Navigating the rising tide of uncertainty

PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey
– Singapore Report

A heightened sense of uncertainty is one theme that rang out loudly this year in PwC’s 23rd Global CEO Survey, much like it has been across business headlines in general in the recent times.

As CEOs around the world look ahead to 2020, for the first time more than half (53%) of them believe that the rate of global GDP growth will decline. This record level of pessimism remarkably contrasts the record optimism regarding global economic growth revealed in 2018’s survey, leaving us thinking – what a difference two years can make.

Singapore CEOs turned out to be even more pessimistic with more than four out of five of them expecting a decline in global GDP growth.

Explore key findings


Singapore CEOs expect global GDP growth to decline in the next 12 months


Singapore CEOs concerned over trade conflicts and uncertain economic growth


Singapore CEOs think government will introduce legislation to force private sector to regulate content on Internet


Singapore CEOs made significant progress in establishing an upskilling programme

Robert E. Moritz, Chairman of the PwC Network, previews the firm’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey

CEOs’ prospects for growth in 2020

Bob Moritz, Chairman of the PwC Network, previews the firm’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey with a focus on rising chief executive pessimism and uncertainty heading into 2020.

Duration: 00:01:35

View transcript

Four key themes emerged

Uncertainty weighs on growth, dampening outlook

Singapore CEOs turned out to be highly pessimistic about global growth, on the back of heightened skepticism over unresolved trade conflicts, protectionism, uncertain economic growth and talent crunch, besides the challenges and risks propelled by unprecedented technological changes.

Three key strategies to better manage risks in fast-paced environment amid uncertainties:

  1. Build more agile leadership to better handle the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity evident in the business landscape
  2. Use technology to enhance risk management
  3. Keep business strategy focussed on opportunities

Setting up guard rails in cyberspace

Most Singapore CEOs believe government & businesses must collaborate to build trust in society. Cybersecurity, digital privacy and artificial intelligence are the top three emerging technology areas where businesses and government must collaborate to build trust in society, according to local business leaders.

More than nine out of ten Singapore CEOs see the government increasingly introducing legislation to regulate content on the internet (including social media). The majority of them believe that the government will also use legislation to break up dominant tech companies. Interestingly, three out of five local business leaders foresee the government compelling the private sector to financially compensate individuals for the personal data they collect.

Navigating the cyber risk landscape – 10 opportunities in building readiness of people, processes and technologies:

People – Tomorrow’s transformation starts with people

  1. Engage security experts at the start of digital transformations
  2. Upgrade your talent and leadership team
  3. Raise workforce awareness and accountability

Process - Evolving processes into new trust mechanisms

  1. Improve communications and engagement with the board of directors
  2. Tie security to business goals
  3. Build lasting trust around data
  4. Boost cyber resilience
  5. Know thy enemies
  6. Be proactive in compliance

Technology - Accelerating controls for emerging technology

  1. Keep pace with innovation

To upskill or not to upskill, no longer the question

In last year’s survey, the majority of CEOs agreed that significant upskilling was the most important way to close a potential skills gap in their organisations. Yet, this year’s survey reveals that fewer than one in five organisations in Singapore believe they have made ‘significant progress’ in establishing an upskilling programme that develops a mix of soft, technical and digital skills.

Regarding the retention challenge, employers may well ask, “What if I spend money upskilling my employees, and they leave?” The reply is simple. “What if you don’t…and they stay?”

5 Building Blocks of Upskilling:

  1. Identify skills gaps and mismatches
  2. Build a future-proof skills strategy
  3. Lay the cultural foundation
  4. Develop and implement upskilling
  5. Evaluate return on investment

An opportunity cloaked in crisis

CEOs expressed a growing appreciation of the upside of taking actions to reduce their carbon footprint. For instance, most local CEOs believe that investing in climate change initiatives will boost reputational advantage and will lead to significant new product and service opportunities.

Six essentials in making sustainability central to business strategy:

  1. Understand the company’s unique sustainability-related risks and opportunities and prioritise strategic options
  2. Do market analysis and assessments of public sector incentives to determine the viability of the proposed strategies
  3. Prepare a robust strategy and design an implementation plan
  4. Leadership is key, get senior management to take active interest in driving sustainability programmes
  5. Establish meaningful KPIs to drive action
  6. Measure and manage sustainability performance

"During turbulent times, there will always be opportunities. It’s a matter of how you receive the signals hinting at those opportunities as well as the inherent risks and position yourself with agility to leap beyond the predictable avenues of growth. As we reimagine ways of doing business, we must be strong not rigid. An agile workforce is non-negotiable, and in upskilling our people the focus must on cementing long-term relationships. It’s also time to build consensus with policy makers on appropriate regulatory path as businesses harness technology and innovation."

Yeoh Oon Jin, Executive Chairman, PwC Singapore

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