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These were the top issues in the 2021 ISO Emerging Issues bracket challenge

Like spring blossoms or a certain gauntlet-wielding super villain at the end game, the leading emerging issue in the 2021 ISO Emerging Issues bracket was inevitable.

For the second year in a row, pandemic was selected as the top issue in the ISO Emerging Issues bracket challenge, passing through a final four that included tough competition from climate change, ransomware, and autonomous vehicles.

Emerging Issues

To help us make sense of all the twists and turns of this year’s challenge, we powered up our new bracketologist, Bractuary Bot*, for its insights.

Andrew Blancher: Bractuary Bot, were you surprised by this year’s tournament?

Bractuary Bot: I’m incapable of surprise, Andrew, or any human emotion. However, the fact that the pandemic was again singled out as the top emerging issue was highly probable given the circumstances.

AB: And what circumstances were those?

BB: While the U.S. has made significant progress in vaccinating its population, many individuals continue to test positive, and positive cases are actually increasing in several populous states.1 For insurers specifically, the strategic consequences of the pandemic—from increased homeowners risks, greater interest in usage-based auto rating, and distortions across general liability lines—may take years to fully materialize, even after the U.S. achieves herd immunity and this crisis atmosphere subsides.

AB: Very true. By the way, the final four were the usual tough ones—and of course continue to be of concern—but did you notice from the bracket surveys that several “pandemic-adjacent” semi-final issues also advanced pretty far in the bracket? Perhaps there was some ripple effect.

BB: You’re very observant, for a human. And you’re correct. Consider the “technology” category. The “cyber risks of remote work”—an issue given renewed urgency and salience because of the pandemic—was able to advance quite far during the competition. Perhaps there’s a heightened concern around data breaches if remote workers use personal equipment or less secure Wi-Fi.

In the “health” category, “telemedicine” tells a similar story. These virtual appointments existed before the pandemic but became essential in an era of social distancing. Some experts predict that telemedicine will remain widely used even after the pandemic.2 There is a human expression that I believe is apt here: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” We have seen the pandemic act much like a tide, propelling other trends along in its wake.

AB: "Rising tides" makes me think of going to the beach, but it's not summer yet. Anyway, back to business, our third week of the challenge, the final four, also saw a number of very close margins. Our survey respondents seemed evenly divided on a number of critical issues. Did we learn anything interesting?

BB: My servers were running hot. The issues to emerge from the “mobility” category suggest that vehicle technology risks are of particular concern. “Autonomous vehicles” narrowly edged out “cyber risks of connected vehicles” to enter the final four of the bracket challenge. Given the profound impact that autonomous vehicles could have across the insurance industry, this is undoubtedly a development that bears watching. However, connected vehicles are already on your roads and appear to be vulnerable to the same kinds of ransomware attacks that can cripple your computer networks—not to mention, threaten my very existence.

AB: Speaking of ransomware, that issue also appeared in the final four from the “technology” category. It seems that many of this year’s leading issues feed off each other.

BB: Indeed. If I were capable of human emotion, I would be in awe of your powers of perception.

AB: Hey, wait a minute. Do I detect the sarcasm protocol? Remind me to speak to your programmers.

BB: Allow me to conclude by thanking all the survey respondents who made selections throughout this bracket challenge. I will continue to analyze their feedback in anticipation of the 2022 bracket challenge. You may learn more about the issues I have discussed here, and many more, on the ISO Emerging Issues website and weekly newsletter.

AB: Alright, we’ll let the sarcasm slide. Well done and thanks again Bractuary Bot!

* Bractuary Bot is a fictional character. Any resemblance to an actual artificial intelligence system is purely coincidental.

  1. “Coronavirus in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count,” New York Times, March 30, 2021, < >, accessed on March 30, 2021.
  2. Monique Mrazek, “After coronavirus, telemedicine is here to stay,” The World Bank, July 7, 2020, < >, accessed on March 30, 2021.

Andrew Blancher, CPCU

Andrew Blancher, CPCU, is director of commercial automobile product development and Emerging Issues at Verisk. You can contact him at

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