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24th Annual Global CEO Survey

A return to optimism for Belgian CEOs

One year after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, 82% of Belgian CEOs believe global economic growth will improve in 2021,  60 percentage points higher than last year. This is even more pronounced than their global peers (76%) and the CEOs in our neighbouring countries, the Netherlands (72%), France (59%) and Germany (80%). CEOs’ optimism extends to their own company’s performance. In Belgium, 86% say they are confident about their organisation’s prospects for revenue growth over the next year, and 88% are very confident looking ahead three years.

"The outspoken pessimism in economic growth expectations that CEOs expressed last year in our survey already reflected that our economy was heading towards an inevitable slowdown. But the unexpected disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a year like no other. Despite the human tragedy and dire economic consequences, there is still good reason to be optimistic about our ability to recover, especially in light of the current momentum around vaccine rollout in many parts of the world."

"But there’s a long-term road to recovery ahead of us, that will force businesses to gear up to new priorities. There’s an opportunity for them to evaluate their decisions against broader societal impacts. This way, they’ll set a course that rebuilds trust with their stakeholders and society. At the same time, they need to become robust enough to handle future disruptions by reconfiguring their business and ensuring sustainable outcomes for society in a rapidly changing external environment."

Axel Smits, Chairman of PwC Belgium

Top concerns for Belgian CEOs

Despite their confidence in economic improvement, Belgian CEOs are acutely aware of threats in the external environment. In the current uncertain climate, it’s not surprising that they are attentive to the possible steps governments will take to respond to current challenges. This explains why overregulation, policy uncertainty, populism and geopolitical uncertainty top the list of perceived threats by CEOs in Belgium. In fact, Belgian CEOs fear over-regulation and policy uncertainty more than pandemics or other health crises, while the latter is perceived as the largest threat for CEOs globally (52%). 

Reflecting the steady rise in cyber attacks over the past year, the biggest concern for Belgian CEOs relates to cyber threats, with 62% being ‘extremely concerned’, a rise of 29 percentage points compared to last year. Another threat rising rapidly on the list of Belgian CEOs’ concerns is the spread of misinformation (34%), up from 29% in last year’s survey. The rise of these latter two threats coincides with the rapid acceleration of companies’ digital transformations this past year, with no plans to slow down: 56% of Belgian CEOs plan to increase their investments in digital transformation by 10% or more. Despite the rising level of concern about cyberattacks, this has not translated into decisive actions: just 28% of Belgian CEOs are planning to boost spending on cybersecurity and data privacy by 10% or more. 

Top 10 threats that Global & Belgian CEOs expressed ‘extreme concern’ over:

Global CEOs   Belgian CEOs
 2021   2021   2020  
1 Pandemics and other health crises 52%   1 Cyber threats 62%       Availability of key skills 42%
2 Cyber threats 47%          2 Over-regulation 52%   Policy uncertainty 34%
3 Over-regulation 42%    3 Populism 42%   Trade conflicts 34%
4 Policy uncertainty 38%   4 Policy uncertainty 42%   Changing consumer behaviour 34%
5 Uncertain economic growth 35%   5 Misinformation 34%   Uncertain economic growth 32%
6 Populism 31%   6 Pandemics and other health crises 34%   Cyber threats 29%
7 Tax policy uncertainty 31%   7 Geopolitical uncertainty 30%   Climate change and environmental damage 27%
8 Increasing tax obligation 30%   8 Climate change and environmental damage 28%   Populism 24%
9 Climate change and environmental damage 30%   9 Increasing tax obligations 26%   Speed of technological change 24%
10 Misinformation 28%   10 Tax policy uncertainty 26%   Tax policy uncertainty 20%
CEOs are still grappling with climate change

CEOs are still grappling with climate change

Given the many challenges that businesses are facing today, it’s encouraging to see that the concern over climate change has not moved down in ranking. 28% of Belgian CEOs are extremely concerned about it (versus 27% last year), in line with the global average of 30%. Meanwhile, most (74%) plan to change their long-term investments in sustainability and ESG initiatives over the next three years, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis (versus the global average of 60%).  

Meanwhile, half of Belgian CEOs feel their organisation needs to do more to measure and report their environmental impact. However, 55% have not yet factored climate risks into their strategic risk management activities.

Contact us

Axel Smits

Axel Smits

Chairman & Territory Senior Partner, PwC Belgium

Tel: +32 490 65 88 94

Connect with PwC Belgium