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WEF survey ranks top 10 risks of doing business globally

October 24, 2017

Cyber threats ascend in the World Economic Forum’s Executive Opinion Survey this year. The survey offers insights for businesses that work internationally.

international flags

Earlier this year, Zurich joined with the World Economic Forum and Marsh & McLennan Companies to find out which risks are top of mind for executives with businesses around the globe. The results of this year’s Executive Opinion Survey might surprise you.

The risk that rises to the top of the list doesn’t include the word “attack.” So if you guessed cyber crime or terrorism, that’s not it. Although hurricanes and other natural disasters made global headlines recently, those risks aren’t in the top five, or even the top 10 – though it’s worth noting that the poll of 12,411 business leaders across 136 countries was taken between January and June.

Rather, the top 5 risks on the list are ones that remind us of the fundamentals of business and economic prosperity:

  1. Unemployment or underemployment
  2. Fiscal crises
  3. The failure of national governance
  4. Energy price shock Profound social instability

That’s not the end of the survey’s insights. Although not in the top five, cyber threats cracked the top 10 globally for the first time this year, rising from 12th place to 8th, and this concern is overtaking climate-related threats in many countries.

The full value of the World Economic Forum is that it doesn’t simply combine all the survey answers and toss them into one pool. It sorts them by region and by country, revealing that business leaders aren’t all swimming in the same waters.

In Britain, fiscal concerns replaced cyber attacks as the top concern this year, suggesting heightened wariness over the effects of Brexit. Terrorism is perceived as the greatest risk in the U.S. (up from third last year) and the second greatest in Germany and France (second and third, respectively, last year.)

Regionally, business executives in North America, as well as East Asia and the Pacific, name cyber attacks as the top risk. In Eurasia, fiscal crises and interstate conflict are No. 1 and 2, respectively.

Europe, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa align with the overall list, registering unemployment or underemployment as the top risk. Latin America and the Caribbean name failure of national governance as their top concern. Fiscal crises claim the top spot in the Middle East and North Africa.

The regional and country breakdowns provide reminders that the risks we face at home aren’t always the same ones that greet us when we step off the plane after crossing an ocean. Whether that business travel is for a two-day conference or to set up a satellite office, insurance coverage must account for the risks at our destination as well as local regulations that can affect the interpretation of our insurance.

Zurich, which has been in the international programs arena for 40 years, helps our customers manage their international exposures and programs, with our footprint in more than 200 countries and tech-enabled tools, including our Multinational Insurance Application (MIA) and the My Zurich portal.

The survey, meanwhile, provides a valuable reference point on business environments where you operate. If your work takes you or your teams overseas, it’s worth a deeper dive into the survey results. The full responses are scheduled to be published with additional context in early 2018, alongside the next Global Risks Report. (See the 2017 report.) Be sure to check again then.