Risk in Focus: Nichola Venables, IRMCert CEO, New Build Database
The Institute of Risk Management (IRM) asks its students what working in risk is really like and what hints and tips they'd share with people looking to move into the industry.
Nichola Venables, IRMCert
New Build Database
How did you get your job?
My first experience of risk management was as a Customer Service Manager in Investments. I loved being part of the Risk Committee and the thought process involved in risk management, it sparked something in me and I decided I wanted to pursue a career in risk management. I applied for a Risk Partner role at Nationwide Building Society and was over the moon to be appointed.
I worked closely with the two Managing Directors for North and South UK covering the whole of retail banking (7500 staff). At Nationwide I learnt all of the basics about RCSA and Risk Governance. I absolutely loved the role but the commute time was taking over my life, so 18 months later I applied for a role closer to home, a Risk Partner Role with Barclays. Barclays sponsored me to complete the IRM International Certificate in ERM qualification; very quickly this helped me to understand more of the theory and strategy involved in Risk Management and the ERMF process from start to finish.
I applied for a promotion to Vice President - Senior Risk Partner and was delighted to be successful. I chaired the Merchant Services Risk Forum across the UK, US and India. I worked with others to create cultural evolution activities, such as the ‘Think Quality’ Education Programme, to improve Risk and Control Culture across the whole business. Over the 5 years I had worked at Barclays I gained more and more exposure to the Executive team, their way of thinking, how they planned strategy for the mid to long term and as my experience grew, became more involved in these activities myself. One part of Barclay’s strategy was to move much of their business into key locations across the globe, unfortunately this meant that many of the jobs in my small office in Cardiff would be relocated. There was an opportunity to relocate but this didn’t fit in with my family’s needs so I chose redundancy. Barclays redundancy support package was amazing, one part of that was Right Management Career support, through my initial interactions with them I decided to follow an idea I had to start my own business. I’d been running a ‘National Fire Safety in New Build Homes’ campaign for about a year and that gave me the seed of an idea for my new business New Build Database (NBDB).
What’s a typical day like as a CEO?
I’m now the CEO of NBDB. NBDB is a national database of homeowner issues. Think of it as the Trip Advisor of Residential Construction Developers. Every issue homeowners capture is collated. Grouped issue data is shared publicly, making comparisons straightforward and transparent. One of the key objectives of NBDB is to drive change in the construction industry by identifying Key Risk and Issue trends for Developers and helping them to reduce those risks.
NBDB has just gone live so every day is different, especially living through COVID. Trying to launch a business with my crazy two and four year old girls at home during the pandemic was enough to test my sanity. I never imagined trying to do this whilst working from home and very quickly realised that a lot of my plans would need to change to adapt. Most days I’m working on the background data, what do I want to capture? How should that look? What benefits does that bring? Or on improving the software, I have a 3, 6 and 12 month plan for incremental improvements. I’m taking courses at least one day a week, trying to learn digital marketing skills off the side of my desk, run social media, quality check, respond to homeowner queries, speak to the press, you name it, I do it! That will of course change as the team grows.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love to write Thematic Risk Reports, Investigating and challenging all of the available data, collecting more if needed and pulling that together into a coherent story with recommendations. I love making the little connections between seemingly unrelated data points for those ah-hah! moments.
If you asked others what my top skill is, they would probably say problem solving. Thematic reviews are a way for me to use this skill to the nth degree, exploring all of the options available to address a Risk or Issue and using the theory I’ve learnt to apply models to weigh up the best options and make recommendations.
What are the challenges?
Until the team grows, time management is key. There is lots of interest in the business from many different stakeholders. I need to carefully plan my schedule and prioritise my workload well in advance and review that daily. Increasing the profile of the brand is another challenge, everything I’m doing is self-funded so my marketing budget is small, I’m fairly reliant on word of mouth, social media and traditional media to spread my message with a dash of ads or advertorials as the budget allows.
In what way are your IRM qualifications relevant?
I use something I’ve learnt from my IRM qualification every single day and keep my fundamentals of risk management book on my desk. I’ve always found the COSO ERM cube and PESTLE Risk Classification system particularly helpful in ensuring a well-rounded thought process about any project, organisation or structure. Before I completed the IRM qualification, risk to me meant something negative. Now I see the opportunities and positives involved in risk management and the greater than expected benefits. This is especially important in my approach to work now and really helps to shape my decision making process.
What would you say to others thinking about taking an IRM qualification?
Go for it! If you see yourself in risk management, there’s no better place to start. Many roles will require the International Certificate in ERM as essential to the role, achieving that before you apply will give you an advantage in the application process over candidates who don’t and it will be expected as you look for promotion to more senior roles.
Achieving the International Certificate in ERM helped me to secure a promotion to Vice President at Barclays. I notice that on LinkedIn people often find me by searching for the honorific ‘IRMCert’ so that’s certainly helped to get me noticed by recruiters in the past. Whilst at Barclays I was regularly approached for external roles on this basis alone. As I was happy at Barclays, I always politely declined to apply but it was nice to know the options were there and it felt like the qualification gave me a safety net, a desirable and much in demand skill.
- If you work for a corporate, get to know your risk teams. Ask to shadow an experienced Risk Team member, ask to be included on any training the teams complete, as your relationship with the Risk Team grows, ask a trusted colleague to be your mentor. Just voicing an interest in the subject and making small moves in the right direction will get you noticed and give you an advantage over other applicants when roles are advertised in future.
- Get involved in an RCSA process. If your company completes an RCSA, there is no quicker way to learn about your Risk and Control Policies, how risk is categorised, controlled, rated, treated and monitored in your business.
- If your company has a training budget (or even if they don’t) ask about the possibility of being sponsored to complete the IRM ERM, apply yourself and put in the time to make sure you pass!