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Aon and Pentland Analytics have published ‘Respecting the Grey Swan’, a new report detailing the impact that crises have on reputation and shareholder value, and emphasizing the need for organizations to recalibrate their approach to risk and crisis in a highly volatile world.

"Today, clients are justifiably focused on the unprecedented socioeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are also increasingly aware of other challenges like climate change, supply chain disruption, reimagining and reconfiguring how and where work gets done, and the growing health-wealth gap," said Greg Case, Chief Executive Officer of Aon. "If, and when, a reputation crisis occurs, this research reinforces the importance of promptly acknowledging the seriousness of the event itself and, most importantly, how to translate this understanding into decisive action."

Like their better-known Black Swan event cousins, Grey Swan events can greatly impact firms; unlike Black Swans, which seem inconceivable before they happen, Grey Swans are known beforehand. Grey Swans are long-tail risks, known but thought highly unlikely – and thus organizations have often neglected to invest scarce resources to prepare for them. Many extreme events, such as the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 financial crisis, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, are considered Grey Swan events because of the size of the impact and the many warning signs that were ignored. Other types of reputation Grey Swans come from within an organization, including, for example, governance crises or product failures.

The report highlights how crises remain a major risk for organizations globally, analyzing data from 300 corporate crises from the last 40 years, examining Grey Swans' impact on shareholder value and identifying drivers of recovery.

"Risk management awareness has heightened over the last year. This research provides us with an evidence-based picture of the many challenges we face, not only when managing Grey Swan events in the moment, but also in our preparation and need to invest in resilience," added Dr. Deborah Pretty, Founder of Pentland Analytics.

The report draws attention to cognitive biases and explains how ambiguous and uncomfortable data are easy to ignore, how the impact of Grey Swan events is substantial and enduring, and how value recovery is a function of critical pre- and post-loss decisions. It also highlights the financial value of reputation - in over 10 percent of crises, more than 50 percent of shareholder value is destroyed – and directors' and officers' face increased risk exposure, especially following a Grey Swan event. On average, shareholders can expect to lose 26 percent of value at some point during the post-event year.

Evidence from the research suggests three areas on which organizations should focus to build resilience:

  • Reimagining the risk landscape through a broader risk assessment,
  • Acknowledging the seriousness of impact with a focused investment in risk preparedness and crisis management,
  • Translating understanding into action, fostering a responsive and agile culture.

Read the report (PDF).

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