MARKETS & INVESTING | Staff Reporter, Singapore

7 in 10 CEOs are unsure if they can spot cyber threats: KPMG

But half insisted that they are prepared for containing a future cyber attack.

Singapore CEOs are taking personal ownership for driving digital transformation, KPMG revealed. However, Singapore CEOs are less confident about their personal ability to lead business transformation (58%) than their global peers (72%).

The preparation for digital transformation comes with building defences against cyber attacks. But only 31% of Singaporean CEOs are confident of identifying a cyber threat, leaving nearly seven in 10 (69%) in the dark. Still, half of them stated that they were ‘well’ to ‘very well’ prepared for a future cyber attack and could contain any cyber attack on their strategic operations.

Threats from lack of cybersecurity was cited as the top risk in KPMG’s Global CEO Outlook 2018. “Half of all Singaporean CEOs believe that becoming a victim of a cyber attack is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Their confidence level of preparedness was generally lower than the confidence level felt by global (and ASEAN) CEOs,” KPMG said.

Moreover, only 38% were confident that their existing leadership team was adequately equipped for cyber attacks. “Half of them surveyed also believed that their company boards had very demanding expectations of investment returns on digital transformation,” the firm said.

With that, more Singaporean (62%) than global CEOs (30%) struggled with concurrently transforming both the digital and non-digital aspects of their business. Only 50% of Singaporean CEOs were confident of understanding expected returns from technology investments, in contrast to global CEOs (79%).

KPMG in Singapore managing partner Ong Pang Thye commented, “Singapore CEOs are under a lot of pressure to drive growth. Unlike their global peers who are more receptive to forming alliances, Singapore CEOs will face more challenges in driving organic growth by doing it alone.”

Many CEOs (58%) are also admitting that over the last three years, they have sometimes ignored the insights of their data analysis models, preferring to rely on their own experience or intuition. This trend is pervasive, with 67% of CEOs globally admitting the same.

Meanwhile, data sources that CEOs trust for strategic decisions have also shifted, with 85% of them saying that they trust information from their own social networks (social media) over other sources. As a data source, social media also ranked highest among ASEAN and global CEOs.

“Whilst data analytics is hugely important, many struggle with data collection and making sense of these data to create insights and value. With CEOs having to make big decisions, their experience and intuition are still valuable,” Ong added.

KPMG’s report revealed that cyber attacks aren’t the only threat to Singapore companies. CEOs also cited operational risk, environmental, territorialism (protectionism), regulatory and talent risk as threats.

On the upside, nearly four in five (77%) of Singapore CEOs are confident about the global economy whilst nearly all (92%) are bullish about their company’s performance. The surveyed CEOs in Singapore are significantly more optimistic than their global peers in terms of the economy (67%) and their respective companies (90%).

Tempering this optimism is a sense of realism that the world faces many global economic uncertainties, and 55% of CEOs globally expecting under 2% in top-line growth over the next three years. Singaporean CEOs are more cautious, at 73% with similar expectations, KPMG revealed.

“Never before in the history of commerce have CEOs faced challenges on so many fronts – from economic malaise to geopolitics, digital disruption to cyber threats,” said Ong Pang Thye, managing partner, KPMG in Singapore, “Driving growth in an uncertain world will require constant innovation, investing in ecosystems as well as keeping an eye open for unexpected threats.”

Globally and across ASEAN, driving growth through strategic alliances was the preferred option. Unlike their global peers, more Singaporean CEOs ranked organic growth above forming strategic alliances, and 42% of them did not think organic growth would hinder prospects.

However, where Singaporean CEOs are leading their global peers is in undertaking a number of actions relating to innovation and collaboration to drive growth. Three-quarters (73%) intend to collaborate with innovative start-ups and 62% will increase investment in disruption detection and innovation processes.

Singaporean CEOs are largely consistent with their regional peers when looking at the importance of workforce capabilities to support growth. Six in 10 (58%) see cyber security as important.

The Global CEO Outlook surveyed 1,300 CEOs this year. It asked CEOs about their prospects on business growth, challenges, and their strategies for the next three years.

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