Global CEOs are upbeat about growth but weary of cyber risks

02 July 2018 5 min. read
More news on

CEOs across the globe remain relatively optimistic about business in the near future, with the majority predicting growth of at least 2% for the year ahead, and even more for the next three-year period. One concern that most executives have is that of cyber-security, as most feel that an attack on their firm is imminent. 

The business world is entering a period of acute uncertainty, brought about by the interplay of several factors. Hype around the industry 4.0 revolution has continues, although the manifestation of its benefits remain unrealised, primarily due to a combination of consumer disengagement and government regulations. Geopolitical developments have been worrying to say the least, as protectionist policies become the new norm. Perhaps the most direct threat to the business world, however, comes in the form of cyber attacks that have the potential to debilitate a firm in a matter of seconds. 

Nevertherless, businesses are relatively positive about their prospects going forward, as is evident from a new survey of 1,300 CEOs conducted by KPMG. The report, titled ‘Growing Pains’, covers a broad array of issues faced by CEOs, from growth to employment.


At a global level, 67% of respondents are confident of growth over the next three years, up by 2% form last year. When it comes to growth prospects for their own businesses, however, CEOs’ expectations for next three years fell from 77% in last year’s survey to 74% this year. Confidence in growth for the industry that they operate in has increased however, up from 69% last year to 78% this year.

Confidence in three-year growth

At an international level, the study shows a mixed bag for confidence in various countries’ three-year growth prospects. Companies in the US, for instance, are the most upbeat this year, with 85% of respondents expecting growth, up from 77% last year. French businesses are similarly optimistic, having witnessed a 3% increase to 80%. India, however, has seen its strong 88% confidence from last year dissolve to 69%, as uncertainties from reforms take effect.

The UK, meanwhile, saw a small decline in confidence, down from 76% last year to 65% this year, due in part to the ongoing Brexit negotiations and the consequent uncertainty. The Netherlands has seen confidence rise slightly to 64%, while their neighbours in Germany saw a decline from 78% to 61% following a year of political wrangling.

The relative confidence is not translating into top line revenue growth, with 55% projecting growth of between 0.01% and 1.99%. The reasons are multifaceted, spanning a return to territorialism as well as the impact of digitalisation, the latter of which is still in the investment stage for several firms, far from generating returns.

Confidence in own company growth changes

Respondents are also considering the possibility of slowing headcount growth, as 37% say that their headcount will increase by more than 6% over the next 3 years, which represents a drop of ten percentage points from last year.

Cyber attacks

The global shift to digital platforms has opened up a new paradigm of threats, one that has seen new kinds of online bandits seeking poorly guarded digital companies to raid. CEOs are increasingly concerned about cyber attacks on their company, as these criminals become increasingly sophisticated, often operating across international borders.

A cyber attack is now seen as a question of when and not if, and has simultaneously shifted from an IT issue to a C-suite one. US companies, in particular, (68%) see an attack as inevitable, followed by Australian companies (62%). In Germany 47% of respondents see it as a dire threat, while UK businesses are slightly less concerned at 39%.

Inevitability of a cyberattack

In terms of being prepared for an attack, there is a mixed bag among firms. Infrastructure companies, for instance are relatively well prepared at 67%, while banking and technology companies – both of which house highly sensitive information on customers – both report low levels of readiness, at 50% and 42% respectively. Meanwhile, 53% of energy companies – which have been in the spotlight due to state actor interest in hacking their systems – say that they are prepared.

Commenting on the global business sentiment, Bill Thomas, Chairman, KPMG International, said, “CEOs are harnessing the headwinds of change to steer their organisations to growth. CEOs I'm talking with recognise that geopolitical uncertainty, disruption and cyber threats are their new normal. The best are looking for the opportunities this creates, changing their systems, and in some cases their entire business. It's clear that driving growth in 2018 and beyond will require CEOs to combine resourcefulness and realism in equal measure.”