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Cyber Security: A Credit Ratings Risk Factor?

A new report from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s warns that the credit ratings of U.S. financial services companies could be vulnerable to cyber risks in future.

In its analysis, S&P says:

Although the many successful cyber-attacks have not yet resulted in any changes in Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services’ ratings on financial services companies, we view cyber-security as an emerging risk that we believe has the potential to pose a higher credit risk to financial services firms in the future.”

And:

It’s not difficult to envisions scenarios in which criminal or state-sponsored cyber-attacks (for credit implications, we don’t differentiate the sources of intrusion) would result in significant economic effects, business interruption, theft, or reputational risk.”

S&P goes on to explain that while cyber attacks can result in losses, and possible market disruptions, so far they have not resulted in negative rating actions because the exposure of targeted companies has been contained by their own financial wherewithal and to some extent insurance programs.

Nevertheless, the damage to reputation, brand, or competitive position may likely only truly be known in the years ahead.

S&P notes that threat alone does not determine rating responses and threat risk varies by sector:

Our credit opinion takes a balanced view incorporating other related factors, including how susceptible a firm’s competitive position would be to a cyber attack, the effectiveness of its response plan, and what is the firm’s financial flexibility, liquidity, and capitalization regarding its ability to replenish capital post-event.

While all financial services companies targeted by major data breaches have emerged intact, S&P says it is increasingly wary about the persistence of cyber attacks and what that might mean for consumer confidence to engage in commerce with the brand going forward.

S&P says it views the threat for the insurance industry overall as medium, albeit risks for health insurers are higher. Adequate/strong enterprise risk management programs and the very strong capitalization of insurers are some of the offsetting risk factors.

While the cyber insurance market is still emerging, S&P expects premiums to more than double to $10 billion in the next five to 10 years from $2.5 billion now.

Hat tip to Insurance Journal which reports on this story here.