of Onset: here would be assessed the velocity with which the risk can occur. For instance, in countries where political representation effectively embodies public opinion, a change in the political landscape can be rather long compared to personalized regimes where a change in leader can bring a system down rapidly. This is likely to be the most difficult criteria to assess, but publicly available geopolitical analyses can be a good starting point.
Here is why I believe political risk maps can’t be used as is by companies as country risks: not all companies will be affected in the same way by changing events. Integrating this risk category in your ERM framework means that you can not only assess a macro-impact at your company level, but that you can also document the influence of this country risks on your objectives and on other risks in the ERM framework: potential effects on your supply chain, manufacturing activities, sales process, etc.
From there, appropriate mitigation strategies for these operational risks can be defined and implemented.
The intent of this post is certainly not to say that all countries are at risk, far from it, but that internal and external influences can lead to a rapid change in the rules of the game for your organization and its activities and that this should be monitored so as to avoid being taken off guard.
What about you, do you monitor country risk?