Singapore CEOs upbeat on growth, cite cyber threats as top risk: KPMG poll

A view of Singapore's central business district in a photo taken on Feb 14, 2018.
A view of Singapore's central business district in a photo taken on Feb 14, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Chief executives in Singapore and around the globe are bullish about the global economy over the next three years though challenges abound, a new survey by KPMG has found.

When it comes to digital transformation, many still struggle with competing demands, while cyber threats were cited as the top risk many business leaders are worried about, no matter how well prepared they might be.

KPMG's 2018 Global CEO Outlook surveyed 1,300 chief executives in 11 key markets.

Of those polled, 67 per cent of CEOs are upbeat about the global economy, and 90 per cent about their companies' prospects. Business leaders in Singapore were even more optimistic, with 77 per cent confident about the global economy, and 92 per cent about their firms' prospects.

In the light of economic uncertainties, 55 per cent of CEOs worldwide realistically expect top-line growth of less than 2 per cent over the next three years.

Respondents in Singapore were more cautious, with 73 per cent having similar expectations.

Said managing partner of KPMG Singapore Ong Pang Thye: "Never before in the history of commerce have CEOs faced challenges on so many fronts - from economic malaise to geopolitics, digital disruption to cyber threats.

"Driving growth in an uncertain world will require constant innovation, investing in ecosystems as well as keeping an eye open for unexpected threats."

In Singapore, the top risks cited this year stemmed from cyber security, operational risk, environmental, protectionism, regulatory and talent risk. Half of all Singapore CEOs believe that becoming a victim of a cyber attack is not a question of if but when, with 42 per cent citing this issue as their biggest threat to growth.

A surprising finding however, was that the importance of having a strong cyber strategy was only cited by 38 per cent of Singapore CEOs, compared to CEOs worldwide at 55 per cent, KPMG said.

Globally and across Asean, driving growth through strategic alliances was the preferred option. However, unlike their global peers, more Singapore CEOs ranked organic growth above leveraging strategic alliances.

Encouragingly, CEOs here are leading their global peers in undertaking actions related to innovation to drive growth. Three-quarters or 73 per cent of Singapore CEOs intend to collaborate with innovative start-ups, and 62 per cent said they will increase investment in disruption detection and innovation processes.

While executives are embracing the digital agenda like never before, the poll also noted that few Singapore CEOs were confident that their existing leadership team was adequately equipped, with half of them surveyed believing that their company boards had very demanding expectations of investment returns on digital transformation.

Proportionately, more Singapore (62 per cent) than global CEOs (30 per cent) struggled with concurrently transforming both the digital and non-digital aspects of their business.

In addition, despite advances in data analytics, 54 per cent of Singapore CEOs also do not expect to increase the use of predictive models over the next three years.

That being said, 88 per cent of Singapore executives see disruption as an opportunity, with the majority prioritising expansion into emerging markets such as Asia-Pacific and Central or South-America as the likely focus.