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Talk to Dr Patrick Dixon, Chairman of Global Change and notable Futurist, and you will be anxious for what future risks lay ahead. He expects the current incubating risks will spawn opportunities for insurers and reinsurers to grow, but insurers must communicate the right message first. Interview in Asia Insurance Review - 2010 - By Min Yong.

Speaking at the invitation-only 7th Swiss Re Asia Forum recently in Singapore, Dr Patrick Dixon, considered Europe’s leading futurist, shares his irrefutable belief that: “Either we take hold of the future or the future will take hold of us.”

Elaborating, he stresses that the key is that companies and governments must cast their vision on the long-term risks that will prevail and how they can prepare, mitigate and combat the effects.

Growing Risks

And what are these risks? Dr Dixon has a long list of them and finds it hard to pick the top four. “I wish you’d give me at least ten risks to talk about,” the 53-year-old quips.

Nevertheless, his four selected risks, in no particular order, are:

1. Contagious financial chaos: Our world is becoming more stitched together with more people jumping online, more people communicating at the speed of light, increasing volumes of international trade, all leading to escalating complexity.

Dr Dixon adds: “We are now so interconnected and one of our greatest risks is managing weird combinations of risk that we hadn’t realised are possible. Complex financial instruments that people did not understand had caused the biggest shocks in the world recently and we will continue to see such complex monetary shocks. These are compelling reasons to reinsure such risks.”

2. Climate change: This is turning out to be impacting human beings much worse than originally forecast, especially in Asia, therefore insurers must be more active in climate change discussions, Dr Dixon says.

3. Growing contrast between the wealthiest and poorest in our societies: He expects this moral challenge to cause political instability, civil war and regional conflict on a scale that has not been seen before. The price of an apartment in Mumbai, compared to someone living under a plastic sheet in its shadow, is an example.

“You’ll see much of the same contrast in most of Asia, while gaps in the US, UK, Australia are also widening. History shows us that conflicts and disparities like these are unsustainable. Eventually people rise up,” he says, adding that such growing contrasts will materialise into regional instability and could spell violent seizures for asset prices and business interruptions.

Mutant viruses: We remain a very vulnerable specie to global pandemics. The Asian region is particularly sensitive as shown by outbreaks such as SARS, Bird and Swine Flu, which will continue to fuel the need for business disruption insurance.

Preparing for wildcards

Nevertheless, on top of future risks, Wildcards exist in every industry, he says, classifying these as “low probability events which cause massive destruction”. Recent examples are illustrated by BP’s oil spill, Iceland’s volcanic activity and the September 11 attacks. “Businesses everywhere underestimate the number of wildcards they have and their level of exposure to risks.”

This is why insurance is so important for businesses and helps to keep the wheels of the economy going, says the futurist. In BP’s case, having had advised them before, he deems the oil spill as not an unexpected risk as “it all boils down to an issue of the size of the company…the bigger it is, the more risks are attached.”

Changing image of insurers, it’s all about “trust”

As for expanding and building a sustainable industry, he says: “You need to be clear what message you are communicating”, since insurers have had a “bad image” for over 30 years. Adding: “In this global world, the days of obsessing and talking about profits and bottom lines are over. If you continue to do that, you’ll destroy the industry. You need to convey trust.”

The truth or the key story behind insurance is that it is “a cooperative community of people who have chosen to carry each other’s risks through good and bad times” and “insurance companies exist to pay out in times of trouble.” If insurers can articulate this clearly and build trust within communities, Dr Dixon believes they can grow the market anywhere.

In communicating the ‘right’ message, he advises insurers to change their language. An insurance company CEO should discuss the good that it has done, such as: “Last year, I’m proud to tell you, we rebuilt the homes of 5,000 people in Singapore…We were there to support, sadly, 300 families who lost their parents in car crashes… We were there to support a family of three young children, whose father tragically died from cancer at the age of 35, [by] paying out a quarter of a million dollars to help them with immediate challenges over the next five years.”

The things insurers do for the community and its people are fantastic, he commends, and should be communicated by insurers. He declares that companies must fight tooth and nail to protect their image, saying: “Be proud and tell the story!”
Inside the mind of a Futurist

In 2005 he was ranked as one of the 20 most influential business thinkers alive according to the Thinkers 50 (a private survey printed in The Times (UK)), alongside Bill Gates, Jack Welch, and Richard Branson, just to name a few.

There is one key criterion for being a Futurist, elaborates Dr Patrick Dixon. “When you think about ‘tomorrow’ you are a Futurist.  From a farmer, parent to a politician, we are all futurists if we think ahead.” However, for himself, he adds: “My daily mission is to: ‘Make sense of how the wider world is changing and what companies can do today to prepare ahead.’”

To get into the mind of this leading futurist, here are some quick facts on Dr Dixon:

Role model: Nelson Mandela

Received his calling? As a physician, he was looking after cancer patients at the St Joseph’s Hospice, London. “When these patients found out they only have a few weeks or months left, they came alive, in an amazing way,” he said, which triggered him to quit as a doctor and got into this futuristic work.

Personal Campaign: He and his wife founded the ACET International Alliance, a network of independent national AIDS care and prevention programs, active in 23 countries including the UK, Ireland, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Thailand, India, Ukraine and Russia.  He is currently its Chairman.

What drives him: Wanting to make a difference and help create a better world.

Most proud of: His wife and four children.


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Thanks for promoting with Facebook LIKE or Tweet. Really interested to hear your views. Post below.

Sawan Rodrigo
August 19, 2013 - 13:25

Hello Sir ,i am a student of CIM 3rd stage .Since i am working at Insurance company i thought i should do my exam on Emerging Themes on Future of Insurance. i was very much convinced that you have mentioned how should CEO of Insurance company should talk.i believe not only talk but he should live on it and then we can make differences on Insurance Industry.. Thank you Sir and if possible please advise too on my study.

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