The rapid pace of digital transformation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw businesses move services online, supply chains disrupted and employees work from home, has pushed cyber security to the top of the agenda for UK CEOs.
Over nine out of every 10 (91%) of UK CEOs are concerned about the threat of cyber security risks, according to PwC’s 24th Annual CEO Survey. This is the highest figure recorded since CEOs were first asked about cyber threats in the survey, and an increase on last year’s figure of 80%. It is also higher than this year’s global figure of 85%.
“As the criticality of technology has increased over the past year, so have UK CEOs’ fears of cyber security threats," commented Chris Gaines, Cyber Security Leader at PwC UK. "This heightened concern is understandable as the stakes are so much higher than they were 12 months ago. Businesses have become more aware of how reliant on technology they are for their very survival, and as such the risk of cyber security attacks naturally weighs more heavily on their minds. The technological changes implemented over the past 12 months have not only been across businesses, but also society, and many were implemented in haste. Risk averse organisations who in different times may have taken years to plan for increased remote working made the change overnight. Organisations must now effectively, securely embed such changes while continuing to evolve and innovate."
Cyber threats are top strategic risk for UK CEOs
When asked which top three threats are explicitly factored into their strategic risk management activities, ‘cyber threats’ was the most selected by UK CEOs and chosen by 75% of them. This was in front of ‘pandemics and other health crises’ (62%), and ‘uncertain economic growth’ (57%).
Looking ahead, 48% of UK CEOs are ‘extremely concerned’ (up from 42% last year) about the risk of cyber threats to their business growth prospects. In addition, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, 67% of UK CEOs plan to increase long-term investment in cybersecurity and data privacy over the next three years, with 24% of UK CEOs saying they will significantly increase long-term investments.
“Increasing investment in cyber defences is only part of the approach CEOs should be taking," Gaines added. "With every area of every organisation now more reliant on technology, and more reliant upon the technology of suppliers and other organisations within their ecosystem, business leaders need to appreciate the role they must play in securing their organisation. Securing an enterprise is far more than ensuring the CIO builds the right technical controls. It is about simplifying the organisation to be securable. It is about assessing, understanding and managing the cyber risk impact of every business decision. And it is about recognising that much of cyber security risk originates from vulnerabilities outside their organisation. CEOs are right to be concerned about cyber security risk but the challenge they face is shaping their organisations to be securable. However, this period of change we find ourselves in presents the perfect moment to face into that challenge.”
Growth and digitisation priorities
The survey also found that 83% of CEOs around the world are concerned about economic growth, with that figure even higher among UK CEOs (86%). At the same time, CEOs are relatively bullish about the chances of their businesses turning a profit in the year ahead, with approximately one-third globally (34%) confident of profitability this year, a feeling felt even more strongly among UK CEOs (40%).
Digitisation was a trend that was supercharged in the year of COVID, and the PwC survey finds this primed to continue in the year ahead. More that three-quarters of UK CEOs (77%) said that they are increasing their investment in digital transformation in response to the pandemic. Overall, 44% of UK CEOs said they are significantly increasing this investment.
CEOs are also more concerned than ever about the wellbeing of their teams; a concern no doubt exacerbated by less interaction due to lockdowns, on top of the stress of worrying about the pandemic and working in often unfamiliar or challenging ways. Some 61% of UK CEOs said that they are concerned about the declining wellbeing of their people.
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