Top Risk Concerns for 2021

Financial institutions face emerging risks driven by cyber exposures, a growing burden of compliance and the turbulence of COVID-19.

Financial institutions and their directors have to navigate a rapidly changing world, marked by new and emerging risks driven by cyber exposures based on the sector’s reliance on technology, a growing burden of compliance and the turbulence of Covid-19. At the same time, the behavior and culture of financial institutions is under growing scrutiny from a wide range of stakeholders in areas such as sustainability, employment practices, diversity and inclusion and executive pay. 

A new AGCS report highlights some of the most significant risk trends for banks, asset managers, private equity funds, insurers and other players in the financial services sector, as ranked in the Allianz Risk Barometer 2021, which surveyed over 900 industry respondents: Cyber incidents, pandemic outbreak and business interruption are the top three risks, followed by changes in legislation and regulation – driven by environment, society and governance (ESG) and climate change concerns, in particular. Macroeconomic developments, such as rising credit risk and low interest rates, ranked fifth.

The Allianz Risk Barometer findings are mirrored by an AGCS analysis of 7,654 insurance claims for the financial services segment over the past five years, worth approximately €870 million ($1.05 billion). Cyber incidents, including crime, rank as the top cause of loss by value, with other top loss drivers including negligence and shareholder derivative actions.

COVID-19 impact
Financial institutions are alive to the potential ramifications of government and central bank responses to the pandemic, such as low interest rates, rising government debt and the winding down of support and grants and loans to businesses. Large corrections or adjustments in markets – such as in equities, bonds or credit – could result in litigation from investors and shareholders, while an increase in insolvencies could also put some institutions’ own balance sheets under additional strain. 

Cyber – highly exposed despite high level of security spending

The COVID-19 environment is also providing fertile ground for criminals seeking to exploit the crisis as the pandemic led to a rapid and largely unplanned increase in working from home, electronic trading and digitalization. Despite significant cyber security spending, financial services companies are an attractive target and face a wide range of cyber threats, including business email compromise attacks, ransomware campaigns, ATM “jackpotting” – where criminals take control of cash machines through network servers – or supply chain attacks. The recent SolarWinds incident targeted banks and regulatory agencies, demonstrating the vulnerabilities of the sector to outages via their reliance on third-party service providers. Most financial institutions are now making use of software run on cloud services, which comes with a growing reliance on a relatively small number of providers. Institutions face sizable business interruption exposures, as well as third-party liabilities, when things go wrong. 

Compliance challenges around cyber, cryptocurrencies and climate change

Compliance is one of the biggest challenges for the financial services industry, with legislation and regulation around cyber, new technologies and climate change and ESG factors constantly evolving and increasing. There has been a seismic shift in the regulatory view of privacy and cyber security in recent years, with firms facing a growing bank of requirements. The consequences of data breaches are far-reaching, with more aggressive enforcement, higher fines and regulatory costs and growing third-party liability, followed by litigation. Regulators are increasingly focusing on business continuity, operational resilience and the management of third-party risk following a number of major outages at banks and payment processing companies. Companies need to operationalize their response to regulation and privacy rights, not just look at cyber security.

Applications of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), biometrics and virtual currencies will likely raise new risks and liabilities, in large part from compliance and regulation, as well. With AI, there have already been regulatory investigations in the U.S. related to the use of unconscious bias in algorithms for credit scoring. There have also been a number of lawsuits related to the collection and use of biometric data. The growing acceptance of digital or cryptocurrencies as an asset class will ultimately present operational and regulatory risks for financial institutions with uncertainty around potential asset bubbles and concerns about money laundering, ransomware attacks, the prospect of third-party liabilities and even ESG issues as “mining,” or creating cryptocurrencies, uses large amounts of energy. Finally, the growth in stock market investment, guided by social media raises mis-selling concerns – already one of the top causes of insurance claims.

See also: Insurance and Financial Protection

ESG factors taking center stage 

Financial institutions and capital markets are seen as an important facilitator of the change needed to tackle climate change and encourage sustainability. Again, regulation is setting the pace. There have been over 170 ESG regulatory measures introduced globally since 2018, with Europe leading the way. The surge in regulation, in combination with inconsistent approaches across jurisdictions and a lack of data availability, represents significant operational and compliance challenges for financial service providers. 

At the same time, activist shareholders or stakeholders increasingly focus on ESG topics. Climate change litigation, in particular, is beginning to include financial institutions. Cases have previously tended to focus on the nature of investments, although there has been a growing use of litigation seeking to drive behavioral shifts and force disclosure debate. Besides climate change, broader social responsibilities are coming under scrutiny, with board remuneration and diversity being particular hot topics, and regulatory issues. 

Claims trends and the impact on the insurance market 

The fact that compliance risk is growing is concerning, as compliance issues are already one of the biggest drivers of claims. Cyber incidents already result in the most expensive claims, and insurers are seeing a rising number of technology-related losses, including claims made against directors following major privacy breaches. 

Other examples include sizable claims related to fraudulent payment instructions and “fake president” scams. Such payments can be in the millions of dollars. AGCS has also handled a number of liability claims arising from technical problems with exchanges and electronic processing systems where systems have gone down and clients have not been able to execute trades, and have made claims against policyholders for loss of opportunity. There have also been claims where a system failure has caused damages to a third party; one financial institution suffered a significant loss after a trading system crashed, causing processing failures for customers.

Recent loss activity, compounded by COVID-19 uncertainty, has contributed to a recasting of the insurance market for financial institutions, characterized by adjusted pricing and enhanced focus on risk selection by insurers, but also a growing interest for alternative risk transfer solutions, in addition to traditional insurance. Insurance is increasingly an important part of the capital stack of financial institutions and a growing number are partnering with insurers to manage risk and regulatory capital requirements or using captive insurers to compensate for changes in the insurance markets or to finance difficult-to-place risks. 

You can read the full report here: Financial Services Risk Trends: An Insurer’s Perspective

Paul Schiavone

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Paul Schiavone

Paul Schiavone, global industry solutions director financial services at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, has over 20 years of experience in the insurance industry as legal counsel, underwriter, broker, manager and chief underwriting officer.

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