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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Genetic testing among the top emerging risks facing insurers worldwide

The increasing availability of genetic testing has been identified as a key risk for life insurers to be aware of, with considerable implications for data management and regulatory constraints.

A "new generation" of genetic tests ©iStock

That is according to Swiss Re’s latest annual SONAR report, which ranks the top five emerging risks facing re/insurance and asset management companies across the world.

It outlines how genetic testing raises the prospect of more customers at high risk from disease or mortality applying for life insurance, leading to adverse selection.

And people may also start to withhold information about their genetic condition from an insurer out of fear that they may be denied coverage.

“The major challenge for life insurers is to obtain adequate and risk-relevant information during the underwriting process,” the report explains. 

“Generally, regulation disallows the use of genetic information in underwriting. A new generation of genetic tests is only likely to widen the information gap between insurer and insured.”

Ageing infrastructure is another threat identified, with insurers facing higher risk accumulation and unexpected loss potential in areas like property damage, bodily injury and cyber risk.

Higher financial market volatility and declines in asset valuations are also potential risk factors for the re/insurance industry should an economic downturn occur.

Moreover, it is thought that 5G will bring major concerns around security and privacy, along with increasing health fears about the effects of electromagnetic fields.

Climate change and public health complete the top five risks identified in the report, with more pronounced risks from heatwaves, floods, droughts, fires and diseases expected.

"Swiss Re and the insurance industry at large first flagged climate change as an emerging risk many decades ago", said Patrick Raaflaub, Swiss Re's group chief risk officer. 

"The risk has now emerged, but associated and challenging uncertainties still remain, such as the implications on life and health insurance."

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