Risk, Resilience and Success: Maninder K Bahra’s Journey of Innovation and Risk Mitigation in a Tech-Driven Era

Maninder Bahra
Maninder Bahra

Global financial services are a thriving ecosystem brimming with opportunity and innovation. However, beneath the surface lies an intricate web of risk and compliance activities, demanding constant vigilance and careful navigation. In this robust ecosystem, Maninder K Bahra stands out for her fervent commitment to risk management, innovation, and excellence.

Within the vast realm of financial services, where every decision reverberates across markets and economies, Maninder emerges as an expertise exemplum—As Chief Control Officer and Non-Financial Risk & Compliance Expert, having worked at Global Banks such as HSBC, Standard Chartered and Barclays; she manages the creation and implementation of risk frameworks tailored to the needs of this demanding industry.

With a distinguished track record, Maninder is renowned for her ability to design and innovate solutions to complex risk and compliance challenges. From addressing conduct issues, to navigating the nuances of climate risk and SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) compliance, she leads with precision and foresight.

Maninder’s influence excels in strategy and implementation and is adept at nurturing credible relationships at the highest echelons of governance.  Maninder fosters a culture of collaboration and accountability by bridging the gap between risk, compliance, and the wider organization.

Maninder is fully committed to staying ahead of industry trends. Her thirst for knowledge is demonstrated through her completion of executive programs on blockchain strategy, and climate emergency at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.  Her current interests center around the ethics of AI.

Join in on a transformative journey as Maninder navigates the complexities of risk and compliance, leaving a lasting mark on the industry and shaping a future defined by resilience and integrity!

Balancing Acts

In her roles as Chief Control Officer and Non-Financial Risk Expert, Maninder has directed her attention towards managing risk outcomes across various lines of defense by ensuring alignment with desired objectives. “As Chief Control Officer, my aim is to aid the executive committee and business heads in fulfilling their first-line responsibilities to achieve positive outcomes for customers, clients, and stakeholders; across retail, commercial banking, and Wealth products” Maninder emphasises.

A key aspect of her approach involves adopting an integrated risk perspective and collaborating extensively across all stakeholders including: COO, Operations, Technology, Risk and Compliance, and business lines, to address complex risk issues efficiently. “In my role as an NFR expert, oversight and constructive challenge are paramount. However, I also prioritise providing practical support to first-line Business Heads while leveraging my technical expertise to navigate regulatory requirements,” Maninder explains.

By combining pragmatism with a deep understanding of regulatory imperatives, Maninder serves as a facilitator for businesses to effectively manage non-financial risks whilst simultaneously driving sustainable growth.

The Collaborative Edge

In navigating the intricacies of risk management, collaboration and diverse perspectives play a pivotal role, as emphasized by Maninder, who draws from her experience in both the second and first lines of defense. “Transitioning from designing regulatory frameworks in the second line to operating in the first line provided me with a deeper comprehension of commercial aspects and customer needs,” Maninder reflects.

Her adeptness at translating regulatory requirements into business-centric language fosters improved dialogue and execution across the organisation. This ability stems from recognising the importance of establishing common ground and approaching problems from various angles.

I found that my previous experience in the second line proved invaluable in bridging the gap between regulatory mandates and business objectives when I moved to the first line,” Maninder asserts. By leveraging her expertise, she facilitates smoother operations and enhances organisational resilience in the face of evolving risks. This collaborative approach accentuates the effectiveness of integrating regulatory compliance into business strategies, ensuring alignment with broader objectives and stakeholder interests.

Building Stakeholder Trust

In Maninder’s journey, a valuable lesson in managing Non-executive Director (NED) stakeholders emerged from a former line manager’s counsel; “It’s not only important to present your assigned paper to a non-exec committee but also to put yourself in their shoes and think about their position, listen intently and use as a learning experience in preparation for the next Committee meeting.” This advice underscores the significance of understanding stakeholders’ perspectives.

Embracing an executive role, Maninder prioritsed thorough preparation, aiming to showcase methodologies / approaches followed, Challenge mechanisms applied, and areas requiring attention; but also to anticipating NEDs’ inquiries and ensuring the team’s readiness to address them. “I wanted to pre-empt the types of questions that the NEDs would want to ask and the areas they would be interested in and ensure as a team we have prepared to address these,” Maninder explains.

Staying ahead of the curve meant providing opinions backed by data from existing systems and controls. Effective engagement with the business ensured transparency, avoiding surprises and ensuring they were well-informed ahead of discussions. “It was important to have engaged with the business so that they were aware of the discussions. This aided in preventing surprises for them and ensuring that they were adequately briefed ahead of time,” Maninder emphasises.

This proactive approach fosters confidence and enhances collaboration and transparency; aligning stakeholders and bolstering organisational resilience in navigating challenges effectively. Maninder’s experience underlines the importance of preparation, empathy and communication in managing diverse stakeholder interests at the executive level.

Risk, Learning and Leadership

As a leader, Maninder stresses the importance of continuous learning. “It’s important for me to adopt a level of professional curiosity and a learning mindset,” she affirms.

Sharing acquired knowledge with the team is essential for fostering engagement and enabling them to understand how learnings impact their responsibilities. “It is equally important to share back with your team which engages them and to also help your team to interpret how the learnings can have an impact on the activities you/they are responsible for,” Maninder explains.

Her fascination with blockchain technology sparked a journey of exploration into its potential applications in control design. “I was fascinated by the capability of the technology and how I could potentially utilise it in a control design environment,” she recalls. Implementing methodologies learned, Maninder leveraged blockchain use tests in her role as CCO to formulate hypotheses for automated control, encouraging her team to think innovatively.

Recognizing the significance of climate risk within the enterprise risk framework, Maninder integrated this understanding into her risk management practices. “As a risk management expert, I felt a level of responsibility to ensure that I understood how climate risk forms part of the enterprise risk framework and particularly its cross-cutting nature across Financial and Non-financial risk,” she shares. This approach reflects Maninder’s commitment to staying abreast of evolving risks and incorporating new learnings into her professional endeavors.

Tech-Forward Risk Strategies

Maninder highlights the pivotal role of technology in risk management. Technology and innovation are absolute enablers for executing the implementation of risk and control frameworks.

Despite the widespread use of Governance, Risk, and Control (GRC) systems. Their full potential currently remains mostly untapped, particularly in leveraging data for robust risk reporting. The emergence of generative AI presents new avenues for advancing non-financial risk management; with tech consultancies exploring opportunities to harness control and risk taxonomies for validation purposes.

However, the adoption of these advanced tools must be approached with clarity of their impact on customers and broader society. “Of course, these advanced tools need to be used in a measured way, and the risks associated with their utilisation also need to be understood with depth. While regulatory frameworks on AI are developing I like using the four values set out by UNESCO, which lay the foundations for AI systems that work for the good of humanity, individuals, societies, and the environment” Maninder advises.

Balancing innovation with risk mitigation is essential in maximizing the benefits of technological advancements while safeguarding against potential pitfalls. Embracing these advancements with a strategic and measured approach can revolutionise risk management practices, driving organisational resilience and success in an increasingly complex landscape.

Driving Growth Responsibly

Maninder emphasises the role of risk and control frameworks in fostering responsible business practices. “A shift in mindset is required. Risk and control frameworks do not exist to inhibit business growth and innovation; they exist to ensure that business is conducted in a manner that does not bring harm to customers and clients,” she explains.

These frameworks serve as boundaries within which businesses operate, ensuring effective delivery of products and services while considering customer outcomes. In ambiguous areas, dialogue between relevant parties is crucial to ensure core elements are effectively managed. By embracing this perspective, organisations can navigate complexities whilst prioritising integrity, ultimately fostering trust and sustainable growth.

Shaping Organisational Resilience

Maninder observes the importance of integrating risk considerations into organisational culture, she states, “Culture is about attitudes and behaviours. By adding risk to the mix, we are talking about attitude and behaviours towards risk within an organisation,” she explains.

This extends past risk frameworks to encompass the entire risk ecosystem, including: strategy, governance, and reward mechanisms. “The risk ecosystem in place covers the strategy—does it encourage certain risk-taking behaviors that are outside of the boundaries set? It covers the reward mechanism, governance, and oversight, as well as the effective implementation of risk frameworks,” Maninder elaborates. Aligning attitudes and behaviors with risk management objectives cultivates a culture of accountability and resilience, driving sustainable success.

Harnessing Diverse Perspectives

Collaboration is key for Maninder. She highlights the importance of teamwork in decision-making. “I strive to provide integrity in decision-making which can be backed with intel but also demonstrate sound judgment when needed,” she adds.

When faced with complex scenarios, particularly those with high stakes, Maninder’s approach involves thorough consideration of available options, weighing risks and benefits. “I like to ensure that I have considered the various options available, understood the risks/benefits and challenged the options with peers who may provide a different lens; and hence may offer a different approach, basically ‘stress testing’ my view” she explains.

By leveraging diverse perspectives, Maninder ensures a well-rounded evaluation of options, leading to better outcomes. Her emphasis on collective decision-making highlights the value of collaboration in achieving success amidst challenges.

Securing Against Emerging Risks

In the current times of global uncertainty, there’s a laser focus on risk management practices as new risks emerge,” notes Maninder. Risk management practitioners need to help their organisations identify these risks and subsequently enhance processes, and control design to mitigate any exposure.

As advancements in technology become more widely available ease of access is increased, including for malicious parties. Understanding these risks is vital. Maninder outlines the importance of proactive measures to mitigate potential threats. “It is crucial for risk management practitioners to be aware that ‘unknown-unknowns’ are prevalent in today’s climate of global uncertainty.  Risk management practitioners need to adapt strategies to prepare for emerging risks,” she advises. By proactively staying open-minded to the potential for new worst-case scenarios, organisations can start to navigate uncertainties; safeguarding their interests and ensuring long term resilience.

Redefining Risk

There is a great opportunity for 1LOD risk and control teams to leverage advancements in technology and deepen their skills in this area. “What I mean by this is using the technical knowledge of the regulatory rules and understanding how they translate to processes and the execution of services and products,” she explains, emphasising the importance of integrating regulatory knowledge with technological expertise.

By enhancing skills in technology and regulatory understanding, risk and control teams can serve as a bridge between business lines, technology and the 2LOD risk and compliance functions. This mindset ensures a purpose-led approach to risk management in the first line, focusing on customer experience and outcomes.

Designing risk and controls with an understanding of customer consequences can be very powerful in my mind,” Maninder adds; presenting the significance of aligning risk management practices with customer-centric principles. Embracing these opportunities empowers organisations to navigate challenges while delivering compelling customer outcomes.