What Is a Risk Premium?


A risk premium is an additional return that an investor will receive for investing in an asset with higher risk relative to a risk-free asset. It is an assessment of the additional value an investor requires for enduring a higher risk. In finance, an investor will assess the relative risk of investments and compare the risk premium of an asset to that of the risk-free rate. The risk-free rate is normally the rate of return on an investment such as bonds that has been guaranteed by the government.

The purpose of a risk premium is to provide investors with a measure to calculate the amount of compensation for taking on greater volatility or risk. When the risk of an investment increases, the expected return must also increase in order for the investment to be attractive. Therefore, the risk premium is the difference between the returns from a higher risk asset and from a riskless asset.

Types of Risks

In finance and insurance, risk premium represents the extra return that an investor demands for accepting the risk of uncertainty. It can be calculated by the differences in expected return and the risk-free rate. It helps in making investments decisions, comparing two bonds with varying levels of risks.

There are mainly three types of risks linked with risk premiums, these are:

Market Risk

Market risk, also known as systematic risk, is the risk that is caused due to uncertainty in financial markets. Market risk can affect all investments because the entire stock market rises and declines due to a variety of economic, political, and social factors. It has a tendency to affect all companies and investments simultaneously.

Systematic Risk

Systematic risk, also known as non-diversifiable risk, is the risk that is caused due to uncertain events which are beyond the control of an investor. These uncertain events may include geopolitical events, wars, natural disasters, currency devaluation etc. It is an inherent risk of all investments and cannot be eliminated with diversification.

Unsystematic Risk

Unsystematic risk, also known as diversifiable risk, is the risk that is caused due to internal factors like mismanagement and bad decisions from the management. This type of risk can be diversified by investing in different types of assets. Unsystematic risk can be divided into two categories, firm-specific risk and industry-wide risk.

With risk premiums, investors are given a choice of investing in riskier investments and getting higher returns, or to opt for lower risks investments and getting minimal returns. The risk premia can be used to compare and contrast various investments for measurement of their risk level.

Measuring Riskiness

Risk premiums are an important tool for helping investors evaluate risk of a potential investment. To measure the riskiness of an investment, investors must rely on a few key metrics for evidence.

Standard Deviation

Standard deviation is a statistical measurement of the volatility of a security or asset class. The higher the standard deviation, the greater the risk. This means that high standard deviation investments are more volatile and therefore often associated with higher risk premiums.

Beta Coefficient

Beta is a measure of the relative volatility of a security or asset class compared to a benchmark. It is also commonly used to measure the systematic risk of a security or asset class. A beta coefficient of 1 means that the security or asset class has the same volatility as the benchmark; a higher beta means that the security or asset class is more volatile and has a higher risk premium.

Value at Risk (VaR)

Value at Risk (VaR) is a measure of the potential loss of an investment over a given time period and is commonly used to measure the risk of a portfolio or trading position. VaR is expressed as a percentage of the investment and is typically calculated using historical market data. The higher the VaR, the higher the risk premium associated with the investment.

Determining the Risk Premium

A risk premium is the rate of return an investor demands in order to bear a certain level of risk. Determining a risk premium requires taking into account the different factors that influence investment decisions and accurately measuring the level of risk associated with an investment. Here are some tips to follow when determining the risk premium.

Calculating the Risk Premium

The risk premium is determined by subtracting a rate of return that is considered to be risk-free from the expected rate of return on a certain investment. A risk-free rate of return is often the interest rate on a guaranteed security such as a treasury bill. The difference between the rate of return on the investment minus the risk-free rate of return is the risk premium. It is important to accurately measure both of these rates in order to determine the risk premium.

Components of the Risk Premium

The risk premium is comprised of two components: systematic and unsystematic risk. Systematic risk is related to macroeconomic factors such as inflation and economic downturns. Unsystematic risk is related to the performance of a specific security or investment and factors such as company management or industry trends. Understanding the differences between these two types of risk can help to accurately measure the risk premium.

  • Systematic risk refers to factors that influence all investments, such as economic downturns or inflation.
  • Unsystematic risk refers to factors related to a specific security, such as company management or industry trends.

It is important to take into account both systematic and unsystematic risk when determining a risk premium. An accurate measure of the risk premium can enable an investor to make more informed decisions and potentially generate higher returns.

Risk Premiums in Bond Ratings

Risk premiums refer to the additional returns an investor is willing to accept for an increased risk. When it comes to bond ratings, these premiums are typically assigned based on the creditworthiness of the issuer. Investors will often be willing to accept less return if the issuer is seen to be more reliable, or higher returns for higher risk bonds. This article will look at risk premiums assigned to corporate and government bonds.

Corporate Bonds

Corporate bond ratings typically involve a credit rating provided by one of the major rating agencies, such as Standard & Poor's, Moody's, and Fitch. The higher the rating assigned by the agency, the lower the risk premium. Companies with high quality credit ratings will typically be able to borrow money at lower rates than companies with lower quality credit ratings. Additionally, companies with higher quality ratings will usually have easier access to debt capital, since lenders are more likely to purchase these bonds.

Government Bonds

Government bonds are generally considered to be the safest investments available, since they are backed by the government. As a result, government bonds typically have lower risk premiums than corporate bonds. The risk associated with government bonds is typically very low, as governments are unlikely to default on their debt. Additionally, governments have the ability to raise taxes or issue new debt to pay for existing obligations, further reducing the risk associated with these investments.

When investing in bonds, understanding the risk premiums associated with the different types of bonds is essential. By taking the time to understand the risk associated with various bond issuers, investors can make more informed decisions and choose the bonds that are best suited for their investment goals.

Evaluating the Risk Premium

When assessing the risk premium, there are many important considerations. Before making a decision about whether or not to purchase a risk premium, it is important to know both the benefits and disadvantages of doing so. Here, we discuss the pros and cons of obtaining a risk premium.

Pros of Risk Premium

  • One of the primary benefits of a risk premium is that it helps to protect against losses when a company is experiencing an extended period of performance. Along with traditional forms of insurance, risk premiums can provide a layer of protection against unexpected losses.
  • Another advantage of risk premiums is that they can potentially bring greater returns than other investments. Because risk premiums involve higher risk, they can potentially lead to higher rewards.
  • Risk premiums can also provide a cushion in volatile or uncertain markets. If the markets shift unexpectedly, having a risk premium in place can help reduce losses.

Cons of Risk Premium

  • One of the main disadvantages of risk premiums is that they can be costly. The premiums must be paid upfront and they can quickly add up.
  • Another potential disadvantage is that risk premiums can only provide protection against certain losses. They may not protect against unexpected losses or catastrophic events.
  • Risk premiums also increase the level of risk for portfolio managers. As the premiums increase, the portfolio manager must take on more risk, which could potentially lead to losses.


A risk premium is an additional return on investment required to balance the risk levels of a specific investment issued. This article has covered what a risk premium is, how they are decided, who benefits the most from them, and how the risk-reward philosophy can be applied to investments. Understanding a risk premium is essential to making informed investment decisions.

Benefits of Knowing What a Risk Premium Is

Investors should understand and appreciate the implications of a risk premium because of the following benefits:

  • Increased knowledge of the risk-reward philosophy.
  • Ability to accurately determine the value of an investment.
  • Greater insight into the potential long-term returns of an investment.
  • Reduced likelihood of losing money.

Key Takeaway Points

  • A risk premium is an additional return on investment required to balance the risk levels of a specific investment issued.
  • Risk premiums can be applied by investors to calculate the value of investments and maximize returns.
  • Understanding a risk premium is essential to making informed investment decisions.
  • Benefits of understanding a risk premium include an increased knowledge of the risk-reward philosophy, ability to accurately determine the value of an investment, greater insight into the potential long-term returns of an investment, and reduced likelihood of losing money.

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