KPMG: Asean CEOs cautiously optimistic about growth in the face of headwinds


KUCHING: The outlook appears to be bright as 88 per cent of Asean chief executive officers (CEOs) are confident about their company’s growth prospect in the next three years, a sentiment shared by 90 per cent of CEOs globally.

However, according to the 2018 Global CEO Outlook report by KPMG International, this optimism is married with a healthy dose of realism as 77 per cent of Asean leaders are predicting a cautious revenue growth of two per cent or less over the next three years for their organisation.

More than half of CEOs in Asean (64 per cent) also noted the need to hit growth targets before hiring new skills. Consequently, they expect headcount to increase by less than 5 per cent over the next three years.

This evidence of pragmatism does not surprise KPMG in Malaysia managing partner Datuk Johan Idris, who commented that across the board, CEOs are driving growth against a backdrop of significant demographic shifts, geopolitical volatility and the seemingly inevitable future cyberattacks.

“It’s clear that driving growth in 2018 and beyond will require CEOs to combine resourcefulness and realism in equal measure.”

The ever-present risk of a cyber security threat is rising on the radar; up from fifth to second place overall this year in terms of risks hampering future growth.

Digital innovation can create significant value across business models, customer experience and operations.

However, greater connectivity brings increasing cyber vulnerability, and abouthalf of all CEOs around the world (49 per cent) say that a cyberattack is now a case of ‘when’, instead of ‘if’.

And yet, many CEOs are concerned about the robustness of their defenses; only half of CEOs in Asean believe that their organization is well prepared for a cyberattack.

“Smart leaders are those who are making cyber preparedness a board priority, stress-testing the resilience of their systems and people to withstand an attack.

“Ultimately, having a robust cyber defense in place is critical to secure key stakeholders’ trust,” observed KPMG’s head of ASPAC Cyber Security Dani Michaux.

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of CEOs in Asean are struggling to run parallel processes to transform the digital and non-digital aspects of their business, to a greater extent than their global counterpart (30 per cent).

Nevertheless, Asean CEOs are embracing the digital agenda like never before and taking personal ownership of data and trust.

Seventy-two per cent are personally ready to lead a radical organization transformation, 73 per cent see protecting customer data as a critical personal responsibility and contrary to popular opinion, 87 per cent expect artificial intelligence (AI) to create more jobs than it destroys.

Johan referenced the recent outcry over the Cambridge Analytica scandal as an impetus towards customer data protection, which is increasingly seen as one of the priorities for CEOs.

“In this digital age, data protection is highly important to every individual.

“If customer trust is threatened by misuse of data or a breach, the consequences for the company can be severe.

“Hence, the move by business leaders to protect customer data will reflect positively on their organization and will consequently bolster public trust,” he said.

Instead of waiting to be disrupted, 70 per cent of CEOs in Asean are actively disrupting the sector they are operating in, markedly higher than the per centage recorded at the global level (54 per cent).

When it comes to sources of information Asean business leaders trust the most for strategic decisions, KPMG’s study found their trusted sources ranked as follows: social media (87 per cent), independent secondary information providers (81 per cent), open data from government agencies (71 per cent), traditional media (65 per cent) and government commissioned research (51 per cent).