WillisWire has on several occasions featured opinions from a large number of our contributors about what might be the next emerging risk in various sectors.
But what can be done once you have identified an emerging risk? One of the things is to find out whether the new risk is already covered in your existing insurance coverage. For insurers, that means that they need to be aware of these risks as the ultimate responsible parties.
Many of the largest insurers and reinsurers have developed very robust practices to identify and to prepare for emerging risks. Other companies can learn from the insurers who practice emerging risk management and adapt the same processes to their own emerging risks.
Normal risk control processes focus on everyday risk management, including the management of identifiable risks and/or risks where uncertainty and unpredictability, are mitigated by historical data that allow insurers to estimate loss distribution with reasonable confidence. Emerging risk management processes take over for risks that do not currently exist but that might emerge at some point due to changes in the environment.
Emerging risks may appear abruptly or gradually, are difficult to identify, and may for some time represent a hypothetical idea more than factual circumstances. They often result from changes in the political, legal, market or physical environment. An example from the past is asbestos; other examples could be problems deriving from nanotechnology, genetically modified food, climate change, etc. For these risks, normal risk identification and monitoring will not work because the likelihood is usually completely unknown.
Nevertheless, past experience shows that when they materialize, they can have a significant impact on insurers and therefore cannot be excluded from a solid risk management program. So insurers have implemented unique specific strategies and approaches to cope with them properly.
Identifying Emerging Risks
Developing an early warning system for emerging risks that methodically identifies potential new risk factors either through internal or external sources is very important. To minimize the uncertainty surrounding these risks, insurers will consistently gather all existing relevant information to amass preliminary evidence of emerging risks, which would allow the insurer to reduce or limit the growth of exposure as the evidence becomes more and more certain. However, insurers practicing this discipline will need to be aware of the cost of false alarms.
Assessing Their Significance
Parties should assess the relevance (i.e. potential losses) of the emerging risks linked to a company’s commitment— which classes of business and existing policies would be affected by the materialization of the risk—and continue with the assessment of the potential financial impact, taking into account potential correlation with other risks already present in the firm.
For an insurer, the degree of concentration and correlation of the risks that they have taken on from their customers are two important parameters to be considered; the risk in question could be subject to very low frequency/high intensity manifestations, but if exposure to that particular risk is limited, then the impact on the company may not be as important.
On the other hand, unexpected risk correlations should not be underestimated; small individual exposures can coalesce into an extreme risk if underlying risks are highly interdependent. When developing extreme scenarios, some degree of imagination to think of unthinkable interdependencies could be beneficial.
A further practice of insurers is to sometimes work backwards from concentrations to risks. Insurers might envision risks that could apply to their concentrations and then track for signs of risk emergence in those areas. Some insurers set risk limits for insurance concentrations that are very similar to investment portfolio credit limits, with maximum concentrations in specific industries in geographic or political regions.
In addition, just as investment limits might restrict an insurer’s debt or equity position as a percentage of a company’s total outstanding securities, some insurers limit the percentage of coverage they might offer in any of the sectors described above.
Define Appropriate Responses
Responses to emerging risks might be part of the normal risk control process, i.e. risk mitigation or transfer, either through reinsurance (or retrocession) in the case of insurance risks, through the financial markets for financial risks, or through general limit reduction or hedging.
When these options are not available or the insurer decides not to use them, it must be prepared to shoulder significant losses, which can strain a company’s liquidity. Planning access to liquidity is a basic part of emerging risk management. Asset-selling priorities, credit facilities with banks, and notes programs are possible ways for insurers to manage a liquidity crisis.
Apart from liquidity crisis management, other issues exist for which a contingency plan should be identified in advance. The company should be able to quickly estimate and identify total losses and the payments due. It should also have a clear plan for settling the claims in due time so as to avoid reputation issues. Availability of reinsurance is also an important consideration: if a reinsurer were exposed to the same risks, it would be a sound practice for the primary insurer to evaluate the risk that the reinsurer might delay payments.
Advance Warning Process
For emerging risks the response plans developed as described above would often not be implemented immediately. Their implementation would often be deferred until a later date when the immanence of the emerging risk is more certain. For the risks that have been identified as most significant and where the insurer has developed coherent contingency plans, the next step is to create and install an advanced warning process.
To do that, the insurer identifies key risk indicators that provide an indication of increasing likelihood of a particular emerging risk. These key risk indicators are tracked and compared to a trigger point that has been identified in advance. The trigger point might be set at the point when it is thought that action is needed, but more likely it triggers a new round of investigation of both potential impact and responses.
Finally, sound practices for managing emerging risks include establishing procedures for learning from past events is important. The company should identify problems that appeared during the last extreme event and identify improvements to be added to the risk controls.
All of these steps can be applied by any firm in any sector with some adaptation. After using a source such as the WillisWire Emerging Risks for 2013 article to help you to imagine your possible emerging risks, you can assess their significance and for those risks which you decide that you must not ignore, you can define appropriate responses, create an advanced warning system and learn from your experiences.