Economic stresses dominate top risks to doing business in North America – WEF

Marsh and Zurich leaders call for planning on “multiple risk horizons”

Economic stresses dominate top risks to doing business in North America – WEF

Insurance News

By Gia Snape

Heightened economic pressures dominated the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual survey of top business risks in the US and Canada, eclipsing longer-term exposures like extreme weather events, artificial intelligence (AI), and cyber.

In response, business leaders are urged to plan on “multiple risk horizons” and build organizational resilience as short- and long-term risks intensify.

In the WEF’s 2023 executive opinion survey, more than 11,000 executives worldwide shared their views on the most significant risks to doing business in G20 countries over the next two years.

The risk of an economic downturn, such as a recession or stagnation, topped the list in many G20 countries. In the US and Canada, lingering fears over the pandemic also showed in the list, as infectious diseases emerged as the second and fifth most significant risks in those countries, respectively.

The survey was conducted in partnership with Marsh McLennan and Zurich North America.

Reid Sawyer (pictured on the right), head of emerging risks group at Marsh, said the top five risks in the US reflect a theme of fragility among businesses.

“What this is signalling to us is continued fragility in the system and concern over shocks that could occur,” Sawyer said.

What are the top 10 risks to doing business in North America?

In Canada and the US, the top ten risks identified by business leaders in the WEF’s 2023 survey are:



  1. Economic downturn (e.g. recession, stagnation)

1. Economic downturn (e.g. recession, stagnation)

  1. Infectious diseases

Labour and/or talent shortage

  1. Inflation

Extreme weather events (floods, storms, etc.)

  1. Accidental or intentional use of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons


  1. Energy supply shortage

Infectious diseases

  1. Misinformation and disinformation

Energy supply shortage

  1. Extreme weather events (floods, storms, etc.)

Erosion of social cohesion and wellbeing

  1. Adverse outcomes of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies

Household debt

  1. Erosion of social cohesion and wellbeing

Adverse outcomes of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies

  1. Attacks on critical infrastructure

Asset bubble burst

The focus on short-term economic pressures is no surprise, particularly in light of escalating global conflicts, Sawyer told Insurance Business.

“Not surprisingly, the economic issues are dominant as we think about recession fears. There is a proverbial soft landing that we're all looking for in the economy,” Sawyer told Insurance Business.

“While we've had significant progress with jobs reports and the reason inflation report that came out this week, there's still an overwhelming concern when we think about how events in the Middle East could spiral further and create other cascading issues.”

Jessica Balsam (pictured on the left) from Zurich North America’s resilience solutions sustainability team noted the uncertainty over climate and energy issues. 

“From a resilience perspective, the issue is the uncertainty around the depth and breadth of climate-related issues,” she said. “Climate and energy issues are very closely related, and to see them both on the list is certainly something we're paying attention to and preparing for.”

WEF findings – risk managers must balance short- and long-term risks.

The WEF survey findings come as G20 countries prepare for COP28 in Dubai following a year of record-breaking global temperatures and severe weather-related events.

Globally, environmental risks such as extreme weather events and failure of climate change adaptation were cited just eight times in this year’s top five risks across G20 countries in the WEF survey, continuing last year’s.

Technological risks, including threats relating to artificial intelligence, appear only three times in the G20 top five rankings.

For Sawyer, the absence of climate, cyber and AI risks in the top five concerns for US business leaders is noteworthy.

“Cyber’s absence in the top five is significant when considering where it sits in other surveys. The fact that AI risk and climate are not in the top five is notable,” he said.

“What the last five years have taught us, if anything, is that, with the turmoil we're facing, we need to plan on multiple risk horizons. The challenge comes when we start aligning priorities and risk capital to deal with short-term risks but at the cost of the choices we’re making in the future.”

Balsam has been in climate work for the last 15 years and has seen a dramatic shift among leaders and elected officials regarding their perception of climate risk. She stressed organizations must take proactive steps towards decarbonization aside from bolstering climate resilience.

“I’ve seen how people are not just reprioritizing and becoming aware of the shift in climate,” she told Insurance Business.

“The perception is we can understand or feel the climate crisis coming. We experience multiple extreme weather events at the same time. That’s good and important, but we must also plan for the long term from a resilience and a decarbonization perspective.”

Finally, Sawyer said the complex landscape of risks means North American organizations must stay abreast of global developments.

“If we wind the clock back 10 years, it's easier to think about a much smaller list of risks,” he said. “There are more and harder concerns to think about as a risk manager and insured [such as] how do I think the breadth of issues we're facing? How do I prioritize cap risk capital, and what does this mean as we go forward?”

What are your thoughts on the WEF’s 2023 list of top risks in doing business? Tell us in the comments.

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