Developing long-term transformation strategies essential to maintain profitability, says PwC leader

He cited emerging technologies and sustainability measures as amongst the key areas for development.

Greg Unsworth is PwC Singapore’s Digital Business and Risk Services Leader, where he oversees a team of 20 partners and over 500 professional staff who help clients manage business risks, enhance governance and control programmes, comply with regulations, and build digital trust.

He also has significant experience advising clients around digital business initiatives, having previously served as PwC’s technology sector leader for the Asia Pacific region as well.

Unsworth has been instrumental in establishing PwC Singapore’s “Reimagine Digital” programme—focused on transforming the company’s service delivery through technology platforms and new capabilities, building talent capability and services to address clients’ digital agenda, as well as investing in the development of key digital assets including AI-enabled business and smart nation imperatives.

He is actively involved in the development of the firm’s industry thought leadership, where he serves as a member of PwC’s global advisory and editorial committees and regularly works with the global and regional industry networks and digital innovation leaders.

The PwC leader observes that amidst the economic forecast for Singapore this year, business leaders are already adopting a more cautious approach, citing a highly inflationary environment and rising interest rates as some of the top reasons. According to him, liquidity and ensuring business resilience will continue to be a priority for many organisations this year, using such opportunities to review and enhance their business models.

Unsworth sat down with Singapore Business Review to provide his valuable insights into how economic forecasts for the city-state will affect businesses, how digital transformation initiatives continue to fare despite the unpredictable economic environment, as well as what trends are expected for this year.

Singapore’s growth in 2023 is expected to ease between 0.5% and 2.5%. How do you think this economic forecast will affect businesses in the city-state for the year?

Business leaders in Singapore are already adopting a more cautious approach with the immediate challenges of a highly inflationary environment and rising interest rates. As part of PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey, we interviewed a number of business leaders based in Asia Pacific with a generally more pessimistic outlook than in recent years observed. In the short term, business leaders should consider prioritising short-term profitability through cost reduction, streamlining initiatives and adjusting pricing where possible; exploring opportunities to transform their business for the future. 53% of APAC-based CEOs believe their current business models will not survive the next decade. [They should also consider] developing programmes to engage their talent and build a resilient culture and workforce; and collaborating with business partners to create new business value that they cannot achieve alone.

Amidst the headwinds the economy might face for the year, how can companies remain resilient and ensure success?

Whilst liquidity and ensuring business resilience will continue to be a priority for many organisations, business leaders will also use the opportunity of a “slow down” to review and enhance their business strategies, models, and operations. Examples could include developing rebalanced and resilient supply chains through digitalisation and forging new partnerships; reinvesting in their risk management programmes to identify a more holistic, effective and agile way to respond to new and emerging business risks; upskilling and developing talents and capabilities, especially around the digital and ESG agenda; and exploring growth through new green-field markets, as well as developing new and innovative brand-enhancing experiences for customers.

What do you think have been some of the challenges Singapore companies are facing in terms of digital innovation? What strategies or solutions can they leverage to address these?

During the pandemic, we saw a rapid acceleration of digital adoption by many organisations. I expect this trend to continue but at a more moderate pace. There are a number of challenges in executing digital programmes effectively. Despite the challenges in, it is a journey that all business leaders are on. Examples include talent scarcity – particularly in high-demand areas such as automation and robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber security and data and analytics, which are increasing in importance for many organisations; [as well as] managing innovation programmes effectively. Whilst there should be encouragement to develop a culture of innovation, it is also important to measure progress and return on investment, and to ensure that efforts can be redirected to areas of greatest benefit and impact where required.

Business leaders should ideally seek out the guidance, mentoring and help of other leaders who have already progressed well in their digital transformation programmes. Peer learning and partnering can help avoid costly mistakes and also potentially unlock new opportunities to uplift digital programmes.

How do you think businesses in Singapore can ensure a more diverse, inclusive, and empowering environment for their stakeholders?

Whilst nearly all organisations have an inclusion and diversity (I&D) programme, there is always room to further increase the representation of women in key leadership roles, broaden the focus beyond gender to represent more diverse groups, and embed I&D fully within the business culture and talent programmes.

For business leaders, it is important to appoint a committed leader of I&D and ensure that the individual has the full backing and support of the board and top management. It is also important to ensure adequate funding and resourcing to ensure the I&D teams can implement programmes effectively and with impact. The results of these programmes should also be measured and refined as circumstances and priorities evolve.

Having advised several clients on digital business initiatives and risk management, what are some of the trends you can see for Singapore’s business landscape this year?

Based on the feedback from business leaders from PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey, we anticipate a period of short-term consolidation and caution to capture the benefits of programmes and initiatives rolled out over the last two to three years and to manage through expected economic headwinds. Of the APAC-based executives we spoke with, 48% are focusing on costs; 46% are pushing for revenue growth although most (63%) are not planning to reduce their workforce.

Accordingly, the need to develop strategies for transformation for the longer term will be essential to maintain profitability. Key areas for development include emerging technology, as AI has been around for a while but will gain greater adoption; and pilots will be run to explore business opportunities in the Metaverse. [They also include] sustainability – new expectations of regulators and the finance sector will continue to promote greater emphasis on green practices, supply chain refinement and greater emphasis on the “social” aspects of ESG.

Coming back from being a judge in last year’s awards programme, what do you expect to see amongst this year’s entries?

It is very exciting to return to the judging panel this year. I am expecting even greater innovation to be demonstrated by leading contenders to evolve to the rapidly shaping dynamics and slower growth environment. Furthermore, a real focus on people and talent development orientation will also feature greatly as we can never underestimate the value of the “human” element.

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