CEOs more confident about country, company prospects than global economy: KPMG poll

BUSINESS leaders in Singapore have become more confident in the medium-term future of their firms and the Singapore economy, despite a bleak global outlook, according to a KPMG snapshot survey of 25 chief executive officers (CEOs) from firms with annual revenue of over US$500 million.

Compared to the beginning of the year, nearly half of Singapore respondents were now less confident about growth prospects for the global economy in the next three years.

Just under a quarter said that their sentiment remained the same, while over a quarter were more confident.

In contrast, more than half were now more confident about growth prospects for Singapore, as well as for their own companies.

This was according to the Singapore edition of the KPMG 2020 CEO Outlook Covid-19 Special Edition, separate from KPMG's global findings.

For the global report, KPMG initially surveyed 1,300 CEOs from 11 markets in January and February, before many began to feel the impact of Covid-19. In July and August, KPMG did a follow-up survey of 315 CEOs to see how sentiments had changed.

The global survey showed a similar if weaker trend of more confidence at company and country level. For instance, in the global survey, 32 per cent were less confident about the global economy's prospects and 45 per cent more confident about their country's prospects, compared to the start of the year.

For Singapore, the figures were 48 per cent - less confident about the world, and 52 per cent - more confident domestically.

Singapore was one of the earlier countries to be affected by Covid-19, which might have meant early pessimism, said Ong Pang Thye, managing partner of KPMG in Singapore. The government's strong response since might have reassured CEOs, contributing to confidence now, he added.

The CEOs surveyed here were from industries such as banking, life sciences, asset management, insurance and manufacturing.

The top risk in the coming three years, cited by a fifth of Singapore respondents, was supply chain risk.

Second was a return to territorialism (16 per cent) followed by talent risk, reputational risk and operational risk, with each of the three cited by 12 per cent of respondents.

With Singapore seen as an attractive place for international talent, it is unsurprising that talent risk ranks relatively low, compared to the global survey where it topped the chart, said Satya Ramamurthy, partner and head of infrastructure, government and healthcare at KPMG in Singapore.

But he cautioned that this risk "may become more real as public sentiment around foreign talent becomes more adverse". Firms may have to walk a tightrope between "getting the best international senior talent while nurturing a strong 'Singaporean core' for future leadership roles".

Covid-19 has also spurred change, with 72 per cent of Singapore respondents seeing their new digital business models accelerate during the pandemic; 84 per cent intending to downsize their offices; and 68 per cent expecting a widening of the talent pool, due to remote working.