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Pandemic tops ISO Emerging Issues 2020 bracket challenge

Editor’s note: Our annual Emerging Issues tournament has been running for several years and has been a light-hearted article series that coincides with the March basketball tournament. While COVID-19 has risen to the top of important issues, it is not our intention to trivialize the pandemic. In keeping with the original spirit of the series, the following is a transcript of an interview with Bractuary Bill*, the bracketologist for the annual ISO Emerging Issues tournament.

Dave Geller: Well, Bractuary Bill, needless to say that the landscape of the world has shifted quite a bit since we last talked. Before we review the results, would you like to announce the top issue?

BB: Yes, Dave. The top emerging issue for 2020, which would not have played so prominently just a couple of months ago, should be no surprise: Pandemic.

Some of you may recall that in our interview just last month, I announced that the Emerging Issues topic of Data Breach & Security, which prevailed in five of our first six bracket challenges, would be broken up into several sub-topics to shift the spotlight onto other emerging issues.

However, as the tournament continued to progress, the ongoing spread of novel coronavirus seemingly made Pandemic the only viable option to be selected as the top emerging issue of the 2020 ISO EI bracket challenge.

DG: Prior to the spread of novel coronavirus, it may have been difficult to truly comprehend the scope of the fallout that a global pandemic could usher in. But millions—if not billions—of people have or will likely be adversely affected in some form from COVID-19’s relentless spread and global reach. With respect to this, is there a larger lesson that insurance and risk management professionals can glean?

BB: I believe so, Dave, especially when you contemplate how much of a non-factor Pandemic had been in prior EI tournaments, which commenced in 2014. Here is where the Pandemic topic finished in each year:

  • 2014 – Lost in the first round
  • 2015 – Lost in the first round
  • 2016 – Lost in the first round
  • 2017 – Lost in the first round
  • 2018 – Lost in the first round
  • 2019 – RELEGATED (wasn’t even in the tournament)

As you can see, Pandemic was hardly considered a major emerging issue in previous bracket challenges.

So if there is a lesson to be learned, perhaps it is that we want to remember to keep our perspectives on risk as broad as possible. Ultimately, some of the biggest risks may actually be the ones that are off the radar, because those are the ones that society may be least prepared for.

DG: While COVID-19 has continued to dominate headlines and activity across the globe, what are some other findings from the bracket challenge that captured your attention?

BB: As I mentioned in our earlier interview, this year we established “quadrants” to highlight some of the most important emerging issues for each category. Here are the top issues:

  • Health – Pandemic
  • Environmental/Social – Climate Change
  • Mobility – Autonomous Vehicles
  • Technology – Biased Artificial Intelligence (AI) Algorithms

As the bracket challenge began, I had a close eye on our Environmental/Social quadrant as it was laden with heavy-hitting topics, including two of the four finalists in 2019 (Cannabis and Climate Change). The second-round matchup between Climate Change and new entrant Social Inflation was exceptionally close, as our metrics show that Social Inflation strongly challenged Climate Change.

It was surprising to see Ridesharing not get past Electric Vehicles in Round One. Participants—we’d love to hear your reasoning behind this one, please e-mail us here if you would like to explain further.

Lastly, another unexpected result involved new entrant Biased AI Algorithms, which was selected as the top Technology issue. For more on this topic, Verisk company AIR Worldwide authored this blog post late in 2019 about this issue and how it relates to Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI).

DG: Thanks for your time, BB.

BB: Thanks, Dave. I look forward to staying abreast of the emerging issues landscape by reading the ISO EI Weekly Digest.

* Bractuary Bill is a fictitious character. Any resemblance to actual persons or an actual artificial intelligence system is purely coincidental.

David Geller

David Geller, CPCU, SCLA, is product strategy manager, Underwriting Solutions at Verisk. He can be reached at

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