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Press Release

Over two-thirds (68%) of firms have suffered a political risk loss, Willis Towers Watson survey finds

Credit, Political Risk and Terrorism
Geopolitical Risk

December 5, 2019

Political risk levels have increased since 2018 with populism and ESG shock cited as emerging risks of concerns for 2020 and beyond.

Asia Pacific, 5 December 2019 – A survey of 41 major corporations by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW), a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, found that 61% believe political risk levels increased in 2019.

Disruption of international trade was considered the most significant risk in the majority of regions, the annual Political Risk Survey found. 70% of the respondents cited trade sanctions as a concern for their operations in Asia Pacific, 58% in Europe, while for Russia and The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the figure was 77%. Sanctions against Russia, Iran and Venezuela, a trade war involving China, and the threat of Brexit in Europe were reported as concerns by respondents.

Concerns about political violence were the highest in Africa (74%) and the Middle East (71%), with respondents reporting that new technologies such as drone strikes could exacerbate such risks.

According to the research, 2019 also saw an increase in the proportion of companies reporting that they had experienced political risk losses. More than two-thirds (68%) of them had experienced a political risk loss including the following types:

  • 54% of respondents had experienced a loss due to political violence, compared to 48% in 2018;
  • 46% reported losses due to trade sanctions or import / export embargoes in 2019, compared to 2018’s figure of 40%;
  • 32% of companies with revenues exceeding $1bn reported previous experience of a catastrophic (more than $250 million) political risk loss.
Figure 1. Types of Political Risk losses experienced
Types of Political Risk losses experienced 2019 2018
Political violence or forced abandonment 54% 48%
Currency transfer restrictions or inconvertibility 50% 58%
Trade sanctions or import/export embargo 46% 40%
Expropriation or creeping expropriation 29% 25%
Sovereign non-payment 7% 18%

Note: Companies experiencing political risk loss; n (number of respondents) for 2018 is 14; n for 2019 is 28. All respondents: n = 41 major corporations with international operations.

“It is clear from our survey that political risk continues to increase, and that related financial losses are on the rise,” said Paul Davidson, Chairman of Financial Solutions at Willis Towers Watson. “Corporations now face a strategic choice: to either maintain their global business models while accepting, mitigating or transferring the political risks associated with them, or attempting to realign themselves with the emerging shape of a new and apparently more nationalist global landscape.”

It is clear from our survey that political risk continues to increase, and that related financial losses are on the rise.”

Paul Davidson
Chairman of Financial Solutions at Willis Towers Watson

Most respondents (71%) stated that the emphasis on political risk management at their company had increased since 2018, and nearly 40% felt that they were facing more pressure from investors regarding political risk management. The survey found that recent developments such as the China-US rivalry and the sanctions that have arisen as a result have made political risk more tangible.

Stuart Ashworth, Managing Director, Financial Solutions, Asia Pacific, Willis Towers Watson added: “Political risks are now a defining feature of the modern age, and something every risk manager, CFO and CEO need to be aware of, understand and grapple with. With populism and protectionism on the march; instability, conflict and public disorder on the rise, companies need to remain vigilant and seek assistance where they can to better understand the changing risk landscape, identify the risks they face, quantify their exposures and where possible mitigate those risks.”

As in previous years, the study included in-depth follow-up interviews with a panel of survey participants. The panel’s top risks of concern included “US-China strategic competition,” “Middle East regional stability,” and an “ESG [Environmental/Social/Governance] shock.” This latter risk had not appeared among the top ten in 2018, but panellists indicated that rising tensions between business and society were increasingly leading to political risk events.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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