Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2013

The Appeal of the Appropriate: Accounting, Risk Management, and the Competition for the Supply of Control Systems

by Anette Mikes

Abstract

How do certain risk measurements in organizations come to be seen as more reliable and acceptable than others? Taking a multiple-control perspective, I investigate the aftermath of a control debacle at a financial services company (MultiBank), focusing on its insurance division (EurInsurance), which suffered large losses in the European insurance crisis of 2002-2003. At MultiBank, the insurance crisis opened up a field of contestability in which new control agents got the opportunity to become implicated in divisional control. The struggle for custody over divisional control was a micropolitical process of interprofessional competition, played out between accountants and risk controllers who promoted conflicting measures of the key strategic uncertainty, EurInsurance's capital adequacy. The control agents engaged in credentializing strategies (Power, 1992); they mobilized and drew on different cultural resources to construct the reliability of their techniques and to discredit and "minoritize" the others'. This credibility contest was won by the accountants who (unlike their opponents) were able to demonstrate the "institutional appropriateness" of their controls. Importantly, the fate of the competing control systems was contingent, not on how well their technologies addressed the problem of EurInsurance's capital adequacy, but rather on the controllers' capacity to generate top managerial acceptance and a widespread consensus among both internal and external stakeholders. The outcome of this type of professional competition is not determined by claims about representing the underlying economic reality, but by claims about representing those who care about it most. While competing controller groups have been observed to appeal to top management's logic of functionalism, this paper argues that, in certain circumstances, controller groups may successfully draw on the logic of appropriateness as they supply new control systems.

Keywords: Management Control Systems; Multiple Control Systems; Interactive Control Systems; performance measurement; risk management; Risk Measurement; Financialization of Accounting; Institutional Logics; fair value accounting; Insurance; banking; Risk Management; Fair Value Accounting; Insurance; Financial Services Industry;

Citation:

Mikes, Anette. "The Appeal of the Appropriate: Accounting, Risk Management, and the Competition for the Supply of Control Systems ." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 12-115, June 2012. (Revised January 2013.)