Risk Appetite

What is Risk Appetite?

An organization’s risk appetite is the level of risk it is willing to accept in pursuit of its objectives. It’s about balancing the potential benefits of innovation against the threats that come with change.

Organizations define their risk appetite first by identifying key risk categories relevant to their strategy and operations. From there, they set upper and lower limits for each risk and design strategies to manage these risks.

Several factors impact a company’s capacity for risk:

  • Organizational culture
  • Industry norms and maturity
  • Competitors
  • Product differentiation
  • Company goals and initiatives
  • Current financial strength
  • Investment potential
  • What they have to lose

In general, startups and smaller companies are more risk-tolerant, primarily because they have little to lose, lots to prove, and show potential for rapid growth. Larger, more established companies tend to be more risk-averse as they have a larger foundation to protect, an abundance of data at their disposal, and well-defined systems that would be costly to change.


  • Risk capacity
  • Risk attitude
  • Risk appetite framework
  • Risk appetite statement

Risk Appetite vs. Risk Tolerance

While risk appetite represents the overall level of risk an organization is willing to accept to achieve its strategic goals, risk tolerance represents the acceptable deviation from that upper limit. It details the threshold an organization is willing to withstand for a particular risk (for example, a 10% decrease in sales after a brand repositioning). 

  • If “risk appetite” represents a speed limit of 70 MPH, risk tolerance defines how fast you can go before getting a ticket. If you can go 10 miles over, your appetite for risk would be 0-70, and your tolerance level would be 70-80.

Tolerance for risk also varies for different types of business activities. For instance, a company may have a higher risk tolerance for innovation projects but a lower one for major software investments.

Risk appetite and risk tolerance work together to provide a comprehensive framework for risk management. Risk appetite sets the overall direction and overarching boundaries for risk-taking. Risk tolerance provides specific, actionable limits within those boundaries.

Importance of Risk Appetite in Risk Management

A business’s risk strategy is a crucial component of its success. It’s essential to have an understanding of how much risk your organization can take and what risks are worth taking.

Organizations with a clearly defined appetite for risk are better equipped to:

  • Make informed decisions about future investments, business strategies, and initiatives
  • Identify internal and external vulnerabilities
  • Assess their competition from all angles
  • Prioritize risks that require extensive resources or immediate attention
  • Take calculated risks that lead to innovation and growth

Having a well-defined risk appetite also helps businesses establish a consistent approach to managing risk and facilitates communication among stakeholders. It ensures everyone is on the same page about what level of risk is acceptable and aligns all efforts towards achieving a common goal.

Key Components of Risk Appetite

Types of Risk

Your risk profile comprises several types of risk, and your organization’s specific level of risk appetite for each will vary.

Examples include:

  • Financial risk (credit, liquidity, market volatility)
  • Operational risk (employee safety, business continuity)
  • Strategic risk (new ventures, changing market demand)
  • Reputational risk (customer satisfaction, public perception)
  • Cybersecurity risk (data breaches, cyberattacks)
  • Legal risk (compliance, IP, lawsuits)
  • External risks (economic and political factors, natural disasters)

When you determine your overall capacity for risk, you’ll have to consider how far you’re willing to go to chance adverse effects in each of these areas. You’ll also need to consider how you’ll react to specific scenarios (e.g., a recession or a data breach).

Risk Appetite Statement

Your risk appetite statement is the formal document that details your organization’s risk culture and capacity for handling potential risks. It guides decision-making by aligning risk-taking with strategic goals.

A typical risk appetite statement includes:

  • High-level risk categories
  • Acceptable upper risk limits for each category
  • Risk tolerance statements (degree of acceptable deviation from upper limits)
  • Mitigation strategies for different risk scenarios
  • Responsibilities and accountability for managing and monitoring risks

Risk appetite statements are short, but clear. They should be easy to understand, concise, and easily accessible for everyone involved in risk management.

Risk Appetite Framework

Your risk appetite framework is the formal management structure that provides a broad perspective on how your organization views and handles risk across different business units, functions, and procedures.

It encompasses five core components:

  • Risk appetite statement
  • Risk limits and tolerances
  • Governance (managing and communicating risks)
  • Risk assessment methodologies
  • Reporting and monitoring mechanisms

The risk appetite framework serves as a foundational element of your company’s risk management program. It outlines the principles, processes, and guidelines required to systematically assess and monitor risk before making business decisions.

Stakeholders’ Roles in Defining Risk Appetite

For your risk frameworks to be effective, they need input from numerous different stakeholders throughout your organization.

  • The board of directors and C-suite set the tone and direction for corporate risk-taking by establishing the overall attitude towards risks. They also provide guidance on specific risks that are acceptable or unacceptable based on corporate objectives.
  • Risk managers identify, assess, monitor, and report overall risk levels and help senior management understand potential threats to the business. They also provide recommendations on how to mitigate or control risks.
  • Business unit leaders manage specific risks within their departments, align their team members with corporate objectives, and ultimately execute the company’s strategies according to risk appetite. They also provide input on risk-taking decisions.
  • Employees play a critical role in identifying and reporting potential risks and adhering to your company’s policies and procedures.

Risk Appetite: Related Metrics

Although risk appetite metrics are quantitative, they’re mostly subjective. You can’t always measure them accurately, like you could revenue or ROI.

Below are key risk indicators (KRIs) you can use to evaluate your risk profile and determine whether it falls within your established capacity for taking on, managing, and mitigating risk.

  • Frequency of control failures — Security breaches, data theft, and other cybersecurity issues pose a risk for internal company information as well as customer data.
  • Number and severity of incidents — Lawsuits, regulatory fines, bad PR, churn, and other events might be expected after risk-taking, but they should still be contained within acceptable, predefined boundaries.
  • Employee absenteeism and dissatisfaction — Underlying issues in the work environment pose threats to productivity and morale
  • Sales performance A drop in sales below a certain threshold could indicate a risk event has occurred, or that one is about to happen
  • Production levels — A significant decline in the number of units produced per day could indicate operational risks that need to be addressed to meet demand
  • Changes in customer satisfaction — negative feedback indicates a reputational (and possibly financial) risk
  • Economic conditions — Continuously monitor interest rates, market volatility, the competitive landscape, and local economic factors in the markets you sell into.
  • Financial loss — Although this metric is tangible, it’s often the last to reveal the presence of risk. By the time you’ve realized a financial loss, it may already be too late to mitigate its effects.

Apply these KRIs to internal and external risks your organization might be highly exposed to or that could jeopardize the fulfillment of operational objectives. Do so on an ongoing basis to assess how risky a decision is/was, and make changes to your business strategy going forward.

Challenges in Managing Risk Appetite

Ensuring Alignment with Strategic Objectives

To effectively align all your cross-functional stakeholders on a singular concept of what risk appetite means, you need a comprehensive approach that integrates risk management into the strategic planning process.

Here are a few tips:

  • Incorporate risk considerations into strategic discussions, investment decisions, and operational planning.
  • For each significant risk identified, develop response strategies that align with your strategic objectives.
  • Establish a strong governance structure that supports risk-informed strategic decision-making.
  • Utilize advanced analytics, data, and technology to gain insights into potential risks and their impacts.

Ultimately, failing to align risk appetite and strategic objectives can lead to a disconnect between decision-makers and an organization’s overall risk culture, resulting in detrimental mistakes.

Balancing Risk Taking and Risk Aversion

How much risk you’re willing to take on depends on countless factors, the most important of which include your company’s financial position, competitive landscape, industry, and growth stage. In general, the more approval layers you have, the more you have to lose, and the more stable your customer base is, the lower your capacity for risk-taking.

To balance risk-taking with risk aversion, encourage high-risk, high-reward project proposals alongside safer, lower-return ones. And grade managers on overall performance rather than individual project outcomes. This approach reduces risk aversion, maintains appropriate risk levels, and cultivates a competitive, growth-oriented environment within the organization.

Communicating Risk Appetite Effectively Across the Organization

Risk appetite is a concept that’s not always easy to grasp, and even harder to communicate effectively. Therefore, it’s critical to have a clear understanding of your company’s risk culture and how it influences decision-making.

To improve communication of risk appetite across the organization:

  • Use plain language when explaining risk appetite.
  • Refer to your risk appetite statement for every risk assessment you perform.
  • At the high level, consider the level of risk in every business decision.
  • When taking a risk or responding to a threat, provide business unit leaders with an execution framework, so their team can take the appropriate actions to minimize the risk impact.

Implementing Risk Appetite in Risk Management

1. Determine your risk appetite based on a risk appetite matrix.

A risk matrix evaluates risk levels, from “Very High” to “Low,” by assessing the combination of a risk’s potential occurrence and its severity. For instance, a risk categorized as “High” in both likelihood and severity would be considered “Very High.”

Start by identifying the risks associated with pursuing your strategic objectives. This includes both external risks (market changes, regulatory shifts, competitive dynamics) and internal risks (operational vulnerabilities, financial constraints).

From there, use tools like SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) and PESTEL analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal) to comprehensively assess the threats that could impact your business objectives and the likelihood of their occurrence.

Compile everything into a risk matrix, and assign each risk with an impact level. Then, with your team, determine the levels of risk that are acceptable and which ones require immediate action.

2. Integrate risk appetite into your risk management process.

After you’ve determined your risk appetite, the process is simple:

  • Create a risk appetite framework.
  • Then, execute it for high-level decision-making and risk assessment.

From that point forward, risk management and assessment should always be done with this defined capacity in mind.

3. Monitor and measure the impact of your decisions.

The true value of risk appetite lies in its ability to inform decisions. To ensure that happens, you need a process for attributing risk metrics to decisions.

  • Review past decisions and their effects on revenue, cost, and other performance metrics.
  • Look at the results of high-risk and low-risk decisions. Did the potential rewards justify the risk?
  • Assess the accuracy of your risk analysis (how closely did your assessment reflect reality?).

You’ll also want to continuously monitor internal and external factors that threaten your business outside of the decisions you make — for instance, a competitor changing their strategy or an unforeseen market shift.

4. Adjust your approach as your business changes.

Your business is dynamic, and so are the risks it faces. As such, your risk appetite should evolve with your organization.

As you scale your company, this is a critical consideration. If you continue to take the same level of risk as a mid-sized business you did as a startup, you’ll wind up burning through cash, losing customers, and making other potentially fatal mistakes.

Consider changes in…

  • Business agility
  • The competitive landscape
  • Product differentiation
  • Financial position

…when you evaluate your risk appetite in the wake of company growth.

People Also Ask

What are the three types of risk appetite?

The three main categories a business’s risk appetite can fall into — high-risk, low-risk, and risk-neutral — depend on the organization’s willingness to pursue opportunities for growth and innovation, as well as its tolerance for potential failures and losses.

How do you write a risk appetite statement?

To write a risk appetite statement, start by defining your company’s strategic objectives and the risks associated with achieving them. Then, identify your risk tolerance levels based on a risk appetite matrix. Finally, craft a clear and concise statement that outlines your company’s approach to managing risks in pursuit of its goals.

Does a company’s risk appetite change over time?

A company’s risk appetite should change over time as the organization grows and evolves.  Changes in market conditions, competitive landscape, and business goals can all impact a company’s risk appetite.

What is an example of a risk appetite statement?

An example of a risk appetite statement might be: “Our organization is committed to pursuing innovative and growth-oriented strategies while maintaining a prudent approach to financial and operational risks. We are willing to accept {Low/Medium/High} levels of risk in new product development and market expansion to achieve higher returns. However, we have a {Low/Medium/High} appetite for risks that could jeopardize our reputation, regulatory compliance, or financial stability. All strategic decisions will be made within this framework to balance our ambition for growth with the necessity of safeguarding our assets and reputation.”