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Resilient firms adapt to circumstances and manage adversity. In this article, Carrie Huang, an Underwriting Manager with AXA XL’s Crisis Management team for Asia, explains why resilience is the fundamental imperative for companies today, and outlines how firms can become more aware, better prepared, and ready to respond.

People are innately resilient. That is, we have “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (that is how resilience is defined in the dictionary). We are hard-wired to zero in on physical threats and deliberately try to lessen if not eliminate them.

In fact, the course of humanity mostly has seen continuing progress toward a safer and more prosperous, peaceful and equitable world. Wars between nation-states, for instance, once were common; now they are infrequent. Or this: The percentage of the world’s population with access to an “improved water source” rose from 76 percent in 1990 to 91 percent in 2015. One more: In 1970, the annual death rate in low-income countries from natural disasters was 0.7 per 100 thousand people; today that number is down to 0.2.

These and similar statistics indicate that when viewed from a broader perspective—which, admittedly, is not always easy—many people today are living longer, happier and healthier lives; our innate resilience continues to payoff.

Things are going to slide
However—and, yes, the above observation naturally comes with a rejoinder—as the global economy becomes ever more interconnected, the population continues to increase, and the planet only grows warmer, the stresses on people, civil society and natural ecosystems are mounting rapidly.

The COVID-19 pandemic obviously has caused massive strains pretty much everywhere. But let’s not forget the wave of civil unrest that broke out in countries in all parts of the world in the months ahead of the COVID-19 emergency. While these may be on hold temporarily due to the pandemic, the underlying tensions remain, and we are already seeing a resurgence of civil strife in places. (My colleague Bonnie Chow wrote about this not long ago. Her article can be found here.)

Or the fact that, according to the United Nations, “The world is witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home by conflict and persecution at the end of 2018”. We also know that much of this displacement was caused, at least in part, by persistent, long-term drought in some regions. Note that over the past 140 years, the five warmest years on record have all occurred since 2015. Or a sharper data point: The temperature in a town in northeast Siberia recently hit 38C (100F); that’s the highest reading ever logged inside the Arctic Circle.

Without being overly pessimistic, is it possible that humanity’s previously inexorable march toward a better future is no longer assured?

No longer just a buzzword?
The reality that the world is beset by a wide assortment of risks, hazards, threats, dangers and perils—take your pick! —isn’t exactly news to insurance and risk management professionals; this is the world we live in. And the broad concept of resilience is hardly a novel topic within our community; there have been many articles, white papers and panel discussions on different facets of this issue.

However—another rejoinder—while companies today have access to excellent frameworks and tools for building resilience, and can call on many experienced, knowledgeable experts, the on-the-ground results are mixed. Businesses in all parts of the world routinely are crippled if not brought down entirely by their inability to anticipate and respond to predictable events.

In some ways, that’s understandable. Mobilizing the resources, and embedding the capabilities, systems and processes that will bolster an organization’s resilience, requires commitment and persistence; it is not a tick-the-box exercise with explicit, definitive outcomes. And let’s be realistic: Given the never-ending challenges companies must deal with in today’s fast-moving and intensely competitive business environment, does anyone really have time to develop comprehensive contingency plans for all potential exigencies no matter how predictable? Or to contemplate events like terrorist attacks where the risk is real but the likelihood of being a victim is fairly low?

In the past it was clear why some, although not all, companies didn’t prioritize various initiatives intended to increase resilience. But in the months ahead, as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes in some places and flares up in others, I expect many companies will revisit their prior assumptions about how much—and where—they need to invest in efforts that will help them better understand, plan for and respond to various risks, hazards, threats, dangers and perils.

That’s because, in addition to causing massive disruptions across virtually all industry sectors, the pandemic is likely to significantly alter the competitive landscape within individual industries. Although the impacts to firms within the same sector will tend to be relatively similar—whether that’s decreased demand, the need to rethink global supply chains and/or the economic toll related to furloughed workers—some companies will fare better in adapting to changing conditions.

Hard realities
So, what next? As I suggested above, when it comes to creating greater resilience, the limiting factors aren’t necessarily expertise and tools. The challenges more commonly involve organizational commitment and follow-through. However, as the pandemic continues to unfold and the world remains unsettled, the companies that are profitable and competitive also will be highly resilient.

In closing, I want to briefly highlight how AXA XL’s Crisis Management and Special Risks team, along with its partners, helps companies to prepare for, respond to and rebound from a range of possible events. A core element of our offering includes tested frameworks and methodologies encompassing:

Threat analyses covering, e.g., global/regional developments, incident monitoring, and forecasts highlighting potential pressure-points
Organizational resilience including, e.g., business impact and supply chain analyses, business continuity and transition support, and crisis management planning
Security and response encompassing, e.g., evacuation planning, preparing for cyber-attacks, and return to work plans.

The different elements of this overall process—analysis, planning, monitoring, and rapid and effective response—require diverse expertise in fields ranging from threat assessment, law enforcement and cyber security to crisis communications, environmental sciences and, of course, public health and safety. AXA XL’s in-house experts on these and related topics are supported by a few key partners including S-RM and Klareco Communications. S-RM is a leader in the latest crisis management methods with experts drawn from intelligence agencies, the armed forces and hostage negotiation units. Klareco is a Singapore-based corporate communications and public relations company with expertise in helping firms defend, manage and recover their reputations.

At the outset of this article, I asserted that humans are innately resilient. However, I left something out: When they work at it. That is, resilience isn’t achieved spontaneously. The generally progressive course of humanity stems in large part from the fact that evolution naturally favours those who do work at it. In my view, the same can be said about companies. When firms make the effort, they also can be remarkably resilient. AXA XL’s Crisis Management and Special Risks team is ready to support companies become more aware, better prepared, and ready to respond, and thus, navigate successfully in an increasingly unpredictable world.

Carrie Huang is the Underwriting Manager for AXA XL’s Crisis Management and Special Risks team in Asia. With over 15 years of underwriting experience in the insurance industry, Carrie brings extensive commercial underwriting knowledge and superior client and broker service to her current role. At AXA XL, she is responsible for growing the War Terrorism & Political Violence Insurance book across Asia, working closely with clients and brokers to find the best possible crisis management and risk solutions. Carrie is based in Singapore and can be reached at

Note: In addition to AXA XL’s work with corporate clients, other parts of the AXA organization are helping to increase resilience in other realms. For instance, one of AXA XL’s initiatives aims to safeguard vulnerable ocean ecosystems thereby providing greater resilience for communities that rely on, e.g., coral reefs and mangroves for protection as well as for their economic benefits. You can read more about AXA’s Ocean Risk Initiative here.


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