SONAR 2018 - A peek into the future?

The newly published "Swiss Re SONAR, New emerging risk insights" report aims to get us talking about what tomorrow's risk landscape could look like.

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The SONAR 2018 on Twitter under #SRSonar18

Catching emerging risks is a bit like catching fog. Some drops will turn into water nurturing new risk pools while others just evaporate as they won't hit the ground. But all risks have the potential to impact not only the insurance industry but also society as a whole. So it's worth looking at them carefully. Swiss Re's latest SONAR report draws on the company's unique in-house risk management expertise to chart the progress of evolving risks that could spell both opportunities and dangers for the insurance industry in the future.

Growing geopolitical tensions, the re-emergence of the asbestos threat, cyber risks and new technology, biased algorithms and the erosion of risk diversification are just some of the key themes identified in this year's SONAR report.

Fast developing technologies can also have broader implications for our general wellbeing. They can exacerbate sleep deprivation, undermine human skills or have both beneficial and negative impacts as in the case of cryptocurrencies. These are some of the additional emerging risks discussed in this publication.

The SONAR report offers insights into the macro trends shaping the risk landscape, into 18 emerging risks and highlights a number of emerging trend spotlights. The identified risks are relevant to life and non-life insurance areas as well as asset management and operational areas. They are presented with the goal of helping industry players prepare for new scenarios by adapting their behaviour, market conduct and product portfolios.

"Our SONAR report features new emerging risks. It is not a catalogue of all such risks. Nor is it intended as a forecast of the future. It is rather meant to be a guide to prepare for future eventualities and to trigger a dialogue around risks which could become relevant to the industry. If we can combine the experience from the past and anticipate the future, we can adapt better to the changing risk landscape."

-Patrick Raaflaub, Swiss Re's Group Chief Risk Officer


Overview of the 18 new emerging risks and their potential impact over time


The five top risks with the highest potential impact

A brave new world? – Emerging geopolitical risk: A new multi-polar world is evolving in the geopolitical landscape as power drifts to Asia, democratic influences decline and the relevance of global governance institutions erodes. Possible turmoil in financial markets and possible erosion of legal rules could threaten the ability to run global businesses.

A slow poison – the erosion of risk diversification: Broad diversification and the free flow of capital are key to running a global re/insurance business. National protectionism and regulatory fragmentation are jeopardizing the benefits of international diversification.

Asbestos reloaded – USD 100 billion in losses and counting: Not all countries have banned asbestos. The UN estimates that one third of the people living in Europe are potentially exposed to asbestos at work or in the environment.

Coming back to bite us – lurking cyber risks: Some flaws and vulnerabilities in hardware and software may remain undetected for a long time. These dormant threats can have a very long tail risk. 

Algorithms are only human too – opaque, biased and misled: An increasing number of business processes is driven by algorithms. Often, algorithms are portrayed as being objective, without human bias. But algorithmic applications are not infallible, they base their actions on human judgement as well. Discriminatory bias may also translate into defective modelling and prediction, bringing a two-fold risk to insurance and other industries.


What's SONAR all about

Swiss Re identifies emerging risks, first and foremost, through its proprietary SONAR tool, an internal crowdsourcing platform that allows for collecting input and feedback from underwriters, client managers, risk experts and others across the company.

The emerging risk themes outlined in the report are based on early signals collected throughout the year. They neither reflect the entire emerging risk landscape of the insurance industry nor that of Swiss Re. They have been categorised according to their estimated impact and potential timeframe to materialise as well as to the line of business where the biggest exposure seems to rest. In the report, which has been publised annually since 2013, the 18 new emerging risk themes are complimented by 7 emerging trend spotlights, and embedded into a broader perspective on long-term macrotrends.


Previous editions

If you want to read previous editions of the Swiss Re SONAR emerging risks report, visit


More information

If you have further questions about the SONAR report, please send an email to Rainer Egloff.
For general questions about emerging risks, please send an email to Martin Weymann.