Business confidence is down in Western economies in the six months to May ‘19, spearheaded by a sharp fall from 70% to 50% in Europe. Only Asia Pacific bucks the global trend.
Economic, cyber and technology risk stand clear as business leaders’ top three concerns globally; but reputation risk is growing faster than any other.
Alignment on risk perceptions across the UK, Europe, North America and Asia-Pacific demonstrates the reality of global, interconnected risk, with over 80% globally believing they operate in a moderate to high risk environment.
Complexity in the global risk environment means executives globally are reigning back on investment in business fundamentals by an average of just under 20%.
London, 30 May 2019: CNA Hardy’s 2019 Global Risk & Confidence Survey published today finds that as global, interconnected risk becomes a reality, reputational risk is rising and business confidence is on the slide.
Research for the latest edition of the report highlights a clear East-West divide in terms of confidence. While optimism has fallen among executives leading European, UK and North American businesses, it continues to rise in Asia Pacific.
Ongoing discussions regarding how the UK is to exit Europe are having a markedly negative impact on business confidence on both sides of the Channel. In the UK only 36% of leaders are confident in the ability of their firm to grow and prosper – a far cry from May ’17 when 71% of business leaders were confident. In Europe only 50% are confident - a fall of almost one third in the past six months. In North America, confidence fell back 8% to 59% over the past six months as here too improving economic fundamentals continued to take a battering from economic and policy shocks.
Asia Pacific is the only region where confidence has risen (up 23% to 65%) in the past six months, and where executives globally believe there is the greatest capacity to drive growth.
All change in global business confidence
Percentage of business leaders that are confident in the ability of their business to grow and prosper
Investment in business fundamentals on the slide
Against this backdrop, the rate of investment in business fundamentals has fallen dramatically in the six months to May ’19, with investment in talent and research & development (R&D) among the hardest hit areas. Dave Brosnan comments: “Uncertainty is a key driver of high levels of caution about investment in business fundamentals. Companies are simply not prepared to put capital at risk in an environment where unpredictability reigns. The inevitable, but extremely damaging consequence is that fewer companies are maintaining investment in technology, R&D and talent to support the top line.”
The reality of global interconnected risk hits home
Underpinning changes in business confidence is companies’ constant reassessment of the shifting risk environment. Globally, the percentage of business leaders who feel they operate in a moderate to high risk environment held broadly steady at 81%, with European business leaders the least risk averse (65%) and North American the most (87%).
Dave Brosnan comments: “The data shows a strong consensus among global business leaders on the direction of travel in terms of risk overall. This alignment of risk perceptions over time and across the regions demonstrates very clearly the reality of interconnected risk. From connected devices and international supply chains, to the global financial system, the potential for small problems to trigger unexpected cascading failures, is now all around us.”
Globally, economic risk is the biggest concern both now and in 12 months’ time, followed by cyber then tech risk. Economic risk – though remaining the most mentioned risk overall - is set to decline as political and reputational risk gain momentum.
Reputation risk rising fast
As business leaders look ahead to May ‘20, we see that reputation risk is growing faster than any other – up 29% globally, a third (33%) in Europe and doubling in Asia Pacific between May ‘19 and May ‘20.
Dave Brosnan, CEO, CNA Hardy said:
“In an increasingly complex, tech-led, interconnected global economy, business leaders are being tested like never before. The result is that confidence has dipped, investment in business fundamentals is down across the board and reputation risk has emerged as the new threat that stalks the corridors of power.”
Businesses are divided on how to manage reputation risk
Businesses we spoke to were divided regarding the most significant challenges they face when dealing with brand or reputation risk. Managing the logistical challenges – securing board buy-in and implementing a timely plan of action – were two of the highest ranked priorities. But maintaining brand value was narrowly the top concern globally, with sentiment particularly marked in Asia Pacific and North America.
Strong appetite for innovative insurance response
CNA Hardy is finding significant appetite among its broker network and insureds for deeper discussion and insight around the drivers of boardroom risk and strategies for risk prevention and mitigation.
Dave Brosnan, CEO, CNA Hardy said:
“Reputation cover will become mainstream as boardroom risk is re-evaluated. In the same way the market has found a way to model the cost of non-physical damage business interruption claims as part of terror and political violence cover, we believe there is scope to model and mitigate the cost of managing reputation risk and the consequential damage to brand value caused by specific triggers.”
North America: cautious but hopeful
May ‘19 is a pinch point of low confidence and high risk; but the picture resolves as we look ahead to the end of the year and into ’20.
Only 59% of executives in North America are confident in the ability of their business to grow and prosper today, compared with six months ago when 64% were confident. By November 2019, the decline is expected to reverse, with 69% predicting business confidence by May ’20.
Underpinning the improving sentiment, economic (20%) and cyber risk (19%) have both been downgraded in the six months since November ’18, although they still top the league of risk concerns both now and in 12 months’ time.
Supply chain risk is at an historic high in May ’19 - a push-back on globalisation coupled with a rise in protectionism are likely drivers here. Reputation risk is also set to rise, although the trend is less marked than in other regions.
North American executives are divided on how to manage reputation risk. In the US the biggest concern is securing board buy-in. In Canada concerns focus on the difficulty of managing the adverse impacts of negative publicity.
Business leaders remain invested in Asia Pacific, where 24% of firms expect to see growth by May ‘20.
Kathleen Ellis, Senior Vice President, CNA International Solutions comments: “Managing supply chain complexity is relevant and a growing issue of importance, even for mid-size businesses. Although large firms have more at stake, smaller and mid-sized firms still must efficiently manage how and where they produce, assemble and distribute product. Due to the smaller or mid-size scale, they are vulnerable if they ‘guess’ wrong on shifting global politics and policy. These and other factors, such as natural catastrophe, contribute to this cautionary mood.
Nick Creatura, President and CEO, CNA Canada comments: “Management liability risk is also rising. This is partly attributable to the increasing pervasiveness of social media. The need to be the ‘first to know’ drives a heightened sense of urgency to report on events, but that reporting is often overly aggressive and misinformed. The market reacts very quickly – and it never likes surprises. So companies take significant hits in reputation and market value when they experience negative events. The manner in which these situations are handled is extremely important in mitigating the impact of such events.”
Asia-Pacific: the tiger roars again
Confidence among business leaders in Asia Pacific has soared in the past six months from 53% to 65% with the region now leading the world in terms of its buoyant outlook. The mood suggests the region’s leaders believed they can weather the worst of the Chinese-US trade war and have faith in the growing economic dominance of the region as a whole.
Supporting rising confidence, Asia Pacific’s perceptions of risk have grown only modestly in the last six months, with 85% of business leaders now believing they operate in a moderate to high risk environment, compared to 82% in November ‘18.
The key external risks concerning business leaders are economic (24% of business leaders) and cyber risk at 18%, although supply chain is rising in importance, now ranking fourth for the first time.
By May ‘20, over a fifth of global business leaders predict that Asia will be the region that has the greatest capacity to drive their growth, putting it well ahead of the global pack.
Carl Day, Vice President, Property, Marine & Energy, CNA Hardy, comments:
“The growth in confidence in Asia-Pacific is great news for corporates in this part of the world and marks a significant shift in sentiment from just six months ago. As President Xi’s signature Belt & Road initiative rebuilds the region’s ancient silk routes with nearly a US$ 1 trillion earmarked for infrastructure investments to around 1000 projects, domestic and foreign enterprises alike will want to ensure that their supply chains are optimised to capitalise on the Asian growth story.”
Brexit batters confidence in UK and Europe
Ongoing discussions regarding how the UK is to exit Europe are having a markedly negative impact on business confidence on both sides of the Channel.
For business confidence, the UK remains bottom across all surveyed regions. Europe, which led the world in terms of confidence six months ago, is now the least confident region globally after the UK.
The UK sees its biggest issue as economic (18%) above political, technology and cyber (all at 14%). In Europe, economic risk also leads (16%), but shares the stage more evenly with cyber and technology (both at 13%). For the first time, however regulatory and compliance risk rises into the top three in Europe and is ranked fourth in the UK. This strong showing reflects growing anxiety about the timing and manner of Brexit which raises significant questions about how cross-border trade is to be administered.
Beyond domestic boundaries, business leaders in Europe see Asia Pacific as their biggest foreign growth market. UK executives continue to believe that Europe has greatest scope, even though that faith has declined rapidly in recent years.
“It is inevitable that the combination of political and economic volatility with regulatory uncertainty will drive reputational risk,” said Carl Day, Vice President, Property, Marine and Energy CNA Hardy. “Business leaders are at a point where forecasting is problematic, investment in business fundamentals is going on hold, and the risk of strategic missteps is rising. Interconnected risk is a feature of modern business life, and here we see it played out through the lens of a shifting UK-Europe relationship.”
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