Global CEOs grappling with multiple challenges, including geopolitical pressures, but majority remain confident on three-year outlook

Highlights from the KPMG 2023 CEO Outlook

Global CEOs grappling with multiple challenges.

  • Geopolitics and political uncertainty now ranked as the greatest risk to growth despite not being considered a top five risk last year
  • CEOs increasingly weighing up the return-to-work dilemma, with 87 percent considering linking rewards, raises or promotions with office attendance
  • 68 percent of CEOs indicate that their current ESG progress isn’t strong enough to withstand the potential scrutiny of stakeholders or shareholders
  • CEOs cite ethical challenges as the number one concern when it comes to implementing generative AI (57 percent)

Nicosia 17 October 2023 — Geopolitics and broader political uncertainty are now the greatest risk to business growth, according to a survey of more than 1,300 CEOs of the world’s largest businesses.

The KPMG 2023 CEO Outlook reveals geopolitics and political uncertainty have become the leading perceived risk this year for senior executives — concerns that didn’t even make the top five in the 2022 survey.

While confidence in the global economic outlook over the next three years remains broadly unchanged since last year’s survey (73 percent compared to 71 percent last year), there has been a significant shift across CEOs’ views on what constitutes a risk to their business.

Over three quarters of CEOs (77 percent) say rising interest rates and tightening monetary policies could risk or prolong the threat of a global recession. Meanwhile, over three in four CEOs (77 percent) believe that cost of living pressures are likely to negatively impact their organization's prosperity over the next three years.

The persistent flux in global politics, trade dynamics and international relations has compelled CEOs to reassess their strategic priorities and demonstrate resilience in navigating the intricate interplay of global political forces.

Christos Vasiliou

“Τhe KPMG 2023 CEO Outlook shows us that, despite the complex challenges over the past year with geopolitics and political uncertainty being the biggest threats to growth prospects, CEOs continue to trust their organisations, and feel prepared enough to stay ahead and build a stable business for the future. Even though half of the CEOs expect a return on investment in three to five years, they are still investing heavily in generative AI, while also recognize that ESG should remain part of their business operations and long-term corporate strategies.

While there is still debate between hybrid working and the return to the office, the majority of the CEOs predict a full return to in-office work within the next three years. Certainly, some sort of hybrid working is likely to remain a useful way to attract and retain talent, while having the right employee value proposition is near the top of the priority list for CEOs in our survey. In the long run, however, CEOs appear optimistic and confident about the outcome of their business operations”.

Christos Vasiliou
Managing Director
KPMG Cyprus

The debate over hybrid working and the return-to-office persists

CEOs are increasingly steadfast in their support of pre-pandemic ways of working, with a majority (64 percent) predicting a full return to in-office work within the next three years. An overwhelming 87 percent of CEOs surveyed express a likelihood of linking financial reward and promotion opportunities to a return to in-office working practices. 

CEOs continue to prioritize ESG despite polarizing discourse

Despite a year of polarizing debate surrounding the term ESG, CEOs recognize that delivering against the environmental, social and governance issues remains an integral part of their business operations and long-term corporate strategies. This is supported by 69 percent of CEOs who have embedded ESG into their business as a means of value creation.

Reflecting a shift in awareness and dialogue on ESG, 35 percent of CEOs have changed the language they use to refer to ESG both internally and externally. This signals a trend towards CEOs getting more specific about each aspect of the acronym and prioritizing their efforts where they can have the most impact.

However, CEOs believe that they are still a few years away from seeing a return on their ESG investment. Those surveyed believe that ESG will have the greatest impact over the next three years on their customer relationships, brand reputation and M&A strategy.

CEOs understand that their role continues to be increasingly driven by public and investor pressure, with 64 percent believing that, as trust in some institutions decline, the public expects business to fill the void of societal changes.

Ethical challenges surround generative AI but are not stifling investment

The findings show that CEOs are continuing to invest heavily in generative AI in search of a competitive edge for the future, listing the technology as a top investment priority in the medium term. Seventy percent of CEOs agree that generative AI remains high on their list of priorities, with most (52 percent) expecting to see a return on their investment in three to five years.

Despite a willingness to push forward with their investments, CEOs cited ethical challenges as their number one concern in terms of the implementation of generative AI. The cost of implementation was ranked second (55 percent) and a lack of regulation and technical capability were jointly third (50 percent). 

To view additional information about the survey please visit You can also follow @KPMG on LinkedIn and X (Twitter) for updates on the conversation with #CEOoutlook.

For media queries, please contact:

Kathryn Wright
Director, External Communications
KPMG International
+44 7880 784296

About the KPMG CEO Outlook

The 9th edition of the KPMG CEO Outlook, conducted with 1,325 CEOs between 15 August and 15 September 2023, provides unique insight into the mindset, strategies and planning tactics of CEOs.

All respondents have annual revenues over US$500M and a third of the companies surveyed have more than US$10B in annual revenue. The survey included CEOs from 11 key markets (Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Spain, UK and US) and 11 key industry sectors (asset management, automotive, banking, consumer and retail, energy, infrastructure, insurance, life sciences, manufacturing, technology, and telecommunications). NOTE: some figures may not add up to 100 percent due to rounding.

About KPMG International

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KPMG firms operate in 143 countries and territories with more than 265,000 partners and employees working in member firms around the world. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. Each KPMG member firm is responsible for its own obligations and liabilities.

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