Risk is inherent in any business enterprise, and good risk management is an essential aspect of running a successful business. A company's management has varying levels of control in regard to risk. Some risks can be directly managed; other risks are largely beyond the control of company management. Sometimes, the best a company can do is try to anticipate possible risks, assess the potential impact on the company's business and be prepared with a plan to react to adverse events.
There are many ways to categorize a company's financial risks. One approach for this is provided by separating financial risk into four broad categories: market risk, credit risk, liquidity risk, and operational risk.
1. Market Risk
Market risk involves the risk of changing conditions in the specific marketplace in which a company competes for business. One example of market risk is the increasing tendency of consumers to shop online. This aspect of market risk has presented significant challenges to traditional retail businesses.
Companies that have been able to make the necessary adaptations to serve an online shopping public have thrived and seen substantial revenue growth, while companies that have been slow to adapt or made bad choices in their reaction to the changing marketplace have fallen by the wayside.
This example also relates to another element of market risk—the risk of being outmaneuvered by competitors. In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, often with narrowing profit margins, the most financially successful companies are most successful in offering a unique value proposition that makes them stand out from the crowd and gives them a solid marketplace identity.
2. Credit Risk
Credit risk is the risk businesses incur by extending credit to customers. It can also refer to the company's own credit risk with suppliers. A business takes a financial risk when it provides financing of purchases to its customers, due to the possibility that a customer may default on payment.
A company must handle its own credit obligations by ensuring that it always has sufficient cash flow to pay its accounts payable bills in a timely fashion. Otherwise, suppliers may either stop extending credit to the company, or even stop doing business with the company altogether.
3. Liquidity Risk
Liquidity risk includes asset liquidity and operational funding liquidity risk. Asset liquidity refers to the relative ease with which a company can convert its assets into cash should there be a sudden, substantial need for additional cash flow. Operational funding liquidity is a reference to daily cash flow.
General or seasonal downturns in revenue can present a substantial risk if the company suddenly finds itself without enough cash on hand to pay the basic expenses necessary to continue functioning as a business. This is why cash flow management is critical to business success—and why analysts and investors look at metrics such as free cash flow when evaluating companies as an equity investment.
4. Operational Risk
Operational risks refer to the various risks that can arise from a company's ordinary business activities. The operational risk category includes lawsuits, fraud risk, personnel problems, and business model risk, which is the risk that a company's models of marketing and growth plans may prove to be inaccurate or inadequate.