They're frightened, they're fuming and they're sleepless. They're risk managers, and they're no different than the rest of us in this era of economic collapse, except that they bear the pressures of identifying, assessing and managing the ominous array of risks confronting their organizations. Two years ago they were a happy lot, smiling as they delivered budgets well under expectations, the bright consequence of a soft-as-meringue property and casualty insurance market. Prices had swooned as capital-rich insurers competed fiercely for their business, dropping premiums in many cases by percentages in the low double digits.

Then, the recession reared, and today risk managers fret about the future. Ask risk managers what keeps them awake at night and the answers are likely to begin with the global economic crisis, a many-headed Hydra threatening their organizations in myriad ways. Not all risk managers share the exact same anxieties, given the singular natures of their organizations, but most are under siege by the recession's impact on insurer solvency. One of the major insurers serving American business, American International Group, has received $170 billion in several federal bailouts and is still underwater. The financial stability of companies like Hartford Financial Services Group and XL Insurance is also the subject of much media attention and increasing scrutiny.

Small wonder then that Pete Fahrenthold, director of risk management of Continental Airlines, ranks insurer financial security as one of two risks that keep him awake at night. The other, not surprisingly, is the impact of the recession on overall business at the air carrier, which had 2008 revenues of $15.2 billion. With respect to both risks, Fahrenthold says he tries to anticipate what could happen, "good or bad," and then "take steps to keep all of our options open." He adds: "Flexibility is the key goal, and the cross-functional review of risk provided by our enterprise risk management program helps us achieve that flexibility."

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