• More than half of CEOs believe the rate of global economic growth will decline, according to PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey.
  • Uncertainty is fueling this record level of pessimism.
  • Climate change could provide a positive opportunity for companies.

Across the globe, business bosses are showing record levels of pessimism about economic growth, a new report has found.

And there’s one thing behind this lack of confidence – uncertainty. PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey represents the views of almost 1,600 chief executives in more than 80 territories, and it found the number that are “very confident” their revenue will grow in 2020 to be at its lowest level since 2009.

The results make interesting reading as CEOs’ revenue confidence, PwC says, can be a reliable indicator of trends in global GDP growth.

Here are four key things that are on top bosses’ minds for 2020.

1. A rocky road for growth

CEO's have shifted from record optimism to
CEO's views on economic growth have changed in the past two years.
Image: PwC

Two years ago, the same PwC survey found record levels of optimism. Today, it’s a very different story – in fact, the percentage of CEOs that think the rate of global GDP growth will decline has increased tenfold in that time, from 5% to 53%.

Uncertainty is fueling this fear, the report says. Over-regulation is seen as a top challenge, followed by concerns about uncertain economic growth, trade conflicts, climate change and cyber threats.

2. Technology regulation

Most CEO's forsee legislation in internet content, the breakup of big tech companies and compensation for personal data
CEO predictions for tech regulation.
Image: PwC

Many CEOs think the internet will become more fractured as a lack of global regulation leads to governments increasingly introducing their own legislation.

Globally, 50% think local laws around content, commerce and privacy will create a more splintered internet, while 40% say it will become less fractured. And nearly 7 in 10 CEOs foresee an increase in legislation around content regulation and to break up dominant tech companies.

The report says CEOs will increasingly need to collaborate with governments on solutions around how technology and data are used that both protect consumers and foster innovation. This will become more important as the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) advances and the use of technologies like artificial intelligence increases.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

The World Economic Forum was the first to draw the world’s attention to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the current period of unprecedented change driven by rapid technological advances. Policies, norms and regulations have not been able to keep up with the pace of innovation, creating a growing need to fill this gap.

The Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network in 2017 to ensure that new and emerging technologies will help—not harm—humanity in the future. Headquartered in San Francisco, the network launched centres in China, India and Japan in 2018 and is rapidly establishing locally-run Affiliate Centres in many countries around the world.

The global network is working closely with partners from government, business, academia and civil society to co-design and pilot agile frameworks for governing new and emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, blockchain, data policy, digital trade, drones, internet of things (IoT), precision medicine and environmental innovations.

Learn more about the groundbreaking work that the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Network is doing to prepare us for the future.

Want to help us shape the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Contact us to find out how you can become a member or partner.

How effective are your upskilling programmes
CEO's answer how effective their upskilling programmes are at achieving certain outcomes
Image: PwC

As the 4IR introduces new ways of working, new technical, digital and soft skills will be required. But these are in short supply, according to the report, leading to a consensus among CEOs that retraining and upskilling are the most important routes to closing potential skills gaps in their organizations.

Just 18% of global CEOs report significant progress in establishing programs to help employees do this. But firms that have made the most progress in upskilling say they are seeing better business outcomes as a result, including a stronger corporate culture, higher productivity and greater innovation.

4. Changing climate

CEOs answer on the benefits of investing in climate change initiatives
CEOs increasingly recognize the benefits of climate change initiatives.
Image: PwC

CEOs today are more likely to see the benefits of investing in climate change initiatives than they were 10 years ago, although, as PwC acknowledges, this appreciation of the upside of taking action is “still subdued.”

Since 2010, the number who “strongly agree” green practices can boost a company’s reputation with key stakeholders, including employees, has almost doubled to 30%. And the number that think such initiatives will lead to significant product and service opportunities has seen a similar rise – from 13% to 25%.