Climate change greatest strategic risk to insurance industry

Ernst & Young report highlights top ten risks to insurers

New York, 12 March 2008 — Potential climate change is the greatest strategic risk currently facing the property/casualty insurance industry, with demographic changes taking priority for the life insurance industry, according to a new study by Ernst & Young, closely followed by demographic change and catastrophic events.

For the new study, “Strategic business risk 2008” (pdf, 388kb), Ernst & Young and Oxford Analytica interviewed more than 70 industry analysts from around the world to identify the emerging trends and uncertainties driving the performance of the global insurance sector over the next five years. The study identified risks in three broad areas — macro, sector-specific and operational threats. It identified the top ten risks and five emerging threats.

Peter Porrino, Global Director of Insurance Services at Ernst & Young, comments, “Change is constant. Ten years ago, would climate change have been top of anyone’s risk list? Demographic change was obvious back then, but it is now a reality. Strategic risks vary for individual companies, but for the insurance sector as a whole these are the threats the experts say will have the greatest and most far reaching consequences. Insurers have to deal with them now, as they will change the business environment, the competitive pressures and the business opportunities. They have to view risk management as a way to improve operations, financial performance, and shareholder value.”

The top ten risks are:

  • Climate change: long-term, far-reaching and with significant impact on the industry.
  • Demographic shifts in core markets: offers business opportunities but risk that other sectors will capitalize first.
  • Catastrophic events: rising costs and serious impact on earnings for insurers.
  • Emerging markets: risk and opportunity but competitive threat from new players.
  • Regulatory intervention: increased scrutiny impacting on operations and practices.
  • Channel distribution: technology is changing the way insurance is sold and purchased.
  • Integration of technology with operations and strategy: an enabler to keep pace with competition but lack of integration is a threat at the strategic business level.
  • Securities markets: changes in capital providers and the way capital is entering the insurance industry are causing major changes in the industry.
  • Legal risk: significant and unexpected change in the legal environment, such as government legislation or evolving case law, will continue to have a critical impact on the insurance industry.
  • Geopolitical or macroeconomic shocks: likely causes unknown but consequences potentially severe.

Many of these risks are interlinked, with the consequences from one risk having direct impact on others. The analysts have told Ernst & Young these are the strategic risks that industry leaders must manage if they are to maintain dominant competitive positions, raising questions about how these risks will change what companies offer customers, the way they offer services and where.

The analysts also identified five emerging risks, just outside the top ten, which have the potential to become as significant during the next five years. These are: over reliance on model-based risk management; threats to industry reputation; losing the war for talent; increasing exposure to global regulatory heterogeneity; and the possible emergence of entirely new risks.

Peter Porrino concludes, “As the insurance environment becomes more complex companies need to shift from traditional risk management approaches to integrated processes that add greater value. Understanding how to respond to current trends is paramount for insurers as they seek to manage risk, optimize performance, and increase operational effectiveness. The top three risks — climate change and demographic shifts in core markets, and catastrophic events — are far reaching social and environmental trends with complex long term ramifications for the industry as a whole.”

About “Strategic business risk”

The research report sought the views of more than 70 analysts from around the world. They came from over 20 disciplines that shape the business environment, including: law, finance, the sciences, business strategy, geopolitics, regulation, medicine, economics, and demographics. They were drawn from 12 of the world’s most important sectors: asset management, automotive, banking and capital markets, biotechnology, consumer products, insurance, media and entertainment, oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, real estate, telecommunications, and utilities. Interviews were open ended and no predetermined list of risks was used. Each analyst was asked for his or her own evaluation of the most important strategic challenges facing global businesses.

About Ernst & Young

Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. Worldwide, our 130,000 people are united by our shared values and an unwavering commitment to quality. We make a difference by helping our people, our clients and our wider communities achieve potential.

For more information, please visit

About Ernst & Young’s Global Insurance Center

The Center is the hub of the Ernst & Young network of professionals dedicated to serving the global insurance market and connects our people around the globe, sharing information and experience on current and emerging industry issues. The goal is to help our global insurance clients address their complex issues by drawing on our broad range of services including: assurance, tax, actuarial and risk management, regulation and compliance, internal audit, finance and performance management, transaction advisory services, and technology advisory.

About Oxford Analytica

Oxford Analytica is an international consulting firm drawing on over 1,000 senior faculty members at Oxford and other major universities and research institutions around the world. It acts as a unique bridge between the world of ideas and the world of enterprise. Its clients number some 50 governments and international institutions and over 150 Fortune 500 global corporations and financial firms.