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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, our 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.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is providing leaders with a dose of optimism as they prepare for a new reality. Unsurprisingly, CEOs want to be confident that their workforce is protected against this virus before making major business decisions. They’re also tested in their ability to anticipate what the new reality looks like and its long-term impact on their business.

Datuk Johan Idris,
Managing Partner
KPMG in Malaysia

Return to ‘normal’ in 2022

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

61 percent of global executives said that they will need to see 50 percent or more of the population vaccinated before taking any action toward a return to offices, while three quarters (76 percent) of CEOs want to see government encouragement/enablement. 9 out of 10 CEOs also intend to ask employees to report when they have been vaccinated, which will help organizations consider measures to protect their workforce.

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. 

Environmental, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) issues are still a concern for CEOs as a vast majority (89 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 (96 percent) global executives are looking to upweight their focus towards the social component of their ESG programs.

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.

NOTE: some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

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