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COVID-19 Trio Tops Global Business Risks

A trio of COVID-19-related risks heads up the Allianz Risk Barometer 2021, reflecting potential disruption and loss scenarios that companies are facing in the wake of the pandemic. Business interruption (with 41% of respondents citing it as a risk) and pandemic outbreak (at 40%) are this year’s top business risks, with cyber incidents (40%) ranking a close third. The 10th annual survey on global business risks from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) incorporates the views of 2,769 experts in 92 countries and territories, including CEOs, risk managers, brokers and insurance experts. 

The COVID-19 crisis continues to represent an immediate threat to both individual safety and businesses, reflecting why pandemic outbreak has rocketed 15 positions up to #2 in the rankings at the expense of other risks. Prior to 2021, it had never finished higher than #16, a clearly underestimated risk. However, in 2021, it’s the #1 risk in 16 countries and among the three biggest risks across all continents and in 35 out of the 38 countries that qualify for a top 10 risks analysis. Japan, South Korea and Ghana are the only exceptions. 

Market developments (#4, at 19%) also climbs, reflecting the risk of rising insolvency rates following the pandemic. According to Euler Hermes, the bulk of insolvencies will come in 2021. The trade credit insurer’s global insolvency index is expected to hit a record for bankruptcies, up 35% by the end of 2021, with top increases expected in the U.S., Brazil, China and core European countries. 

Further, COVID-19 will likely spark a period of innovation and market disruption, accelerating the adoption of technology, hastening the demise of incumbents and traditional sectors and giving rise to new competitors. Other risers include macroeconomic developments (#8, at 13%) and political risks and violence (#10, with 11%), which are, in large part, a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak, too. Fallers in this year’s survey include changes in legislation and regulation (#5, with 19%), natural catastrophes (#6, with 17%), fire/explosion (#7, with 16%) and climate change (#9, with 13%), all clearly superseded by pandemic concerns.

Pandemic drives disruption — now and in the future

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, business interruption (BI) had already finished at the top of the Allianz Risk Barometer seven times, and it returns to the top spot after being replaced by cyber incidents in 2020. The pandemic shows that extreme, global-scale BI events are not just theoretical but a real possibility, causing loss of revenue and disruption to production, operations and supply chains. 59% of respondents highlight the pandemic as the main cause of BI in 2021, followed by cyber incidents (46%) and natural catastrophes and fire and explosion (around 30% each).

In response to heightened BI vulnerabilities, many companies are aiming to build more resilient operations and to de-risk their supply chains. According to Allianz Risk Barometer respondents, improving business continuity management is the main action companies are taking (62%), followed by developing alternative or multiple suppliers (45%), investing in digital supply chains (32%) and improving supplier selection and auditing (31%). According to AGCS experts, many companies found their plans were quickly overwhelmed by the pace of the pandemic. Business continuity planning needs to become more holistic, cross-functional and dynamic; monitor and measure emerging or extreme loss scenarios; and be constantly updated and tested and embedded into an organization’s strategy. 

Cyber perils intensify

Cyber incidents may have slipped to #3 but remain a key peril, with more respondents citing it than in 2020 and still ranking as a top three risk in many countries, including Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S. The acceleration toward greater digitalization and remote working driven by the pandemic is also intensifying IT vulnerabilities. At the peak of the first wave of lockdowns, in April, the FBI reported a 300% increase in incidents alone, while cybercrime is now estimated to cost the global economy over $1 trillion, up 50% from two years ago. Already high in frequency, ransomware incidents are becoming more damaging, increasingly targeting large companies with sophisticated attacks and hefty extortion demands, as highlighted in the recent AGCS cyber risk trends report

See also: 3-Step Framework to Manage COVID Risk

Risers and fallers 

Macroeconomic developments is up to #8, and political risks and violence (#10) returns to the top 10 for the first time since 2018, reflecting the fact that civil unrest, protests and riots now challenge terrorism as the main exposure for companies. The number, scale and duration of many recent events, including Black Lives Matter protests, anti-lockdown demonstrations and unrest around the U.S. presidential election, have been exceptional. As the socioeconomic fallout from COVID-19 mounts, further political and social unrest is likely, with many countries expected to experience an increase in activity in 2021 and beyond, particularly in Europe and the Americas.

Changes in legislation and regulation drops from #3 to #5 year-on-year. Natural catastrophes falls to #6 from #4, reflecting the fact that, although aggregated losses from multiple smaller events such as wildfires or tornadoes still led to widespread devastation and considerable insured losses in 2020, it was also the third consecutive year without a single large event, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Climate change also falls to #9. However, the need to combat climate change remains as high as ever, given that 2020 was the hottest year ever recorded. 

To learn more about this year’s findings, please visit Allianz Risk Barometer 2021.