Episode 23: Unlocking the Power of Program Risk Assessments in Financial Institutions

Episode 23: Unlocking the Power of Program Risk Assessments in Financial Institutions

October 10, 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of banking and finance, managing risks is a top priority for institutions of all sizes. In a recent episode of the Risk Intel podcast, host Ed Vincent was joined by Beth Nilles, Implementation Director at Strategic Risk Associates (SRA) and Mike Jones, Chief Compliance Officer at SRA. Together, they delved into the world of program risk assessments, shedding light on their historical use, current practices, and modernized best practices for financial institutions.

Understanding Program Risk Assessments

Program risk assessments are a critical component of risk management in the banking industry. They help institutions identify, assess, and mitigate risks associated with various programs and operations. The episode provided valuable insights into how these assessments have evolved over time and how they are conducted today.

Historical Practices

In the past, banks took a somewhat ad-hoc approach to program risk assessments. Smaller organizations often relied on individual departments to create annual assessments using tools like Word documents or Excel spreadsheets. This decentralized approach was resource-driven, with employees working on these assessments alongside their regular duties. As banks grew in size, they typically established risk and compliance departments to oversee the process, resulting in a more structured approach.

Current Methods and Challenges

Surprisingly, many financial institutions still rely on traditional tools like Word and Excel for program risk assessments. This practice can introduce challenges, such as version control and consistency. It's clear that there's room for improvement in the way institutions conduct these assessments.

Best Practices for Program Risk Assessments

The podcast episode highlighted several best practices for conducting program risk assessments in financial institutions:

  1. Applicability Analysis: Before conducting an assessment, it's crucial to determine which rules, regulations, and laws apply to the institution. This helps customize the assessment to the bank's specific needs.
  2. Consistency: Maintaining a consistent methodology and approach to assessments is key. Even when different departments are involved, a uniform process should be followed.
  3. Version Control: Managing version control is crucial, whether through in-house systems or specialized tools. This ensures that assessments are up to date and accurate.
  4. Taking Action: Program risk assessments shouldn't be mere documentation. They should drive action. Institutions need to identify and track risk improvement activities to address identified risks effectively.

Configurability and Adaptability

One of the key takeaways from the episode was that every financial institution is unique, and assessments should reflect this individuality. While there's a regulatory baseline that must be met, institutions should be able to adapt assessments to their specific operating models.


In the world of banking and finance, program risk assessments are essential tools for managing risks effectively. It's evident that while some institutions have embraced modern tools and practices, there's room for improvement in many areas. By implementing the best practices discussed in the episode, financial institutions can enhance their risk management processes and ensure they're well-prepared for the challenges of the future.

To stay ahead in the world of finance, embracing innovation and adopting modern tools for program risk assessments is not just an option; it's a necessity.

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