Majority of CEOs Don’t Expect A Return To ‘Normal’ Until 2022

In a global survey involving 500 CEOs worldwide, 45 percent do not expect to see a return to ‘normal’ until sometime in 2022, while nearly one-third (31 percent) anticipate it will happen later this year. Interestingly, only 6 percent of CEOs in Asia Pacific predict a return to ‘normal’ by this year with a significant majority (59 percent) envisioning it will only happen in 2022.

The 2021 KPMG CEO Outlook Pulse Survey also found that nearly two-thirds (61 percent) 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 in order 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,” commented Johan Idris, Managing Partner of KPMG in Malaysia.

“Last year, CEOs were put to the test to adapt their businesses to the ‘new normal’ and develop creative ways to sustain operations in a period of prolonged uncertainty. 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. 

When do CEOs envision that their company will return to a normal course of business?

Key insights from Asia Pacific:

  • The impetus to return to ‘normal’

68 percent of CEOs want to see government encouragement or enablement as a prompt to return to a normal course of business. CEOs are also worried that misinformation on the safety of the vaccine would cause their employees not to take it, as 35 percent considered this their most pressing concern regarding vaccine distribution.

  • Growing need for public-private partnerships

82 percent of CEOs agree that public-private partnerships are crucial in regard to upgrading the infrastructure around digital and innovation critical for business continuity, and that it cannot be achieved by one country or company alone.

  • Focus on technology continues to accelerate

The pandemic continues to intensify business leaders’ commitment to digitization. CEOs are planning to invest more in technologies such as data security measures (63 percent), digital communications such as video conferencing and messaging capabilities (54 percent), automation (54 percent), and customer-centric technologies such as chatbots (53 percent).

While 69 percent indicated they are prioritizing technology investments as a result of pandemic implications, at least 50 percent are thinking of long-term cost savings.

  • Cyber security risk once again a top concern for CEOs

Business leaders have identified cyber security as the top concern impacting their growth and operations over a 3-year period. This could be a result of the rapid turn to remote working in the past year, and we can expect businesses to more seriously consider greater investment and stricter limits to better protect their data and assets.

  • Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) continues to climb up the corporate agenda

ESG issues are still a concern for CEOs as a vast majority (98 percent) of business leaders are focused on locking in the sustainability and climate change gains their companies have made as a result of the pandemic. Nearly all (99 percent) are looking to upweight their focus towards the social component of their ESG programs.

Johan concluded, “While the world as we know it may never return to the way we were before Covid-19, it is clear is that we must continue to adapt and stay ahead of the waves of change. The time is ripe for us to rethink how we work, live and interact with one another, and restructure and reshape it together, for better.”

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