Calculating the Unknown. Rationalities of Operational Risk in Financial Institutions

  • Hajo Greif Dept. of Science and Technology Studies, University of Klagenfurt
  • Matthias Werner Inter-University Research Centre for Technology, Work and Culture
Keywords: Operational risk, risk perception, uncertainty, risk governance, banking information systems, ICTs, Basel II, Value at Risk


In this paper, findings of a study on the perception and policing of information-technology (ICT) related operational risks are presented, with a view on identifying some part of the role that these technologies, and the specific organisational settings in which they are embedded, may have played in the making of the 2007+ financial crisis. The study’s findings concern, firstly, biases in risk perception that turn a blind eye towards certain operational risks; secondly, competing, qualitative vs. quantitative norms and methods of risk analysis and management and their significance for the governance of financial institutions; and thirdly, the role of ICTs as organisational technologies that work both as sources and as remedies of operational risks. The use of ICTs in financial institutions, it is concluded, while not being fully acknowledged in its organisational role, caters to the calculative rationality to which the analysis, management and governance of operational and other risks are increasingly subjected. Presuming that all kinds of risk can be made calculable and computable, this calculative rationality either misses out or obscures one important risk category: low frequency/ high magnitude risks, which tend to cross the boundary between calculable risk and genuine uncertainty of knowledge.
Special Issue: Capitalist Crisis, Communication, & Culture