Financial risk management is the practice of protecting economic value in a firm by using financial instruments to manage exposure to financial risk - principally operational risk, credit risk and market risk, with more specific variants as listed aside. As for risk management more generally, financial risk management requires identifying its sources, measuring it, and the plans to address them.[1] See Finance § Risk management.

Financial risk management as a "science" can be said to have been born [2] with modern portfolio theory, particularly as initiated by Professor Harry Markowitz in 1952 with his article, "Portfolio Selection";[3] see Mathematical finance § Risk and portfolio management: the P world.

Financial risk management can be qualitative and quantitative. As a specialization of risk management, financial risk management focuses on when and how to hedge using financial instruments to manage costly exposures to risk.[4]

  • In the banking sector worldwide, the Basel Accords are generally adopted by internationally active banks for tracking, reporting and exposing operational, credit and market risks.[5][6]
  • Within non-financial corporates,[7] the scope is broadened to overlap enterprise risk management, and financial risk management then addresses risks to the firm's overall strategic objectives.
  • In investment management risk is managed through diversification and related optimization; while further specific techniques are then applied to the portfolio or to individual stocks as appropriate.

In all cases, the last "line of defence" against risk is capital, "as it ensures that a firm can continue as a going concern even if substantial and unexpected losses are incurred".[8]

Economic perspective

Neoclassical finance theory - i.e., financial economics - prescribes that a firm should take on a project if it increases shareholder value. Finance theory also shows that firm managers cannot create value for shareholders or investors by taking on projects that shareholders could do for themselves at the same cost. See Theory of the firm and Fisher separation theorem.

There is therefore a fundamental debate [9] relating to "Risk Management" and shareholder value. The discussion essentially weighs the value of risk management in a market versus the cost of bankruptcy in that market: per the Modigliani and Miller framework, hedging is irrelevant since diversified shareholders are assumed to not care about firm-specific risks, whereas, on the other hand hedging is seen to create value in that it reduces the probability of financial distress.

When applied to financial risk management, this implies that firm managers should not hedge risks that investors can hedge for themselves at the same cost. This notion is captured in the so-called "hedging irrelevance proposition": [10] "In a perfect market, the firm cannot create value by hedging a risk when the price of bearing that risk within the firm is the same as the price of bearing it outside of the firm."

In practice, however, financial markets are not likely to be perfect markets. [11] [12] [13] [14] This suggests that firm managers likely have many opportunities to create value for shareholders using financial risk management, wherein they have to determine which risks are cheaper for the firm to manage than the shareholders. Here, market risks that result in unique risks for the firm are commonly the best candidates for financial risk management. [15]


As outlined, businesses are exposed, in the main, to market, credit and operational risk. A broad distinction [8] exists though, between financial institutions and non-financial firms - and correspondingly, the application of risk management will differ. Respectively:[8] For Banks and Fund Managers, "credit and market risks are taken intentionally with the objective of earning returns, while operational risks are a byproduct to be controlled". For non-financial firms, the priorities are reversed, as "the focus is on the risks associated with the business" - ie the production and marketing of the services and products in which expertise is held - and their impact on revenue, costs and cash flow, "while market and credit risks are usually of secondary importance as they are a byproduct of the main business agenda". In all cases, as above, risk capital is the last "line of defence".


Banks and other wholesale institutions face various financial risks in conducting their business, and how well these risks are managed and understood is a key driver behind profitability, as well as of the quantum of capital they are required to hold. Financial risk management in banking has grown markedly in importance since the Financial crisis of 2007–2008. [16] (This has given rise [16] to dedicated degrees and professional certifications.)

The major focus here is on credit and market risk, and especially through regulatory capital, includes operational risk. Credit risk is inherent in the business of banking, but additionally, these institutions are exposed to counterparty credit risk. Both are to some extent offset by margining and collateral; and the management is of the net-position. Large banks are also exposed to Macroeconomic systematic risk - risks related to the aggregate economy the bank is operating in[17] (see Too big to fail).

The discipline [18][19] [5][6] is, as outlined, simultaneously concerned with (i) managing, and as necessary hedging, the various positions held by the institution — both trading positions and long term exposures; and (ii) calculating and monitoring the resultant economic capital, as well as the regulatory capital under Basel III. The calculations here are mathematically sophisticated, and within the domain of quantitative finance.

Broadly, calculations [19] are built for (i) on the "Greeks", the sensitivity of the price of a derivative to a change in its underlying parameters, as well as on the various other measures of exposure to market factors, such as DV01 for the sensitivity of a bond or swap to interest rates; and for (ii) on value at risk, or "VaR", an estimate of how much the investment or area in question might lose with a given probability in a set time period, and the bank holds economic “risk capital” correspondingly.

The regulatory capital quantum is calculated via specified formulae: risk weighting the exposures per highly standardized asset-categorizations, and the resultant capital - at least 12.9% of these Risk-weighted assets - must then be held in specific "tiers" and is measured correspondingly.

As the financial crisis exposed holes in the mechanisms used for hedging, the methodologies employed have had to evolve (see FRTB, Tail risk § Role of the global financial crisis (2007-2008) and Value at risk § Criticism):

Re implementation, Investment banks, particularly, employ dedicated "Risk Groups", i.e. Middle office teams monitoring the firm's risk exposure to, and the profitability and structure of, its various businesses, products, asset classes, desks, and / or geographies.[22] By increasing order of aggregation: (i) Financial institutions will typically [18] set limit values for each of the Greeks or other measures that their traders must not exceed, and traders will then hedge, offset, or reduce periodically if not daily - see below. (ii) Desks, or areas, will similarly be limited as to their VaR quantum (total or incremental, and under various calculation regimes), corresponding to their allocated economic capital. (iii) And their concentration risk will be checked [22] against thresholds set for various types of risk. (iv) Leverage will be monitored - at very least re regulatory requirements - as leveraged positions could lose large amounts for a relatively small move in the price of the underlying. (v) Periodically, [23] these all are estimated under a given stress scenario, and risk capital - together with these limits - is correspondingly revisited. (Achieving this requires that banks maintain a significant investment in sophisticated systems, risk software, and dedicated staff.)

Middle office also maintains the following functions, often overlapping these Groups: Corporate Treasury is responsible for monitoring overall funding, capital structure, and liquidity risk, and for the FTP framework allowing for comparable performance evaluation among business units; Product Control is primarily responsible for insuring traders mark their books to fair value (a key protection against rogue traders) and for "explaining" the daily P&L; Credit Risk monitors the bank's debt-clients on an ongoing basis, re both exposure and performance. See Financial analyst § Middle office.

In their Front office, Banks employ specialized desks tasked with centrally monitoring and managing their CVA and XVA exposure, typically with oversight from the above Groups.[21]

Corporate finance

Contribution analytics: Profit and Loss for units sold at current fixed costs.

In corporate finance and financial management, [24] financial risk management, as above, is concerned more generally with business risk - risks to the business’ value, within the context of its business strategy and capital structure. [25] The scope here - ie in non-financial firms [8] - is thus broadened [7] [26] [27] (re banking) to overlap enterprise risk management, and financial risk management then addresses risks to the firm's overall strategic objectives, incorporating various (all) financial aspects [28] of the exposures and opportunities arising from business decisions, and their link to the firm’s appetite for risk, as well as their impact on share price. In many organizations, risk executives are therefore involved in strategy formulation: "the choice of which risks to undertake through the allocation of its scarce resources is the key tool available to management." [29]

Re the standard framework,[28] the discipline largely focuses on operations, i.e. business risk, as outlined. Here, the management is ongoing — see further description below — and is coupled with the use of insurance: credit risk is usually addressed via provisioning and credit insurance; likewise, where this treatment is deemed appropriate, specifically identified operational risks are also insured.[27] Market risk, in this context,[8] is concerned mainly with changes in commodity prices, interest rates, and foreign exchange rates, and any adverse impact due to these on cash flow and profitability, and hence share price.

Correspondingly, the practice here covers two perspectives; these are shared with corporate finance more generally:

  1. Both risk management and corporate finance share the goal of enhancing, or at least preserving, firm value.[24] Here,[7][28] businesses devote much time and effort to (short term) liquidity-, cash flow- and performance monitoring, and Risk Management then also overlaps cash- and treasury management, especially as impacted by capital and funding as above. More specifically re business-operations, management emphasizes their break even dynamics, contribution margin and operating leverage, and the corresponding monitoring and management of revenue (and of other budgetary elements). In larger firms, specialist Risk Analysts complement this work with model-based analytics more broadly; [30][31] in some cases, employing sophisticated stochastic models,[31][32] in, for example, financing activity prediction problems, and for risk analysis ahead of a major investment.
  2. Firm exposure to long term market (and business) risk is a direct result of previous capital investment decisions. Where applicable here [8][28][24] — usually in large corporates and under guidance from their investment bankers — risk analysts will manage and hedge their exposures using traded financial instruments to create commodity-, cash flow- and foreign exchange hedges (see further below). Because company specific, "over-the-counter" (OTC) contracts tend to be costly to create and monitor — i.e. using financial engineering and / or structured products”standard” derivatives that trade on well-established exchanges are often preferred. These include [9][28] options, futures, forwards, and swaps; the "second generation" exotic derivatives usually trade OTC. Complementary to this hedging, periodically, Treasury may also adjust the capital structure, reducing debt-funding so as to accommodate increased business risk.

Multinational Corporations are faced with additional challenges, particularly as relates to foreign exchange risk, and the scope of financial risk management modifies dramatically in the international realm; here dependent on time horizon, and risk sub-type — transactions exposure[33] (essentially that discussed above), accounting exposure,[34] and economic exposure [35] — so the corporate will manage its risk differently. Note that the forex risk-management discussed here and above, is additional to the per transaction "forward cover" that importers and exporters purchase from their bank (alongside other trade finance mechanisms).

It is common for large corporations to have dedicated risk management teams — typically within FP&A or corporate treasury — reporting to the CRO; often these overlap with the internal audit function. For small firms, it is impractical to have a formal risk management function, but these typically apply the above practices, at least the first set, informally, as part of the financial management function; see Financial analyst § Corporate and other.

Note that hedging-related transactions will attract their own accounting treatment, and corporates (and banks) may then require changes to systems, processes and documentation; [36] see Hedge accounting, Mark-to-market accounting, Hedge relationship (finance), FASB 133, IAS 39, IFRS 9.

Investment management

Efficient Frontier. The hyperbola is sometimes referred to as the "Markowitz bullet", and its upward sloped portion is the efficient frontier if no risk-free asset is available. With a risk-free asset, the straight capital allocation line is the efficient frontier.

Fund managers,[37] classically, define the risk of a portfolio as its variance (or standard deviation), and through diversification the portfolio is optimized so as to achieve the lowest risk for a given targeted return, or equivalently the highest return for a given level of risk; these risk-efficient portfolios form the "Efficient frontier" (see Markowitz model). The logic here is that returns from different assets are highly unlikely to be perfectly correlated, and in fact the correlation may sometimes be negative. In this way, market risk particularly, and other financial risks such as inflation risk, can at least partially be moderated by forms of diversification.

A key issue in diversification, however, is that the (assumed) relationships are (implicitly) forward looking. As observed in the late-2000s recession historic relationships can break down, resulting in losses to market participants believing that diversification would provide sufficient protection (in that market, including funds that had been explicitly set up to avoid being affected in this way[38]). A related issue is that diversification has costs: as correlations are not constant it may be necessary to regularly rebalance the portfolio, incurring transaction costs, negatively impacting investment performance; and as the fund manager diversifies, so this problem compounds (and a large fund may also exert market impact). See Modern portfolio theory § Criticisms.

Addressing these issues, more sophisticated approaches have been developed in recent times, both to defining risk, and to the optimization itself - (tail) risk parity, as an example, focuses on allocation of risk, rather than allocation of capital; see Post-modern portfolio theory and Financial economics § Portfolio theory. Relatedly, modern financial risk modeling employs a variety of techniques — including value at risk, historical simulation, stress tests, and extreme value theory — to analyze the portfolio and to forecast the likely losses incurred for a variety of risks and scenarios. In parallel, [39] managers - active and passive - also seek to understand any tracking error, i.e. underperformance vs a "benchmark", and here often use attribution analysis preemptively so as to diagnose the source early, and to take corrective action.

Additional to these (improved) diversification and optimization measures, and given these analytics, Fund Managers will apply specific risk hedging techniques as appropriate;[37] these may relate to the portfolio as a whole or to individual stocks.

  • Fund managers may engage in portfolio insurance, a hedging strategy developed to limit the losses an investor might face from a declining index of stocks without having to sell the stocks themselves. This strategy involves selling Stock market index futures during periods of price declines. The proceeds from the sale of the futures help to offset paper losses of the owned portfolio. Alternatively, and more commonly,[40] they will buy a put on a Stock market index option so as to hedge. In both cases the logic is that the (diversified) portfolio is likely highly correlated with the stock index it is part of; thus if stock prices decline, the larger index will likewise decline, and the derivative holder will profit.
  • Fund managers, or traders, may also wish to hedge a specific stock's price. Here, they may likewise buy a single-stock put, or sell a single-stock future. An alternative is to engage in a "Long/short" strategy: if the trader believes that a share should increase in value (e.g. as it is underpriced given recent news) but is concerned about its overall industry correcting, then she may hedge out the industry-related risk by short selling shares from a direct, yet weaker, competitor.
  • Bond portfolios are typically managed via Interest rate immunization or cashflow matching. Immunization is a strategy that ensures that a change in interest rates will not affect the value of a fixed-income portfolio (See Bond valuation § Present value approach: an increase in rates results in a decreased instrument value). Immunization is often used to ensure that the value of a pension fund's assets (or an asset manager's fund) increase or decrease in an exactly opposite fashion to their liabilities, thus leaving the value of the pension fund's surplus (or firm's equity) unchanged, regardless of changes in the interest rate. Cashflow matching is similarly a process of hedging in which a company or other entity matches its cash outflows (i.e., financial obligations) with its cash inflows over a given time horizon.
  • For derivative portfolios, and positions, "the Greeks" are a vital risk management tool - these measure sensitivity to a small change in a given underlying parameter so that the portfolio can be rebalanced accordingly by including additional derivatives with offsetting characteristics.

See also



  1. ^ Peter F. Christoffersen (22 November 2011). Elements of Financial Risk Management. Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-374448-7.
  2. ^ W. Kenton (2021). "Harry Markowitz",
  3. ^ Markowitz, H.M. (March 1952). "Portfolio Selection". The Journal of Finance. 7 (1): 77–91. doi:10.2307/2975974. JSTOR 2975974.
  4. ^ Allan M. Malz (13 September 2011). Financial Risk Management: Models, History, and Institutions. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-02291-7.
  5. ^ a b Van Deventer, Donald R., and Kenji Imai. Credit risk models and the Basel Accords. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons (Asia), 2003.
  6. ^ a b Drumond, Ines. "Bank capital requirements, business cycle fluctuations and the Basel Accords: a synthesis." Journal of Economic Surveys 23.5 (2009): 798-830.
  7. ^ a b c John Hampton (2011). The AMA Handbook of Financial Risk Management. American Management Association. ISBN 978-0814417447
  8. ^ a b c d e f See "Market Risk Management in Non-financial Firms", in Carol Alexander, Elizabeth Sheedy eds. (2015). The Professional Risk Managers’ Handbook 2015 Edition. PRMIA. ISBN 978-0976609704
  9. ^ a b Jonathan Lewellen (2003). Financial Management - Risk Management. MIT OCW
  10. ^ KRISHNAMURTI CHANDRASEKHAR; Krishnamurti & Viswanath (eds.) "; Vishwanath S. R. (2010-01-30). Advanced Corporate Finance. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. pp. 178–. ISBN 978-81-203-3611-7.
  11. ^ John J. Hampton (1982). Modern Financial Theory: Perfect and Imperfect Markets. Reston Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-8359-4553-0.
  12. ^ Zahirul Hoque (2005). Handbook of Cost and Management Accounting. Spiramus Press Ltd. pp. 201–. ISBN 978-1-904905-01-1.
  13. ^ Kirt C. Butler (28 August 2012). Multinational Finance: Evaluating Opportunities, Costs, and Risks of Operations. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 37–. ISBN 978-1-118-28276-2.
  14. ^ Dietmar Franzen (6 December 2012). Design of Master Agreements for OTC Derivatives. Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-3-642-56932-6.
  15. ^ Corporate Finance: Part I. Bookboon. pp. 32–. ISBN 978-87-7681-568-4.
  16. ^ a b The Rise of the Chief Risk Officer, Institutional Investor (March 2017).
  17. ^ Bolt, Wilko; Haan, Leo de; Hoeberichts, Marco; Oordt, Maarten van; Swank, Job (September 2012). "Bank Profitability during Recessions" (PDF). Journal of Banking & Finance. 36 (9): 2552–64. doi:10.1016/j.jbankfin.2012.05.011.
  18. ^ a b Martin Haugh (2016). "Basic Concepts and Techniques of Risk Management". Columbia University
  19. ^ a b c d Roy E. DeMeo (N.D.) "Quantitative Risk Management: VaR and Others". UNC Charlotte
  20. ^ See for example III.A.3, in Carol Alexander, ed. (January 2005). The Professional Risk Managers' Handbook. PRMIA Publications. ISBN 978-0976609704
  21. ^ a b International Association of Credit Portfolio Managers (2018). "The Evolution of XVA Desk Management"
  22. ^ a b International Association of Credit Portfolio Managers (2022). "Risk mitigation techniques in credit portfolio management"
  23. ^ Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (2009). "Range of practices and issues in economic capital frameworks"
  24. ^ a b c Risk Management and the Financial Manager. Ch. 20 in Julie Dahlquist, Rainford Knight, Alan S. Adams (2022). Principles of Finance. ISBN 9781951693541.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  25. ^ Will Kenton (2022). "Business Risk", Investopedia
  26. ^ Stanley Myint (2022). Introduction to Corporate Financial Risk Management. PRMIA Thought Leadership Webinar
  27. ^ a b "Risk Management and the Firm’s Financial Statement — Opportunities within the ERM" in Esther Baranoff, Patrick Brockett, Yehuda Kahane (2012). Risk Management for Enterprises and Individuals. Saylor Academy
  28. ^ a b c d e Margaret Woods and Kevin Dowd (2008). Financial Risk Management for Management Accountants, Chartered Institute of Management Accountants
  29. ^ Don Chance and Michael Edleson (2021). Introduction to Risk Management. Ch 10 in "Derivatives". CFA Institute Investment Series. ISBN 978-1119850571
  30. ^ See §39 "Corporate Planning Models", and §294 "Simulation Model" in Joel G. Siegel; Jae K. Shim; Stephen Hartman (1 November 1997). Schaum's quick guide to business formulas: 201 decision-making tools for business, finance, and accounting students. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-058031-2. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  31. ^ a b David Shimko (2009). Quantifying Corporate Financial Risk. archived 2010-07-17.
  32. ^ See for example this problem (from John Hull's Options, Futures, and Other Derivatives), discussing cash position modeled stochastically.
  33. ^ Contrary to conventional wisdom it may be rational to hedge translation exposure. Empirical evidence of agency costs and the managerial tendency to report higher levels of translated income, based on the early adoption of Financial Accounting Standard No. 52.
  34. ^ Aggarwal, Raj, "The Translation Problem in International Accounting: Insights for Financial Management." Management International Review 15 (Nos. 2-3, 1975): 67-79. (Proposed accounting framework for evaluating and developing translation procedures for multinational corporations).
  35. ^ Aggarwal, Raj; DeMaskey, Andrea L. (April 30, 1997). "Cross-Hedging Currency Risks in Asian Emerging Markets Using Derivatives in Major Currencies". The Journal of Portfolio Management. 23 (3): 88–95. doi:10.3905/jpm.1997.409611. S2CID 153476555.
  36. ^ Price Waterhouse Coopers (2017). Achieving hedge accounting in practice under IFRS 9
  37. ^ a b Pamela Drake and Frank Fabozzi (2009). What Is Finance?
  38. ^ Khandani, Amir E.; Lo, Andrew W. (2007). "What Happened To The Quants In August 2007?∗" (PDF). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  39. ^ Carl Bacon (2019). “Performance Attribution History and Progress”. CFA Institute Research Foundation
  40. ^ Staff (2020). What is index option trading and how does it work?, Investopedia

External links