KPMG has found that 45 per cent of out 500 chief executive officers (CEOs) surveyed globally are not expecting to see a return to ‘normal’ until sometime in 2022. The global organisation of independent professional services firms providing audit, tax and advisory services said nearly one-third (31 per cent) anticipate it will happen later this year.

“Interestingly, only 6.0 per cent of CEOs in Asia Pacific predict a return to ‘normal’ by this year with a significant majority (59 per cent) envisioning it will only happen in 2022,” it said in a statement following the release of its 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey. The survey also found that nearly two-thirds (61 per cent) of CEOs will look for a successful Covid-19 vaccine rollout, where at least half of the population is vaccinated, before asking their staff to return to offices.

Nine out of 10 leaders intend to ask their employees to report when they have been vaccinated to protect the wider workforce. “The Covid-19 vaccine rollout is providing leaders with a much-needed dose of optimism in preparation for the new reality. Unsurprisingly however, CEOs want to be confident that their workforce is protected against this virus before making any major business decisions.

“We can see this in how CEOs are only anticipating returning to business as ‘normal’ in 2022,” KPMG managing partner in Malaysia Datuk Johan Idris said. He said the situation last year has changed the way CEOs adapt and develop creative ways to sustain business operations. Now, over one-third of CEOs in Asia Pacific consider their business model changed forever. “Business leaders must now seriously plan for the long-term implications of the pandemic and grab this opportunity to redefine what the new normal looks like,” he added.

Other key insights in the survey from Asia Pacific’s CEOs also called for government’s encouragement or enablement as a prompt to return to a normal course of business (68 per cent), and 82 per cent of them agree that public-private partnerships are crucial in building

Preparing for the new reality

The 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey finds that CEOs around the world are planning what a return to ‘normal’ will look like, but a significant percentage say that the pandemic has changed their business forever.

Based on a survey of 500 CEOs in 11 key markets, the 2021 Pulse Survey provides a timely snapshot of CEOs’ views on business growth resumption, their views on vaccine distribution, their top-of-mind organizational risks, and business transformation priorities going forward. In Asia Pacific, 35 percent of CEOs have indicated concerns about misinformation on the safety of the vaccine causing their employees not to take it.

Defining rules in the ‘new reality’

Though the pandemic prompted many organizations to rethink their existing strategies, it only served to intensify business leaders’ commitment to digitization. Companies are continuing to embrace technology in transforming key aspects of their workplace, with 61 percent stating they will continue to build upon their digital collaboration and communication tools. More than half (57 percent) plan to conduct customer engagement and queries predominantly via virtual platforms such as chat bots, telephone, web and social media. CEOs plan to spend more on digital technologies than last year, with 52 percent prioritizing data security measures, 50 percent focusing on customer-centric technologies, and 49 percent committed to digital communications, such as video conferencing and messaging capabilities.

Confidence up, despite shifting risks

CEOs are comparatively more confident about their company, sector and country over the 3-year horizon than they were last year.  Among other key trends, cyber security risk has once again emerged as the number one risk for CEOs worldwide while tax risk also rose significantly among CEO priorities.

The Pulse Survey asks CEOs from the world’s most influential companies to provide their 3-year outlook on the economic and business landscape, as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This Pulse Survey looks at how their views have evolved since July/August 2020. Five hundred CEOs from 11 key markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, the UK and the US) were surveyed from 29 January – 4 March 2021. It covers 11 key industry sectors (asset management, automotive, banking, consumer and retail, energy, infrastructure, insurance, life sciences, manufacturing, technology and telecommunications). All respondents represent organizations that have annual revenue over US$500M and 35 percent of the companies surveyed have more than US$10B in annual revenue.

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