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How CEOs can broaden their risk horizon

PwC’s Global CEO Survey sheds light on an urgent challenge facing chief executives: how to manage future threats while fending off immediate ones.

What external threats are weighing most heavily on the minds of today’s CEOs? That depends on how far into the future they’re inclined to look. When asked about the next 12 months, respondents in PwC’s 2023 Global CEO Survey identified inflation, economic volatility and geopolitical conflict as the top risks to their organisations’ financial well-being. All three are immediate, headline-grabbing issues that can reinforce and compound one another, as, for example, the war in Ukraine pushes up prices, encouraging central banks worldwide to intervene through growth-dampening interest rate hikes. The picture changes, however, for CEOs’ medium-term (five-year) outlook. Over that time frame, cyber risks and climate change join inflation, macroeconomic volatility and geopolitical conflict in the top tier of risk exposure. The disconnect across time horizons begs the question of whether here-and-now threats are preventing CEOs from bringing other key risks forward on their strategic and operational agendas. 

Take cybersecurity: it’s easy for important business technology investments—launching a new consumer-facing app, developing a business line built around AI, expanding into a new market—to inadvertently create cyber vulnerabilities. How can CEOs avoid falling prey to longer-term risks while trying to manage near-term ones? According to research conducted for PwC’s Digital Trust Insights survey, the key is mobilising the entire C-suite to create a united front. In the case of cybersecurity, this can range from CEOs speaking publicly about their commitment to cybersecurity to using their influence to inspire sweeping changes. Indeed, the Digital Trust Insights research shows that a critical contributor to cybersecurity improvements at leading companies was C-suite collaboration to make the most of sustained, cumulative investments in risk mitigation.

Explore the findings of PwC's 27th Annual Global CEO Survey.

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Bob Moritz

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