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Technology – the risks and what’s next?

At a glance

  • Technology has the potential to revolutionise the way we live and work, with extraordinary advances constantly being made
  • Businesses are often early adopters of emerging technologies, as they seek to improve their products and processes
  • We look at four of the biggest technology trends and how they might affect customers now and in the future

The pace of technological change is staggering. Just a decade ago, 3D printing was relatively unknown, driverless cars were nothing more than science fiction, and the iPhone didn’t even exist.

Every year, new technologies continue to emerge, with many expected to revolutionise our social and economic landscape.

Emerging technologies can offer attractive prospects for businesses, so it is important for brokers and risk managers to be familiar with their potential benefits and anticipated risks.

We look at four areas of technology with the ability to significantly benefit the way we live and work in the future.


Ten years ago, the iPhone wasn’t even invented; we now live in a world with more smartphones than people, where you can access high-speed internet via your wristwatch, and even control your thermostat from the opposite side of the globe. We are steaming towards a hyper-connected world, where people, computers and everyday objects are all linked via the internet.

Increased connectivity has already produced vast efficiency gains for businesses and allowed people to share knowledge and ideas like never before. It is anticipated that we will continue to see profound social, political and economic consequences as the world becomes more connected.

However, a growing reliance on the internet and enhanced connectivity has also created new vulnerabilities. As businesses increasingly operate online, cyber criminals now have more opportunities to infiltrate private networks.

For businesses, cyber crime not only poses risks to confidential data and finances, and their ability to function, but can also attract liability for directors and officers personally.

With cyber crime affecting 90% of large business and 74% of small business in the past year, there are huge opportunities for brokers to offer insurance solutions and risk management advice to protect their customers from the growing cyber threat.

Advanced materials

Designers and manufacturers have an ever-expanding palette of materials to work with.

Graphene is just one of many new man-made materials. It is 200 times stronger than steel, transparent, highly conductive of both heat and electricity, but is only one atom thick, making it both the thinnest and strongest material currently known to man.

Nanocellulose is another new material. Lightweight and transparent, it conducts electricity, is tougher than Kevlar and completely recyclable. Made from wood pulp, and cheaper than both graphite and glass, we could soon see nanocellulose become commonplace in products of all kinds. As it is only concentrated plant-matter, it can even be used as a low-calorie food thickener.

While advances in the technology of materials will undoubtedly bring immense benefits to all kinds of industries, there are also unknown risks to consider. For example, we have yet to recognise any long-term effects on human health and the environment of these products.

We should remember that asbestos and lead were once considered safe, and as our knowledge of new technologies develops, new risks could emerge with associated liability exposures for businesses that use them.

3D printing

Relatively unheard of ten years ago, 3D printing is now generating plenty of excitement. Enabling users to manufacture complex physical objects in their own homes, this technology is predicted to completely rewrite the rulebook on designing, manufacturing and consuming products.

3D printers are now capable of using a wide variety of materials and making a near-unlimited range of products: from food and prosthetic limbs, to houses, and even human organs.

With the cost of owning a 3D printer plummeting more than 90% in the past four years, a growing number of businesses are starting to use them. Brokers and customers should therefore be aware of the potential risks this technology can present, such as product liability issues, possible intellectual property disputes, and a number of additional risks to consider and manage.

Energy storage

As technology develops at a rapid pace, our reliance on energy has increased exponentially. In the past decade alone, domestic electricity consumption has increased by almost 40%, and is anticipated to continue to grow for the foreseeable future. When coupled with fluctuating fuel bills, this makes energy usage an important concern for brokers’ customers.

With an ever-increasing number of mobile electronic devices on the market, and vehicles turning to electricity or even hydrogen or biodiesel as an alternative to fossil fuels, energy storage technology is a leading priority for today’s researchers.

Despite computer processing power doubling every two years, battery technology has not kept pace. In fact, since its introduction in 1991, the lithium-ion battery – the present peak of general use battery technology – has barely changed. Currently, most extensions to battery life come from increased processor efficiency, not better batteries. Huge amounts of time and money are being invested in developing a successor to lithium-ion, and there are finally signs that that we may be nearing a breakthrough.

Last year, the University of Cambridge published new research for a controversial ‘lithium-air’ battery, which they claim could have ten times the capacity of today’s forerunner. The technology works by actually using oxygen in the surrounding atmosphere to generate energy, thus not relying solely on the number of ions able to be stored in the battery itself.

Other strands of research are not looking at creating better batteries at all, but different energy generation altogether. British company Intelligent Energy is currently developing hydrogen fuel cells for the consumer electronics market. These cells could significantly extend the life of portable devices and be recharged at a fraction of the time.

How we can help

Zurich is constantly monitoring emerging technologies and adapting our products and risk management capabilities.

If you have any questions about how you can help your customers address the potential benefits and risks of any emerging technologies, please contact your Zurich Account Executive, or speak to a member of our Risk Engineering Team.

Image © Getty

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