Remote work makes cybersecurity a top worry for CEOs

Pandemics, hacks and economic growth are the top concern for UK CEOs.

UK CEOs have revealed their top concerns after a year that saw remote work become the norm, with accelerated digital transformation and highly visible cyberattacks. 

PwC's global CEO survey, carried out in January and February 2021 with 5,050 CEOs, makes for an interesting snapshot and comparison to the 2020 survey. 

Not surprisingly, 94% of UK CEOs nominated pandemics and health crises as the top concern, followed by cyber threats for 91% of UK CEOs, while 86% said uncertain economic growth was a top concern. 

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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%, ahead of 'pandemics and other health crises' (62%), and 'uncertain economic growth' (57%).

Just over three three-quarters (77%) of UK CEOs say they plan to increase their investment in digital transformation in 2021. Meanwhile, concerns over the rate of technological change declined from 75% last year to 55% this year. 

Two third of UK CEOs say they plan to increase investment in cyber security and data privacy. At a global level, cyber threats are the top concern for CEOs in the asset and wealth management, insurance, private equity, banking and capital markets, and technology sectors, according to PwC. 

"Prioritising organic growth and sensible cost efficiency are 'no regrets' moves. But in a period of disruption, where the role of technology has been more critical than ever, so is digital transformation," says Marco Amitrano, head of clients and markets at PwC UK. 

"And acting to protect your business from cyber attack, when it relies more than ever on technology, is perhaps the epitome of a 'no regret' move."

While many workers and companies have embraced remote working conditions with video, VPNs, and collaboration software, Kenny Wilson, CEO of shoe brand Dr Martens, said the lack of face to face meetings has taken its toll on socially starved employees. 

"The office is a centre of culture, creativity and belonging and people really want to come back. It's going to be really important post-pandemic as part of a mixed model of work. We've learned we can be more flexible around that mix, but we've also learned that we really lose something when we don't have people coming together and collaborating," says Wilson, who featured in the report as a case study. 

Wilson said Dr Martens was already tackling its "digital first" approach for reaching consumers, but the pandemic "sped everything up". 

"It meant we only had one shop and that was the website," says Wilson. 

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After vaccines roll out sufficiently, the shoe brand will pursue an "omnichannel" consumer strategy where customers browse online but buy in store or online. He notes that opening a store front boosts online sales in that area. 

Wilson doesn't believe work will return to five days in the office, but he thinks people want to return for social interaction. 

"We had people last September saying 'I can't see myself coming back to work in an office' but they are now telling us 'I really want to get back to the office, I want to see my colleagues,'" says Wilson.    

At a global level PwC found that pandemics and health crises (52%) were the top issue CEOs were "extremely concerned" about, followed closely by cyber threats, nominated by 47% of CEOs.