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Recession, Job Losses, Another Pandemic and Protectionism Are Top Worries, Say Industry Leaders

New York   |   May 18, 2020

  • “Prolonged global recession”, “high unemployment”, “another outbreak of infectious disease” and protectionism dominate the list of near-term worries for companies, according to the World Economic Forum’s report, COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications, released today.
  • It argues that we are not ready for the knock-on effect of far-reaching environmental, societal and technological risks.
  • But a “green recovery” and more resilient, “cohesive, inclusive and equal societies” can emerge if leaders act now.
  • Read the full report and a second publication on the Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-COVID-19 World.

Economic distress and social discontent will rise over the next 18 months unless world leaders, businesses and policy-makers work together to manage the fallout of the pandemic. As economies restart, there is an opportunity to embed greater societal equality and sustainability into the recovery, which would unleash a new era of prosperity. These are the findings of COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications, published today.

The report, produced in partnership with Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group, taps into the views of nearly 350 senior risk professionals who were asked to look at the next 18 months and rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact for the world and for business. The immediate economic fallout from COVID-19 dominates companies’ risks perceptions. These range from a prolonged recession to the weakening fiscal position of major economies, tighter restrictions on the cross-border movement of goods and people, and the collapse of a major emerging market.

In examining the interconnections between risks, the report also calls on leaders to act now against an avalanche of future systemic shocks such as the climate crisis, geopolitical turbulence, rising inequality, strains on people’s mental health, gaps in technology governance and health systems under continued pressure.

These longer-term risks will have serious and far-reaching implications for societies, the environment and the governance of breakthrough technologies. It reinforces the calls made in the Global Risks Report 2020, where a multistakeholder community rated environmental risks as being among the top five global risks for the next decade, and also warned of the extraordinary stress on health systems.

The latest update provides a preliminary picture of familiar risks, which may be amplified by the crisis and new ones may emerge. Two-thirds of respondents identified a “prolonged global recession” as a top concern for business. One-half identified bankruptcies and industry consolidation, failure of industries to recover and a disruption of supply chains as crucial worries.

With the accelerated digitization of the economy in the midst of the pandemic, cyberattacks and data fraud are also major threats – according to one-half of respondents – while the breakdown of IT infrastructure and networks is also a top concern. Geopolitical disruptions and tighter restrictions on the movement of people and goods are high on the worry list.

A second report, Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-COVID-19 World draws on the experience and insights of thought leaders, scientists and researchers to outline emerging opportunities to build a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable world.

“The crisis has devastated lives and livelihoods. It has triggered an economic crisis with far-reaching implications and revealed the inadequacies of the past. As well as managing the immediate impact of the pandemic, leaders must work with each other and with all sectors of society to tackle emerging known risks and build resilience against the unknown. We now have a unique opportunity to use this crisis to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive,” said Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

Peter Giger, Group Chief Risk Officer, Zurich Insurance Group: “COVID-19 has shown it is crucial to keep existential risks in focus, and climate change is one of these. As we reboot our economies, changes in working practices and in attitudes towards travelling, commuting and consumption all point to new ways to achieve a lower-carbon and more sustainable future.

“The pandemic will have long-lasting effects, as high unemployment affects consumer confidence, inequality and well-being, and challenges the efficacy of social protection systems. With significant pressures on employment and education – over 1.6 billion students have missed out on schooling during the pandemic – we are facing the risk of another lost generation. Decisions taken now will determine how these risks or opportunities play out.”

John Doyle, President and CEO, Marsh, said: “Even before the COVID-19 crisis, organizations were faced with a highly complex and interconnected global risk landscape. From cyber threats to supply chains, as well as the well-being of their colleagues, businesses will now rethink many of the structures they formerly relied on. To create the conditions for a speedier recovery and a more resilient future, governments and the private sector need to work together more effectively. Along with major investments to improve health systems, infrastructure, and technology, one of the outcomes of this crisis has to be that societies become more resilient and capable of withstanding future pandemics and other major shocks.”

The COVID-19 Risks Outlook: A Preliminary Mapping and Its Implications and Challenges and Opportunities in the Post-COVID-19 World publications have been developed with the invaluable support of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Advisory Board and benefit from ongoing collaboration with its Strategic Partners Marsh & McLennan and Zurich Insurance Group.

How to contact the following Partner companies:

  • Jason Groves, Director of Communications, International, Marsh & McLennan Companies, United Kingdom, +44 (0)20 7357 1455, jason.groves@marsh.com
  • Pavel Osipyants, Senior Media Relations Manager, Zurich Insurance Group, Switzerland, +41 (0)44 625 20 13, pavel.osipyants@zurich.com

About World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum, committed to improving the state of the world, is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum engages the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. (www.weforum.org).

About Marsh

Marsh is the world’s leading insurance broker and risk adviser. With over 35,000 colleagues operating in more than 130 countries, Marsh serves commercial and individual clients with data driven risk solutions and advisory services. Marsh is a business of Marsh & McLennan Companies (NYSE: MMC), the leading global professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people. With annual revenue approaching US$17 billion and 76,000 colleagues worldwide, MMC helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment through four market-leading businesses: Marsh, Guy Carpenter, Mercer, and Oliver Wyman. Follow Marsh on Twitter @MarshGlobal; LinkedIn; Facebook; and YouTube, or subscribe to BRINK.