Risk Bingo Cards

Posted by Q McCallum on 2022-03-21

Adopt a popular expression to improve your risk awareness and assessment.

No doubt, you’ve seen this phrase on social media:

“Well, that wasn’t on my 2022 bingo card …”

It’s possible you’ve even used it yourself to describe news of some large-scale, unexpected, and possibly unfortunate event.

It’s a fun and snarky framing, sure. But also a useful one from a risk perspective. If a risk assessment is a matter of asking “what if..?” to explore the possibility and impact of different scenarios, then a bingo card is a quick way to summarize and track them.

(This is no substitute for a formal risk process and accompanying documentation, mind you. Try to see this as an additional tool.)

Over time, you can compare this all to real-world events: which ones were on your bingo card, and how well did your mitigation plans hold up? Which ones were not, and what can you learn from that experience? If you work backwards, what signs did you miss? Exploring these questions can hone your skills at identifying, assessing, and preparing to handle risks.

A concrete example

Consider Buyk, which delivers groceries by bike messenger. The company recently filed for bankruptcy.

People who lived through the 1990s tech bust will no doubt get flashbacks of Kozmo, and simply write off Buyk’s demise without a second thought. “So what? It’s just another bike messenger service, right?”

But, unlike Kozmo, Buyk met an untimely wind-down because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In reaction to the invasion, several Western nations imposed economic sanctions on Russia. That made it pretty much impossible to move money from Russia into the US. Buyk’s founders – who are Russian, and who were providing financing to the company – therefore lost the ability to fund their startup, practically overnight.

No one could have expected the very specific case of “one country invades another, which triggers widespread economic sanctions, which prevents money from reaching an overseas startup” to make it to Buyk’s risk bingo card. But this very sequce of events did happen. And I expect that Buyk was not the only company affected by this.

Other possibilities

When you manage or invest in a business that relies on cross-border activities, everything from supply chains to money movements involves additional risk. That means “relations sour between two countries” should rank high on your risk assessment and mitigation plans, even when you can’t picture every possible way that scenario could play out.

The effects aren’t always obvious, but they can be quite disruptive. Consider companies that use a fancy top-level domain (TLD), such as .ly (Libya), .so (Somalia), or .by (Belarus). When there’s trouble in or near those countries, it may disrupt their internet domain operations, which can impact the online presence of companies halfway across the globe.

Noting what has happened

Risk-handling is not a static affair. It’s a matter of constant vigilance, which means keeping up with events in your company, your industry, and the wider world.

Noting when an event was (or was not) noted on your risk bingo card is a way to exercise your risk-assessment muscle.