Systemic risk is generally used in reference to an event that can trigger a collapse in a certain industry or economy, whereas systematic risk refers to overall market risk. Systemic risk does not have an exact definition, many have used systemic risk to describe narrow problems, such as problems in the payments system, while others have used it to describe an economic crisis that was triggered by failures in the financial system. Generally, systemic risk can be described as a risk caused by an event at the firm level that is severe enough to cause instability in the financial system.

On the other hand, systematic risk does have a more recognized and universal definition. Sometimes plainly called market risk, systematic risk is the risk inherent in the aggregate market that cannot be solved by diversification. Some common sources of market risk are recessions, wars, interest rates and others that cannot be avoided through a diversified portfolio. Though systematic risk cannot be fixed with diversification, it can be hedged. Also, the risk that is specific to a firm or industry and can be solved by diversification is called unsystematic or idiosyncratic risk. (See our article Offset Risk With Options, Futures And Hedge Funds to learn ways to hedge systematic risk.)

As an example of systemic risk, the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 caused major reverberations throughout the financial system and the economy. Lehman Brother's size and integration in the economy caused its collapse to result in a domino effect that caused a major risk to the financial system in the U.S.

For a complete review of the Lehman failure, take a look at our case study on The Collapse of Lehman Brothers.

This question was answered by Joseph Nguyen.

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  1. Systematic Risk

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  2. Specific Risk

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  4. Unsystematic Risk

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