What is the most extreme risk facing the insurance industry?

New survey ranks global pandemic as top extreme risk: Towers Watson

Global insurance industry executives ranked a global pandemic, a large-scale natural catastrophe and a food/water/energy crisis as the three most important extreme risks for the insurance industry to worry about in the long term, according to a recent survey conducted by Towers Watson.

Other top 10 extreme risks named include cyber-warfare, an economic depression, a banking crisis and a default by a major sovereign borrower.

“Much as we would have expected pandemics and natural catastrophes to figure prominently in insurers’ extreme risk thinking, the high rankings of concerns such as cyber-warfare and a major data compromise in the cloud (user-submitted idea) illustrate how the industry is keeping up to date with risk assessment,” said Stephen Lowe, senior consultant, Risk Consulting and Software, Towers Watson, in a press release.

Read: Canadian companies too conservative when tackling cyber risks

According to Towers Watson, among the top 10 extreme risks identified by survey participants, there is a range of implications for insurers. For example, the impact of a food/water/energy crisis includes a potential impact on morbidity and mortality, and the creation of investment winners and losers.

In the case of a sovereign default, Towers Watson believes that as well as the impact on those insurers holding debt in the defaulting country, it would in all likelihood result in a regional insurance crisis and an increase in M&A activity due to forced disposals from banking groups.

The impact of a prolonged economic depression can also be complex: Although it can adversely impact the top line, based on the experience of many European motor insurers, the pressure on household finances would lead to a reduction in vehicle miles and, in turn, to reductions in claim frequency and an increase in profitability.

Read: Urbanisation in emerging markets presents both risks and opportunities

“We were delighted to get such a geographically diverse and high response rate to the survey. The kinds of risks that could wipe out an insurance business do inevitably evolve over time, so we were very encouraged to see this degree of engagement from a broad sample of the industry,” said Lowe.

The survey was carried out as an extension of the company’s regular biennial analysis of the extreme risks likely to affect the broader investment community. That research and ranking, titled Extreme Risks 2013, categorizes very rare events that would have a high impact on global economic growth and asset returns if they occurred. Votes were compiled in a wiki survey, which enabled participants to add their own ideas. Over 30,000 votes were cast.

A TC Media site,
Business Solutions

TC Media

Transcontinental Media G.P
1110 René-Lévesque Bldv W.
Montréal, QC H3B 4X9
(514) 392-9000