Can Emerging Tech Help Ease CEO Anxiety?

Author: Vicki Huff Eckert, Global New Business & Innovation Leader, PwC US 6a00d83451623c69e201b8d201f76b970c-120wi

With the World Economic Forum having convened its annual meeting this week in Davos, Switzerland, global leaders from business and government discussed tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. While many of these problems can be traced directly to industrialization, it’s the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) — with its merging of digital, physical and biological realms — that could help rectify them.

More specifically, artificial intelligence (AI) will be a large part of potential solutions, whether the topic is climate change, biodiversity, ocean health, water management or air pollution. For instance, AI could support the creation of distributed, “off-grid” water and energy resources. It could also improve climate modelling or bolster natural disaster resilience planning.

Rather than a remedy in and of itself, AI is a vehicle that can help us arrive at these solutions. Achieving this vision will require ongoing cooperation among governments, technology hubs such as Silicon Valley, investors and civil society.

AI could prove to be the greatest collective innovation of our generation. But as Winston Churchill famously stated, “The price of greatness is responsibility.” This point cannot be overlooked, because the 4IR — driven by AI — could also exacerbate existing threats to environmental security or create entirely new risks that will need to be addressed.

According to PwC’s just-released Global CEO Survey, top executives are anxious about broad societal threats. Roughly a third of CEOs surveyed believe that globalization has not helped at all with averting climate change and resource scarcity. There is an opportunity to reduce these concerns as ethical and responsible applications of AI help us navigate a fractured world.  1_h7OdL-rLFhLAsXpHii5_iA

For example, a new report from PwC and the World Economic Forum, Harnessing artificial intelligence for the Earth, explores how AI innovations could help the environment and natural resource security agenda. The report details how using AI ethically and responsibly involves three main elements: the use of big data; the growing reliance on algorithms to perform tasks, shape choices and make decisions; and the gradual reduction of human involvement in many processes.

Yes, AI offers enormous potential both for the global economy and, more widely, for constructing a sustainable planet for future generations. However, it also poses both short- and long-term risks if it is not applied and managed responsibly where it involves individuals, organizations, society and the planet. Such risks go far beyond oft-cited job losses and could range from hacking and cyber threats to energy demand to ethical issues around bias and privacy concerns.

Doing the right thing, for business and for our world

The call to action runs much deeper than public-private collaboration. Angel investors, venture capitalists, accelerators and impact investors should build and support a portfolio of 4IR technology companies that address sustainability challenges as part of their core strategies. The same goes for mainstream institutional investors and asset managers in that they can embed sustainability into their AI investment portfolios. Will there be commercial opportunities? Yes. Could this type of support speed up AI’s transformational impact? Definitely.

By taking action across these areas, stakeholders build trust in society, and trust is an integral value for organizations of all sorts. And AI requires real accountability. As government and industry leaders navigate the risk factors that AI technology could amplify and exacerbate, they need to ensure the safety, transparency and validity of AI applications. The onus for this rests with authorities, AI researchers, technology pioneers and AI adopters in industry to encourage use cases that earn trust and take aim at the major issues facing our planet.

Scaling pioneering innovations, and making sustainability considerations a core component of AI development and use cases is one of the biggest challenges for innovators, investors and governments.

So much AI dialogue focuses on potential human job losses. This fills headlines, but the notion on its own omits significant benefits AI is bestowing on society. AI is changing the way we work, live and interact, and it’s enabling better health and education outcomes. So it’s all of our responsibility to make it.


PwC’s 21st CEO Survey: Future-Proofing Today’s Workforce for Tomorrow

Authors: Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC US and Carol Stubbings, Global Head of People & Organisation, PwC US  

There is a run on digital talent, and it is playing out across the world. PwC’s 21st CEO Survey, released this week in Davos, illuminates the urgency of this quest and the steps organisations in various regions are taking to buy, borrow and build a future-proofed workforce.

Not surprisingly, only one in four CEOs in the survey describe it as “somewhat” or “very easy” to attract digital talent. The optimistic outlier is the Asia-Pacific region, more specifically China where 60% of CEOs indicate that attracting digital talent is “somewhat” or “very easy.” The equivalent figure in the US is half that (30%) and only about a fifth as large in Germany (13%).

As part of the CEO Survey, we interviewed a number of CEOs. Valentin Stalf, CEO of German mobile banking startup N26, had this to say: “Talent is the key. Our biggest opportunity cost today is that we don’t always get the right people. And it’s especially true for tech and online jobs. The educational system is much slower than the transformation on the tech side, so people are still studying offline marketing when we need hundreds of people working in online marketing. We don’t have enough software developers. If we could hire 200 highly skilled people tomorrow we’d do that.”

So, what are companies doing to bridge the gap? To lure digital talent, organisations across the world are engaging in a range of strategies, the most widely used being: ‘modernising the working environment’ and ‘implementing continuous L&D programmes’. The only tactic not employed — at least to some extent — by a majority of the CEOs surveyed is “relocating operations close to talent pools”. Interestingly, “improving compensation packages” falls squarely in the middle of strategic options explored on a global basis. Regions are divided on “changing employee dress codes” to attract digital talent — it is not a widely adopted tactic in the Middle East or Africa.


As one might expect, CEOs who find it easiest to attract digital talent tend to be more active across all of these dimensions. In China, over 80% of CEOs report using all of the strategies at least “to some extent.” “Improving compensation and benefits packages” ranks #1 with 57% of Chinese chief executives employing this strategy ‘to a large extent’.

When we asked Asia-Pacific CEOs why they find it relatively easy to attract digital talent, a large majority credited their company’s culture, reputation, track record of innovation, and attractive development opportunities and compensation packages. Whereas CEOs in China focused on their companies’ efforts to cultivate digital talent using a variety of strategies, nearly all the CEO respondents in India noted the wide availability of talent in their country to explain why it is easier for them to attract the necessary talent.

In our work with clients, we at PwC have recognized that you cannot buy your way out of this problem, nor can you hire or fire your way out of it. The available pool of digital talent is too limited to simply switch out your existing workforce for a digitally enabled one. Leading companies have already recognized that what has to change is not so much their talent as their ways of working — their culture and processes. They have to adopt the constantly iterative, customer-centric, blank slate ethos of a born digital platform company. They can selectively infuse digital talent to help lead the transformation, but the secret to success is upskilling their existing employees to take on the work that will be relevant in an AI-enabled future.

To further that goal, the World Economic Forum in partnership with the IT industry launched the IT Industry Skills Initiative this week to reskill 1 million workers for the jobs of the future by 2021. This joint initiative, the first of its kind, will bring competitive training and resource content together on one platform — the WEF SkillSET portal. We at PwC are proud to have developed a tailored Skills Assessment tool, based on the Fourth Industrial Revolution skills research, to help users determine which coursework and/or learning pathways best fit their current skillset and learning goals.

Fortunately, most CEOs in every region recognise their own responsibility to retrain employees whose tasks are automated — especially as they consider the broader challenges society is facing. And employees embrace their part in meeting the future as well. Three quarters of the respondents in our Workforce of the Future study are willing to take the initiative in updating their own skills rather than relying on their employer. By working in partnership, companies and their employees can realise the productivity and innovation promise of a digitally enabled work environment and meaningfully enhance not only their own prospects but the prosperity and vitality of society as a whole. My hope is that by working together, we can drive more inclusive growth around the world.



The Centrality of Cybersecurity

Author: Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC US  Bob moritz

Cybersecurity is one of the most critical challenges of the digital age. The global growth of networks and data, fueled by technological innovation, has enabled society to build prosperity and quality-of-life improvements. This rapid, sweeping change has also created a long-term challenge: managing inherent security risks in digital technology as the world grows more cyber dependent and hacking threats escalate.

In PwC’s 21st Global CEO Survey, global CEOs ranked cyber threats as the business threat of greatest concern, and the №4 overall worry behind over-regulation, terrorism, and geopolitical uncertainty. Cybersecurity is a hot topic this year at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos–an event that examines the major economic, political, technological, and social issues impacting our world. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018 says large-scale cyberattacks and data breaches are increasingly likely amid rising cyber-dependency. Yesterday, I took part in a panel discussion in Davos titled “Hack the Attack” where we debated some of the key challenges that face the public and private sector in working together to prepare for cyberattacks. An interesting discussion with a great group of experts and leaders, talking about the risks and what pragmatic actions we can take as leaders.

There is a massive opportunity before all of us–private and public sector stakeholders from around the world, industries of all kinds, and experts in a wide array of disciplines–to collectively build the security, privacy, and trust that the world needs.

The Magnitude of the Challenge

The high stakes of cyber insecurity are increasingly clear. As our reliance on data and interconnectivity rises, developing resilience to withstand cyber shocks — that is, large-scale events with cascading disruptive consequences — has never been more important. In our 2018 Global State of Information Security® Survey, where we survey 9,500 executives from 122 countries across all industries, leaders of organizations that use automation or robotics acknowledge the potentially significant fallout of cyberattacks:

  • Forty percent of survey respondents cite the disruption of operations as the biggest consequence of a cyberattack, 39% cite the compromise of sensitive data, 32% cite harm to product quality, 29% cite damage to physical property, and 22% cite harm to human life.
  • Yet, despite this awareness, many companies at risk of cyber attacks — and to be realistic, we are all at risk — remain unprepared to deal with them. Forty-four percent of the executives in the survey say they do not have an overall information security strategy, 48% do not have awareness training and 54% do not have an incident reporting process.

Cyber insecurity has not gone unnoticed among consumers. In our recent US Consumer Intelligence Series survey, only 25% of respondents say they believe most companies handle their sensitive personal data responsibly.

With rising threats to data integrity, security and availability, leaders in the public and private sector are also facing greater accountability. New rules on data security and privacy such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, UK data protection legislation, China’s cybersecurity law, the White House’s cybersecurity executive order, proposed US legislation related to the internet of things, cybersecurity rules for the financial sector in New York State and municipal cybersecurity efforts illustrate the increasing attention these issues are receiving from policymakers at the international, national, state and local levels. There are no silver bullets in cybersecurity, however, including regulations.

Bringing Together the Private and Public Sectors

Collaboration between policymakers, regulators and the private sector is vital given the rapid pace of the cyber threat environment. By building consensus around emerging voluntary standards for cybersecurity, privacy, and the nascent but mushrooming internet of things, organizations have the potential to implement nimble, flexible, and robust measures for managing emerging risks and to demonstrate headway to stakeholders. Technology developers that pursue responsible innovation of this sort will likely be better positioned to build trust with consumers and increase economic performance.

In addition to having good tactics to deal with particular malware threats, companies must proactively manage risks in a strategic way, rather than viewing them episodically or from a compliance standpoint.

With the right risk management foundation in place, it becomes possible to gain from connectivity without losing consumer trust and to monetize data while respecting privacy. Threat intelligence and information sharing capabilities can help stakeholders identify and counter emerging risks with greater speed and effectiveness. Leading-edge technologies for cloud security, data analytics and monitoring, authentication, and open-source software can give defenders powerful tools in cyberspace.

In addition, greater focus on risks associated with the internet of things and geopolitical threats can provide leaders the broader perspective needed to more capably manage cyber and privacy risks across their enterprises.

Next Steps for Leaders Everywhere

While there are regulations and focus areas specific to various industries and geographies, there are four overarching principles for the way forward on combating cyber risks:

  • The need to significantly improve management of cyber and privacy risks is universal across the globe — regardless of the organization, sector, country or region — and will be vital for decades to come. As our 21st Global CEO Survey underscores, this is a business risk that requires the highest level of attention. CEOs need to embrace that challenge and focus on building the resilience needed to withstand disruptive cyberattacks and sustain operations — not just because of the risks, but because of the opportunities.
  • As the risk of cyber attacks increases, companies and CEOs need to consider their own policies, programs, and internal safeguards. While many have these helpful policies and codes of conduct in place, it’s about what people and companies may not be doing — individual actions that perhaps don’t match a company’s protocols puts them at even higher risk of attack.
  • Increased engagement, collaboration, and sharing of information among stakeholders has never been more important — but it needs to be substantial. We all need to push to make such endeavors as meaningful as possible.
  • We need to take the stigma out of asking for help when it comes to managing cybersecurity and privacy risks. Wise leaders know when to ask for help. There are many lessons and insights available from an array of stakeholders and it would be a shame not to seize that opportunity and take advantage of them.

8 ways AI can help save the planet

Author: Celine Herweijer, Partner, PwC UK Celine-herweijer

It’s a historic moment for Artificial Intelligence (AI). All the pieces are coming together: big data, advances in hardware, emerging powerful AI algorithms, and an open source community for tools that reduces barriers to entry for industry and start-ups alike. The result: AI is being propelled out of research labs and into our everyday lives, from navigating cities, ride shares, our energy networks, to the online world.

In 2018 everyone is starting to see the business value of AI. It is being added to more and more things every year, and it is getting smarter and smarter – accelerating human innovation. But as AI becomes more powerful, more autonomous and broader in its use and impact, the unsolved issue of AI safety is paramount. Risks include: bias, poor decision making, low transparency, job losses and malevolent use of AI, such as autonomous weaponry.

The challenge, however, goes beyond guiding “human friendly AI” to ensuring “Earth friendly AI”. As the scale and urgency of the economic and human health impacts from our deteriorating natural environment grows, we have an opportunity to look at how AI can help transform traditional sectors and systems to address climate change, deliver food and water security, build sustainable cities, and protect biodiversity and human wellbeing.

To this end, in a new Forum-PwC report launched at Davos this year, we showcase the significant opportunity to harness AI for the Earth. Here we outline eight of the identified “game changer” AI applications to address this planet’s challenges:


1. Autonomous and connected electric vehicles

AI-guided autonomous vehicles (AVs) will enable a transition to mobility on-demand over the coming years and decades. Substantial greenhouse gas reductions for urban transport can be unlocked through route and traffic optimisation, eco-driving algorithms, programmed “platooning” of cars to traffic, and autonomous ride-sharing services. Electric AV fleets will be critical to deliver real gains.

2. Distributed energy grids

AI can enhance the predictability of demand and supply for renewables across a distributed grid, improve energy storage, efficiency and load management, assist in the integration and reliability of renewables and enable dynamic pricing and trading, creating market incentives.

3. Smart agriculture and food systems

AI-augmented agriculture involves automated data collection, decision-making and corrective actions via robotics to allow early detection of crop diseases and issues, to provide timed nutrition to livestock, and generally to optimise agricultural inputs and returns based on supply and demand. This promises to increase the resource efficiency of the agriculture industry, lowering the use of water, fertilisers and pesticides which cause damage to important ecosystems, and increase resilience to climate extremes.

4. Next generation weather and climate prediction

A new field of “Climate Informatics” is blossoming that uses AI to fundamentally transform weather forecasting and improve our understanding of the effects of climate change. This field traditionally requires high performance energy-intensive computing, but deep-learning networks can allow computers to run much faster and incorporate more complexity of the ‘real-world’ system into the calculations.

In just over a decade, computational power and advances in AI will enable home computers to have as much power as today’s supercomputers, lowering the cost of research, boosting scientific productivity and accelerating discoveries. AI techniques may also help correct biases in models, extract the most relevant data to avoid data degradation, predict extreme events and be used for impacts modelling.

5. Smart disaster response

AI can analyse simulations and real-time data (including social media data) of weather events and disasters in a region to seek out vulnerabilities and enhance disaster preparation, provide early warning, and prioritise response through coordination of emergency information capabilities. Deep reinforcement learning may one day be integrated into disaster simulations to determine optimal response strategies, similar to the way AI is currently being used to identify the best move in games like AlphaGo.

6. AI-designed intelligent, connected and livable cities

AI could be used to simulate and automate the generation of zoning laws, building ordinances and floodplains, combined with augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR). Real-time city-wide data on energy, water consumption and availability, traffic flows, people flows, and weather could create an “urban dashboard” to optimise urban sustainability.

7. A transparent digital Earth

A real-time, open API, AI-infused, digital geospatial dashboard for the planet would enable the monitoring, modelling and management of environmental systems at a scale and speed never before possible – from tackling illegal deforestation, water extraction, fishing and poaching, to air pollution, natural disaster response and smart agriculture.

8. Reinforcement learning for Earth sciences breakthroughs

This nascent AI technique – which requires no input data, substantially less computing power, and in which the evolutionary-like AI learns from itself – could soon evolve to enable its application to real-world problems in the natural sciences. Collaboration with Earth scientists to identify the systems – from climate science, materials science, biology, and other areas – which can be codified to apply reinforcement learning for scientific progress and discovery is vital. For example, DeepMind co-founder, Demis Hassabis, has suggested that in materials science, a descendant of AlphaGo Zero could be used to search for a room temperature superconductor – a hypothetical substance that allows for incredibly efficient energy systems.

To conclude, we live in exciting times. It is now possible to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems with emerging technologies such as AI. It’s time to put AI to work for the planet.

The 4IR for the Earth programme is a collaboration between the World Economic Forum, PwC, and Stanford University, and which is also supported by the MAVA Foundation. The programme looks to accelerate tech innovation for Earth's most pressing environmental challenges. It will help identify, support and scale new ventures, partnerships and business models that harness tech to transform how the world tackles environmental challenges. Reports released to date in the 4IR for the Earth series can be found here.


CEOs in Davos — Are they talking your language?

Author: Colm Kelly, Global Tax and Legal Services leader  Kelly

Davos’s theme of growth in a fractured world is actually about skills, jobs, wages, responsibilities, and opportunities. It’s a conversation business, policy makers and society need to have says Colm Kelly.

This year’s business leaders are arriving at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland with the highest level of optimism about global growth since 2012. But, even with all this optimism, there are some real anxieties about what is happening in wider society.

PwC’s CEO Survey shows that CEOs are the anxious optimists. It comes on the back of a lot of reflection last year (including our own with the T20 on how today’s economic and political upheavals reflect an ongoing misalignment between business and economies (on the one hand) and acceptable societal outcomes (on the other)).

Across the world, business leaders report increasing anxiety about broader societal threats — such as geopolitical uncertainty, terrorism and climate change. These threats outpace the more familiar threats to business growth prospects such as exchange rate volatility and changing consumer behaviour. Two out of three business leaders are concerned about populism as a threat to growth (35% extremely concerned; 42% somewhat concerned).

The threats that trouble CEOs are increasingly existential. And the issues of fairness, transparency and are at its core.

This greater level of understanding and awareness of the threats to growth that are beyond the control of business alone is an important aspect of the changing role of business in society. It’s also marks a shift in the public’s expectation of CEO’s influence and action on how growth will be achieved in the short, medium and long term.

CEOs believe the focus on delivering results in shorter periods of time (60%) is still the main challenge. However, following this, there is a significant shift with the majority reporting higher levels of pressure to hold individual leaders to account (59%), including for misconduct. Over a third report more pressure from employees and customers to take political and social stances (38%) in public.

In the Banking and Capital Market, Healthcare and Technology sectors, the profile of leadership accountability was higher than average. So too were expectations in the US (70%), Brazil (67%), and the UK (63%). High-profile debates on diversity, immigration, social inclusion and pay equity have raised employees’ expectations of leadership to engage in political and social issues, particularly in the US (51%), China (41%) and the UK (38%).

This is part of a shift in how the CEO is having to see their responsibilities as leaders, their organisations’ as employers, and their business’ purpose in society.

When we talk to our family and friends in our homes, park, cafe or the office, we don’t tend to talk in the language of a business’ purpose and the systemic changes that are needed to make sure the economy serves society. We do talk about tax and wages. We talk about job security, opportunities, and the state of our areas, schools, the future of education and healthcare.

The feeling that business leaders don’t talk about or address these issues has long contributed to the underlying mistrust between business and society. What this year’s CEO survey is telling us is that these issues are now in the boardroom.

Take the impact of technology for example. While recent research by PwC showed that workers were optimistic about technology improving their job prospects, CEOs reveal that helping employees retrain, and increasing transparency on how automation and AI could impact jobs is becoming a more important issue for them.

Two thirds of CEOs believe they have a responsibility to retrain employees whose roles are replaced by technology, chiefly amongst the Engineering & Construction, Technology and Communications sectors. 61% of CEOs build trust with their workforce by creating transparency, at least to some extent, on how automation and AI impact their employees.

Business leaders’ opinion is divided again this year on whether future economic growth will benefit the many or the few. Globally 48% believe widespread economic growth will benefit more people, 46% say it will benefit fewer. When asked if globalisation has helped ‘close the gap between the rich and the poor’, nearly 40% of CEOs respond “not at all’.

And yet in the short term we see much more collaboration reported between leaders in business and education, and policy makers. 73% are collaborating with educators and policy makers to improve the employability of future workers. Even within their own businesses, 86% are now implementing continuous learning and development programmes to support attracting and developing digital talent.

Following a long period of globalisation, increased fragmentation is driving business leaders’ views of how we measure prosperity around the world. CEOs across every region and country recognise that the world is moving away from measuring prosperity primarily through financial measures, for example GDP, and towards measuring prosperity through multifaceted metrics, including quality-of-life indices.

This is particularly true in Latin America. North America lags behind the global consensus with nearly 40% of CEOs siding with traditional financial measures. Still, 57% agree that the world is moving in the direction of multifaceted metrics. Defining those metrics and capturing the data to accurately measure them will be a priority agenda item in the coming years.

People’s expectations — whether of their employer, or of business more broadly — are rightly high.

We’ve spoken before about the shift in the role of business in society. What once sounded academic is now becoming very real.

This year, business leaders in Davos need no reminders of the importance of enabling societal progress. It’s become a part of their day job. The results will be better for us all.

Tackle tech skills and greater trust may follow

Kevin Ellis, Chairman and Senior Partner, PwC UK Kevin-ellis

Disruption from emerging technology is now a fact of life. Business leaders are considering how the fourth industrial revolution will impact their operations and employees. They are acutely aware of the change technologies such as AI, blockchain and robotics could bring. Our 21st annual global CEO Survey, published this week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, underlines this. More than two thirds of the UK CEOs polled agree emerging technology and automation will disrupt their business over the next five years. 

The next stage of the challenge is capitalising on the digital revolution by having the right people with the right skills to apply and embrace cloud technologies, data analytics, robotics and more. Technological changes will have a significant impact on the jobs market. How UK businesses respond will determine their own and the UK’s future success. 

Ensuring they can attract and develop the right talent is a top priority for UK CEOs and the availability of key skills is one of their prime concerns. Six in 10 (62%) don’t believe they currently have sufficient digital skills amongst their workforce and a significant 38% believe it is difficult to attract the right kind of digital talent.

Creating the next generation of skilled workers and attracting and retaining tech talent will be essential in a post-Brexit world. The more UK CEOs take the lead and innovate, the greater the likelihood that the UK will maintain its competitive position on the international stage.

There are positive signs they are taking practical steps to address this issue. Three quarters (77%) say they are improving compensation and benefit packages to attract or develop people with digital skills. But the digital skills shortage means companies are unlikely to meet their needs through recruitment and retention alone. So it’s encouraging that nearly two thirds (63%) of leaders are using or plan to use apprenticeships and internships to grow their workforce, while developing the skills they need for today and tomorrow. Our own new technology degree apprenticeship will give 100 people per year the chance to develop the right skills and experience to kick off a tech career, as well as providing us with a pipeline of talent for the future.

But it’s not just about the workforce of tomorrow. Business leaders also need to focus on the workforce of today. PwC’s economic analysis forecasts that up to 30% of UK jobs could be impacted by automation by 2030. That’s a significant proportion of workers at risk of being left behind, but business leaders appear to be increasingly alive to this.

More than half of UK CEOs recognise they have a responsibility to retrain employees whose tasks and jobs may be impacted by automation. Upskilling existing employees is as vital as creating the next generation of tech talent, particularly given we estimate a higher proportion of lower skilled jobs are at risk of automation, For example, in sectors such as transportation, storage and manufacturing. This is an area where business can take a lead. Business and Government can work together to help current and future employees develop skills that keep pace with technological change.

Nearly nine out of 10 UK CEOs also recognise the need to strengthen harder to automate soft skills, such as teamwork and communication, alongside digital skills. 

According to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer published this week, only 43% of the general population trust business. 60% of respondents believe that CEOs should lead change, rather than wait for regulators to impose it. Equipping people with the skills to stay relevant and employable is a vital and tangible way businesses can make a valuable contribution to society and start to bridge the trust gap. Improving social mobility will mean keeping people in work, as well as opening up the workplace to people from diverse backgrounds. Businesses have an opportunity, and responsibility, to really benefit people’s lives. 


A strong business outlook means it’s time to invest in people and in digital: Findings from PwC’s 2018 CEO Survey

Authors Tim Ryan, Senior Partner and Chairman, PwC US Tim-ryan

The global economy is strong. Business leaders have told us as much for PwC’s 2018 CEO Survey. Much of the worry from previous years about slow business growth and economic volatility have eased. Of course, there are new concerns, but CEOs are confident that 2018 holds tremendous opportunities for business.

For American companies, this year is not just a chance for greater profit but a year to strengthen and invest for the future.

Today, we released our 21st Annual CEO Survey at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. We interviewed 1,293 CEOs from 85 countries (104 from the US) about what they are optimistic about and what keeps them up at night.

This year, US CEOs are much more certain about the global economy. In fact, for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis, a majority (52%) of US CEOs say they are very confident about their business growth. Compare this to five years ago when economic uncertainty was their biggest concern or even just last year when only 39% were very confident about growth.

Indeed, CEOs in the United States and around the world believe the global recovery has fully taken hold. Macroeconomic indicators are strong across most G-20 economies — particularly in the US, where unemployment is at an all-time low in 17 years and where the stock market is at an all-time high. So it’s no surprise that the United States is the number one, “must-win” market for business according to the CEOs we surveyed — ahead of China, Germany, India, and the United Kingdom.

Even though global economic volatility is no longer keeping CEOs up at night, they can’t get complacent. If anything, they should take this opportunity, when growth prospects are good, to shore up other parts of their business that may be lagging behind. For example, US CEOs now rank cyber threats (63%), over-regulation (55%), terrorism (50%), and geopolitical uncertainty (50%) as their top concerns for 2018. And while CEOs can’t control over-regulation, terrorism, or geopolitical uncertainty, they certainly can put in place the safety protocols to protect against online hacks and cyberattacks.

And while most CEOs today have an ever-present fear of a potential cyber attack, they are also worried about being left behind by the rapid pace of advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous transportation, and other areas where jumps in technology can give the competitive edge to new and more agile competitors.

Global vs. Organisational Growthv2

From AI to machine learning to data analytics, there’s a lot at stake when it comes to how technology is disrupting industries and the workforce. But in an environment where global growth prospects are strong, CEOs that take this opportunity and have the foresight to embrace digital transformation will be greatly rewarded.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that digital transformation can be particularly unsettling for employees who often think immediately about the impact on their jobs. So while the PwC survey tells us that a third of US CEOs are extremely concerned that today’s workforce doesn’t have the right set of skills, it also finds that only about half of US CEOs believe it’s their responsibility to retrain employees whose tasks and jobs are automated by technology. This is in stark contrast to what CEOs from other advanced manufacturing economies think. According to our survey, 71% of CEOs in Japan, 84% of CEOs in China, and 85% of CEOs in Germany believe that they have a responsibility to retrain workers.

I believe that this is one of the most important actions for a CEO to take — to ensure their employees have the necessary digital skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow. By investing in our employees and fostering trust, CEOs can build a more skilled and inspired workforce that will ultimately be more innovative, agile, and responsive to business needs. And by helping the workforce adjust to the digital transformation with upskilling, we meet our responsibility to build better companies and support our people.

We are currently in an unprecedented time of opportunity and awareness. It is our job as leaders to build companies that are fundamentally strong businesses that support our employees, and embrace the challenges of our global economy. Business is very good today — let’s ensure we embrace the opportunity to build an even better tomorrow.


Winning talent (and transforming society) in a world where engagement is key

Author: Olga Grygier-Siddons, Chief Executive, PwC Central & Eastern Europe Olga

Business leaders in Central and Eastern Europe have proven they have the skills and determination to thrive in the face of mounting threats to growth, such as terrorism, climate change and rising populism. But closer to home, they face a new challenge: adapting their organisations to a new world where values such as trust, engagement and purpose are just as important as dollars and cents. To meet that challenge, here are four things they should focus on in 2018:

Invest in new ways of retaining and motivating digital talent. Our region has a tremendous asset in the form of its people, and their formidable technical and digital skills. And yet 51% of CEOs in Central and Eastern Europe report that they’re extremely concerned about the availability of key skills for their organisation, according to our Global CEO Survey, released in Davos this week. In fact, it’s the top perceived threat to business success in the region. What’s more, 62% of regional CEOs (compared with 50% globally) say it’s very or somewhat difficult to recruit for digital talent.

One big reason is that rivals from around the world have also noticed our talent pool, and are now competing to hire our brightest stars. So companies in our region need to learn to compete with global players – and that means competing on different terms than they’re used to. The key is not just to offer higher salaries, but more importantly to offer higher engagement: helping employees connect with a sense of organisational purpose, and offering opportunities for fulfilment that go beyond just a bigger pay cheque.

Help strengthen and improve the role of technology in society. In many areas, such as banking and telecoms, CEE has leapfrogged ahead of our Western neighbours in terms of the quality and availability of technology. The challenge now is to ensure that those benefits reach all members of our societies and work to improve the lives of all of our fellow citizens, for example through e-government initiatives. Fortunately, we have in our midst the clear world champion at e-government, Estonia. That can give us an advantage in the learning process – if we are willing to open up and learn the lessons we need.

One important way that technology can flow outward to benefit society as a whole is in the area of trust. While countries in this part of the world often struggle with low confidence in interpersonal interactions, we have relatively high trust online. Companies need to explore ways of turning digital trust into the face-to-face kind. The promising news here is that business leaders in our region are becoming aware of the importance of this issue: our survey found that 74% of CEOs in CEE (the same as globally) measure the trust between their organisation and its customers.

Work to build an education system for the future. While we rightly trumpet our region’s impressive digital skills and the impressive cohorts of technical and engineering graduates that our universities produce, we need to be honest in pointing out that our education systems often fail to teach important skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, communication and leadership. This is also borne out in the survey results: 97% of CEOs in our region (compared with 91% globally) believe it’s important to improve soft skills in addition to digital technologies.

While it’s good that executives are realising the need for better soft skills once people have been hired, our societies need to find ways of equipping our youth with those skills earlier: at the moment when they walk out the doors of the education system and enter the job market. That means companies should be proactive in reaching out to universities – and all levels of education – to ensure that young people are learning the skills they need to be able to thrive today. While entrenched bureaucracies in some countries make this difficult, they also make it all the more important for business to seek out enthusiastic partners in education, who can lead by example.

Be a part of the conversation as societies rethink measures of prosperity. Finally, businesses need to find their voice and speak up in the growing debate over how our societies measure success and how we ensure a fair distribution of the benefits of the prosperity we have achieved over the last quarter-century. By changing the way they engage with employees, customers, the education system and government as a whole, CEOs in this region have a vital role to play in this transformation.

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Olga Grygier-Siddons is the Chief Executive Officer of PricewaterhouseCoopers Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) which comprises 29 Member Firms of the Global PwC Network. Olga is a member of the PwC Global Strategy Council which comprises the Territory Senior Partners from the largest 21 territories in the PwC Network.

3 reasons why CEOs are optimistic about 2018

Author: Bob Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC US Bob moritz

You don’t have to look far for signs that we live in tumultuous times. Geopolitical uncertainty, cyberattacks, and jobs threatened by artificial intelligence are just a few of the topics that dominated headlines in 2017. But despite these harbingers of gloom, a record-breaking percentage of CEOs told us they are optimistic about the economic environment worldwide, at least in the short term. That’s one of the findings of PwC’s latest Global CEO Survey, launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos this week. I want to focus on three highlights here:

1. Soaring short-term CEO optimism

This year’s survey showed a record jump in the all-time highest level of CEO confidence regarding global economic growth prospects for the coming year. For the first time since we asked the question in 2012, a majority (57%) of the CEOs surveyed told us they believe global economic growth will “improve”. Strikingly, this unprecedented optimism is about twice as high as last year and it is truly global — from North America to both Western and Central/Eastern Europe, as well as Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.

This confidence waned, however, when we asked CEOs about their own company’s growth in the next three years. While last year, 51% of respondents told us they were “very confident” about their organization’s longer-term growth prospects, only 45% shared that view this year.

CEOs may justifiably feel that the future is simply less predictable than it once was. With technological disruption and geopolitical unpredictability verging on commonplace, longer-term confidence may be increasingly elusive.

UC9B00222. A focus on the geopolitical positives

In the short-term, CEO optimism appears unimpeded by shake-ups such as Brexit, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from trade agreements and climate accords, and increased anxiety over North Korea. Undeterred, CEOs continue to invest in and grow their businesses.

Simply put, 2017 looks set to be the best year for the global economy since 2010. As we kick off a new year, global commodities prices have recovered from their trough and the world’s major economies are growing. Even Britain’s economy seems to be persevering despite Brexit. This upward trend is set to continue in 2018, with PwC predicting that the global economy will grow by almost 4% in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms this year.

In the US, the Trump Administration’s pro-business policies — with the notable exceptions of trade and immigration — look to be fuelling a stock market boom, corporate confidence and low unemployment. With deep corporate tax cuts, deregulation and infrastructure spending on tap for 2018, it’s no surprise that North American CEOs are our most confident survey respondents: more than half (53%) of CEOs from the region are “very confident” about their company’s growth in the next 12 months.

Only time will tell how well-founded CEOs’ short-term confidence is but the economic indicators are on their side, with booming stock markets and strong predicted GDP growth in most major markets. Also, while risks seem to grow and multiply, CEOs are, on the one hand, becoming more used to high levels of multiple risks; while on the other hand finding ways of managing them. There are plenty of potential potholes in the road ahead for business but CEOs have become better at predicting where they are and navigating around them.

3. Taking technology in their stride

Technology is affecting businesses in varied and complex ways. As we continue to hurtle through the digital age, business strategies for technology are in flux, and the numbers show that. On the one hand, technological advances — like cyberthreats and the sheer speed of change — are high on the list of concerns that keep CEOs up at night. Last year, 24% of the CEOs we spoke to told us they were “extremely concerned” about cyberthreats, but that number has jumped to 40% this year. In contrast, business leaders see enabling universal connectivity as the chief benefit of globalization.

There is no question that the impact of AI will be enormous, potentially transforming business and society at large. PwC’s recent global AI report predicts AI will contribute an additional $15.7 trillion to global GDP by 2030. But those benefits are unlikely to be shared evenly: the US and China are slated to account for 70% of the boom. There will also be winners and losers in the jobs market when machines can replace cheaper labour. Certain jobs will become redundant and new ones will be created. However, while CEOs are focused on the potential benefits of AI, they are for the time being relaxed about the impact on employment with fewer than one in five CEOs expecting to reduce headcount in the next 12 months.

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General Secretary Xi sets out his blueprint for China

Author: Richard Oldfield, Global Markets Leader  Richard-oldfield

Whichever way you look at it, last week’s 19th National Congress of the Communist Party in China was a triumph for General Secretary Xi. From the beginnings of his days in office it was pretty clear that Xi was a different type of leader for China. A leader with a clear vision who was prepared to move quickly to marshal the resources and consolidate the powers necessary to put his vision into action. The 19th Party Congress has reinforced this, cementing Xi’s grip on power. And with no successor in the wings, he looks likely to be leading China for the next 10 to 15 years. 

While we clearly got the message that we will be dealing with General Secretary Xi for the foreseeable future, what were the messages for business and investors?

In the General Secretary’s words, the Chinese economy–having gone through “deep and fundamental changes”–now stands at a crossroads. On the one hand, between 2013 and 2016 it achieved an average GDP growth rate of 7.2%–but on the other, it faces many challenges and risks. Among them, rising levels of debt, high cost of production, low returns on investment, persistent industrial overcapacity and high levels of pollution. None is easy to fix. But by setting out priorities to pursue supply-side structural reform and a commitment to work harder for better quality, higher efficiency and more robust drivers of economic growth through new industrialisation, better use of technology, urbanisation, and agricultural modernisation, then we can at least now see a clearer direction for future economic growth.

Preventing systemic financial risks has been the focus of attention of the Chinese leadership and many investors around the world. At the National Financial Work Conference in July 2017, General Secretary Xi stressed that China should treat the deleveraging of state-owned enterprises (SOE)–the major beneficiaries of the banks’ easy credit and main source of bad debt–as “the priority of priorities,” adequately deal with the “zombie enterprises”, and hold officials accountable for a lifetime for building up debt at their respective regions.

To address the problems, the 19th Party Congress report calls for “deepening Institutional reform in the financial sector, increasing the proportion of direct financing, and promoting the healthy development of a multilevel capital market”. There are also plans to step up supervision of the financial markets. All encouraging moves.

State-owned enterprise reform has become the centrepiece of China’s economic policy. China has given priority to enhancing SOE competitiveness and efficiency through market-oriented reforms and reducing excessive production capacity. There are signs that SOE reform has gathered pace, starting in August with a partial privatisation deal at China Unicom and with over 68% of central SOEs now involved in mixed ownership reform.

The 19th Party Congress stated that the Party will support state capital in “becoming stronger, doing better, and growing bigger”, and turn Chinese enterprises into “world-class, globally competitive firms”. It also said that the Party will work to consolidate and develop the public sector while encouraging, supporting, and guiding the development of the non-public sector. This is encouraging, however it remains to be seen how SOE expansions will not crowd-out private investment, how to improve SOEs’ returns on investment, and through what mechanisms entrepreneurship and innovation in SOEs are encouraged.

China’s private sector contributes 60% of total GDP, 50% of tax revenues and 80% of employment opportunities. Yet the sector’s growth peaked in 2011 and plunged in 2016 to a low level. The 19th Party Congress report calls for “supporting the growth of private businesses”, and doing away with regulations and practices that impede the development of a unified market and fair competition. While all these measures are in the right direction, time will tell how effective they are.

After rapid growth for over two decades, foreign direct investment (FDI) into China has stalled recently, standing at US$126 billion in 2016. In the first nine months this year, FDI fell by 3.16% year-on-year, according the Ministry of Commerce. There are many reasons for the decline, such as labour-intensive manufacturing companies moving to other low-cost neighbouring countries, but a key reason is the accumulated “promise fatigue”, where many government commitments to further open up to the world and level the playing field are not followed through.

The 19th Party Congress report reaffirms that China will not close its door to the world and will only “become more and more open”. It commits to adopt policies to promote high-standard liberalisation and facilitation of trade and investment, significantly “ease market access”, and “protect the legitimate rights and interests” of foreign investors. “All businesses registered in China will be treated equally”, the report declares. Now that these issues have been given such high political prominence, hopefully the situation will significantly improve in the coming years.

The report also calls for “developing new ways of making outbound investments”, promoting international cooperation on production capacity, and forming globally-oriented networks of trade, investment, financing, production and services. It clearly states that the Belt and Road Initiative will be pursued “as a priority” and investment in these regions is likely to grow further.

So while there were perhaps no real surprises coming out of the 19th Congress, there were for business some encouraging noises and initiatives–the gathering pace of SOE reform, improved market access and fairer treatment for foreign companies, commitment to the Belt and Road Initiative and an increased focus on environmental protection and improving people’s livelihood. Only time will tell which of these initiatives will bear fruit first and when…but time is something that General Secretary Xi does appear to have on his side.

Richard Oldfield leads all market-facing activities, initiatives, and strategy. Prior to his current role, Richard was a member of the UK Executive Board for five years during which he was Head of Clients and Markets and latterly Head of Strategy and Communications.  Richard also led the UK firm’s Banking and Capital Markets Assurance practice and sat on the Assurance Leadership team. Read more