Valerie Abend is remarkably calm, composed and confident—for a woman who has been at the center of a killer hurricane, the economic fallout of 9/11, and the 2008 global financial crisis.
“I think my confidence actually comes out of naivete,” Abend explains. “I don't really worry about everything that could go wrong. I'm open to the idea that we might make mistakes along the way.”
“As long as we can course-correct quickly from those mistakes, things will actually get better, just one step at a time.”
Little wonder that Accenture has tapped Abend to help lead security for financial service clients. She considers cybercrime the “existential threat that could make our entire society crumble at a moment’s notice.”
Abend grew up in Miami, where she and her family lost everything in Hurricane Andrew. The experience prompted her to write a paper at her school, George Washington University, on the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s mistakes.
After college, she was working for a top accounting firm when 9/11 hit. She quickly brought colleagues together to form a homeland security practice.
At the U.S. Treasury Department, Abend helped with efforts to protect the financial system before the economy collapsed in 2008.
At Accenture, she is using her Treasury and bank regulatory experience to counsel clients to prepare for cyberthreats by integrating their efforts with competitors—and with other industries, like utilities and telecom.
“A lot of folks think, ‘I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun the guy next to me,’” she explains. “But we’ve shown that the bear can actually eat you all at the same time.”
Abend’s mission at Accenture is to help financial services firms provide frictionless capabilities and transactions to their clients and do it in a safe and sound manner.
“It’s all about innovation,” she says.