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EY Growth Barometer 2018
Hong Kong


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How the Hong Kong middle market is anticipating stellar growth on the back of a buoyant Asia-Pacific economy and overseas ambitions

Hong Kong’s dynamic middle market is pegging higher growth ambitions, hiring more talent, investing in artificial intelligence (AI) and putting greater emphasis on the customer than last year, EY Growth Barometer 2018 reveals. Strategically and historically occupying a bridge between the hyper-growth economies of Asia and the West, Hong Kong business leaders have always focused on overseas markets for growth. As investment in new technologies and talent increases, so does the pressure on working capital; insufficient cash flow rises as the dominant operational challenge to growth for the Hong Kong middle market.


EY - Agnes Chan

Agnes Chan
Managing Partner
Hong Kong and Macau
Ernst & Young Limited

EY - Peter Chan

Peter Chan
TMT Assurance Leader
Hong Kong
Ernst & Young Limited

EY Growth Barometer survey methodology

EY commissioned Euromoney Institutional Investor Thought Leadership to undertake an online survey of 2,766 C-suite (60% CEOs, founders or managing directors) in companies from 21 markets and with annual revenues of US$1m-US$3b. The survey was conducted from 15 January-1 March 2018. EY further invited the network of EY Entrepreneur Of The Year alumni from across the globe to take the survey. The survey was available in English and six other languages. Further in-depth interviews were carried out during March-April 2018 to provide additional specific insights.


2018 年安永增長晴雨表表明,香港蓬勃發展的中端市場正在追求更高的增長目標、招聘更多人才、投資於人工智能 (AI),並且比去年更加注重客戶服務。作為策略上及歷史上連接亞洲高速增長經濟體與西方的橋樑,香港的商業領袖一直專注於海外市場以謀求增長。隨著對新科技和人才的投資增加,對營運資金的壓力亦增加;現金流不足已經成為香港中端市場增長的主要營運挑戰。


EY - Agnes Chan


EY - Peter Chan



安永委託了 Euromoney Institutional Investor Thought Leadership 向 21 個市場中全年收入達 1 百萬美元至 30 億美元的 2,766 名企業主管(當中 60% 為行政總裁、創辦人或董事總經理)進行網上調查。調查於 2018 年 1 月 15 日至 3 月 1 日期間進行。安永另外邀請了全球各地曾經參與安永企業家獎 (Entrepreneur Of The Year) 的企業家參加本調查。調查以英文及其他六種語言進行。進一步的深入採訪於 2018 年 3 月至 4 月進行,以獲取更精闢的見解。

Strategies for growth


Prospects are riding high for the Hong Kong middle-market. With economic growth reaching a seven-year high in the first quarter of 2018,1 over 61% of Hong Kong's middle market companies are expecting 6% to 10% of growth in the coming year while almost one-third (31%) of business leaders expect to grow by more than 10% in the coming year, far above the International Monetary Fund forecast of 3.6%,2 the 2018 EY Growth Barometer reveals. Such optimism shows Hong Kong riding the wave of the geopolitical shift to the east, with burgeoning growth in mainland China supporting higher consumer spending, strong retail sales, low unemployment and a rise in tourism.3

Revenue growth projections

This chart shows growth expectations for 2017 and 2018, ranging from negative growth to growth above 50%, including year-on-year percentage point changes.

EY - Revenue growth projections

Outward-looking expansion

In their quest for growth, Hong Kong’s businesses remain outward-looking, reflecting Hong Kong’s long-established position as a dynamic center for international trade. More than one-third (37%) regard entry into overseas markets as their strategic growth priority, while a similar number (36%) see new overseas markets as key when evaluating new business opportunities. Agnes Chan, Managing Partner, Hong Kong and Macau, EY says: “For many, Hong Kong is seen as a bridge to the West, and the Chinese Government wants to put it in a strategic position between China and the overseas market.”

Recognizing the potential of the huge Chinese marketplace of which it is a part, Hong Kong’s second-ranked strategic growth priority is domestic expansion, highlighted by almost one-quarter (24%) of business leaders. Reflecting increasing industry convergence, the priority-ranked third (18%) is expansion into adjacent business activities and sectors. In a further sign of confidence, nearly three-quarters (74%) of Hong Kong middle market companies surveyed are considering an initial public offering (IPO), far above the rest of the world (43%).

香港中端市場的前景一片看好。2018 年安永增長晴雨表表明,隨著經濟增長在 2018 年第 1 季度達到七年來的高位1,61% 的企業預測來年經濟將錄得6-10%的增長,更有近三分之一 (31%) 的商業領袖預測來年經濟將增長 10% 以上,遠高於國際貨幣基金組織預測的 3.6%2。這種樂觀情緒表明,香港受益於地緣政治轉向東方的浪潮與中國內地經濟的蓬勃發展,而後者支撐起消費支出的增長、強勁的零售、低失業率及旅遊業的崛起3



EY - 收入增長預測


在謀求增長的過程中,香港企業仍然尋求向外擴張發展「走出去」,反映出香港長久以來作為充滿活力之國際貿易中心地位。超過三分之一 (37%) 的受訪者認為,進軍海外市場是他們的策略增長重點,而人數相近 (36%) 的受訪者則認為,海外的新市場是評估新商機的關鍵。安永香港及澳門地區主管合伙人陳瑞娟表示:「很多人把香港看作通往西方的橋樑,並且中國政府希望將香港作為連接中國與海外市場的策略性跳板。」

鑒於香港所屬之中國市場具有巨大潛力,香港排在第二位的策略增長重點是向內地擴張,得到接近四分之一 (24%) 的企業主管強調這一觀點。排在第三位的增長重點 (18%) 是擴張至相鄰的業務活動和行業,這反映出行業正日漸融合。接受調查的香港中端市場公司中,有接近四分之三 (74%) 正在考慮首次公開招股 (IPO),遠高於世界其他地區 (43%),進一步表明香港企業的信心。

Challenges to growth


The pivotal role of global trade to Hong Kong is reflected in respondents’ perceived risks. Slow/flat global growth is the biggest external threat for more than half (56%), compared with around one-quarter (24%) in the rest of the world. “Hong Kong’s companies are always very sensitive to the global environment, and they remain confident as long as the global economy remains healthy,” says Chan.

Externals risks to growth

This chart illustrates company leaders’ ranking of the key macro risks to growth.

EY - Externals risks to growth

Cash flow concerns

In common with many global peers, more than 4 out of 10 (44%) of the Hong Kong middle market companies surveyed cite insufficient cash flow as the biggest operational challenge – 25 percentage points up on last year and significantly above the rest of the world (33%). This may reflect the pressure to stay abreast of change, as evolving sales cycles, industry convergence, complex online buying patterns, the move to e-commerce and the need to invest quickly to satisfy developing consumer preferences increase demand for ready money. The pressures on working capital may explain why the leading contributor to improved productivity for Hong Kong business leaders is economies of scale, up 22 percentage points on 2017 to 42%, much higher than elsewhere (27%). It may also signal why profit margin has leapt by 18 percentage points to 27% as the second-ranked factor in evaluating new business opportunities. Subversive development of new technology has also become the second biggest challenge for the Hong Kong middle market companies.

Aging population

The survey also showed that demographic shift is one of the major impacts against the growth, with 46% of respondents sharing this view, ranking the first and significantly above the rest of the world (33%).

全球貿易對香港的關鍵作用反映於受訪者感知到的風險中。超過一半 (56%) 受訪者表示,全球增長緩慢/持平是最大的外部威脅,而世界其他地區持這一觀點者約為四分之一 (24%)。陳瑞娟表示:「香港公司對全球環境一直非常敏感,只要全球經濟保持穩健,他們仍會充滿信心。」



EY - 增長的外部風險


與許多全球同業公司一樣,接受調查的香港中端市場公司中超過四成 (44%) 表示,現金流不足是最大的營運挑戰,比去年增加 25 個百分點,亦遠高於世界其他地區 (33%)。這可能反映出緊跟隨變化的壓力,因為不斷變化的銷售週期、行業融合、複雜的在線購物模式、向電子商務轉型以及需要快速作出投資以滿足不斷變化的消費者偏好,均增加了對現金的需求。或許正是營運資金的壓力讓香港企業領袖認為,提升生產力的主導因素是規模經濟,比 2017 年增加 22 個百分點至 42%,遠高於其他地區 (27%)。這也許可表明為何利潤率會成為評估新商機的第二大因素,持這種看法的受訪者比例飆升18個百分點,至27%。顛覆性的新科技發展亦成為香港中端企業的第二大挑戰。



"Hong Kong’s companies are always very sensitive to the global environment, and they remain confident as long as the global economy remains healthy."

Agnes Chan

Managing Partner, Hong Kong and Macau, EY




Embracing business change


As the Alibaba Group announces multi-million dollar funding for a not-for-profit AI lab in Hong Kong to nurture AI start-ups,4 businesses are racing to embrace the technology. Almost all (97%) respondents plan to have adopted AI by 2023, while 86% expect to do so within two years. This contrasts sharply with 2017, when 78% said they would never use robotic process automation. This turnaround captures the dizzying pace of change that business leaders now have to navigate – no wonder that rapid decision-making is the leading driver of business agility, cited by almost one-third (31%) of Hong Kong respondents.

Tech as business enabler

Beyond AI, Hong Kong’s companies see technology as a crucial business enabler, with more than one-third (37%) identifying it as the prime factor for improving productivity. For many, IT is about putting the customer in the driving seat, with improving customer experience being the main objective of technology investment for 26% – although this comes behind the more traditional role of improving process efficiencies. It is particularly worth noting that 14% of respondents would like to discover new business models by using technology, as well as open up innovative thinking and the frontier. Asif Ghafoor, founder and CEO of Spacious, an online real estate platform, sees IT firmly through a customer-focused lens: “The biggest reason for us to invest in technology is to better connect consumers with the inventory they are interested in,” he says.

AI adoption

This chart shows the massive shift in the number of companies in 2017 and 2018 that intend to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) over the next 10 years.

EY - AI adoption

The customer is also central to some – but not all – aspects of innovation. More than one-third (34%) say customer data is their main tool in increasing innovation but, in contrast, only 3% see customer demand as the key innovation driver, 16 percentage points down on 2017 and far below the rest of the world (17%). However, the leading innovation driver by far for Hong Kong respondents – possibly another consequence of the squeeze on cash – is profitability. This is cited by 4 out of 10 (40%) respondents, compared with 27% elsewhere, 21 percentage points up on 2017. Regulation follows in second place (32%) as, in line with a global trend, companies find that the right regulatory environment can aid – rather than stifle – creativity.

“AI is transforming everything from back office routine processes through supply chain to customer understanding with whole business models being upturned. Business leaders in Hong Kong are racing to embrace these opportunities,” said Peter Chan, TMT Assurance Leader, EY.

隨著阿里巴巴集團宣佈為香港的一家非營利人工智能實驗室提供數百萬美元資金以培育人工智能初創企業4,企業正在爭先恐後地採納這項技術。幾乎所有 (97%) 受訪者都有計劃在 2023 年之前採用人工智能,而 86%的受訪者期望在兩年內就採用人工智能。這與 2017 年對比鮮明,當時有 78%的受訪者表示永遠不會使用機器人流程自動化。這種轉變反映出商業領袖現時必須適應令人眼花繚亂的變化速度 — 難怪有接近三分之一 (31%) 的香港受訪者表示,快速決策是商業機敏性的領先驅動因素。


除了人工智能外,香港公司將科技視為推動業務發展的關鍵力量,超過三分之一 (37%) 的受訪者認為科技是提升生產力的主要因素。對於許多人來說,IT 是將客戶放在首位,改善客戶體驗是 26% 受訪者作出科技投資的主要目標 — 雖然持這種看法的比例還低於對科技應用持更為傳統看法(即改善流程效率)的比例。特別值得留意是14%受訪者希望利用科技來發掘新的營運模式,開拓新思維以及新領域。在線房地產平台千居 (Spacious) 的創始人兼首席執行官 Asif Ghafoor 堅持從客戶服務的角度看待 IT:他表示:「我們投資於科技的最大原因是為了更好地向客戶提供他們感興趣的房源。」


該圖表顯示2017年及2018年計劃在未來10年內採用人工智能 (AI) 的公司數量的巨大變化。

EY - AI採用

客戶亦是某些(非全部)創新領域的核心。超過三分之一 (34%) 的受訪者表示,客戶數據是其加強創新的主要工具;與此相比,只有 3%的受訪者認為客戶需求是關鍵的創新驅動因素,這比 2017 年下降了 16 個百分點,遠低於世界其他地區 (17%)。然而,香港受訪者現時領先的創新驅動因素是盈利能力,而這可能是擠壓現金的另一個推論。有四成 (40%) 受訪者表達了這個觀點,比 2017 年增加了 21個百分點,亦高於其他地區 (27%)。緊隨其後的是監管 (32%),這符合全球趨勢,各公司認為,適合的監管環境有助於激發創造力,而不是扼殺創造力。

陳日輝, 香港科技、媒體與電訊行業審計 主管合伙人表示:「人工智能 (AI) 提昇了整體商業模式,透過供應鏈將後勤的日常流程以至客戶的認知,進行徹底變革。 香港的商業領袖正爭相抓住這些機會。」

Building stronger teams


Growing businesses need bigger teams; reflecting this, 36% of respondents expect to hire more full-time staff over the next 12 months, while just 15% plan to keep the same head count, far below the rest of the world (34%). Like mainland China, the territory remains committed to the gig economy, with 26% of companies planning to hire more freelancers and contractors.

The Hong Kong C-suite has a clear sense of the optimum skill set, with talent with the right skills the top growth accelerator, cited by almost one-third (32%), and talent ranked second as a driver of agility, cited by 25%. Lack of skilled talent is not named as a significant growth challenge, but with strong anecdotal evidence of a talent squeeze in Hong Kong and forecasts of a dramatic fall in the Chinese workforce over the next 30 years,5 it is perhaps unsurprising that demographic shifts are the top-ranked disruptive megatrend. This is cited by 46% – way above elsewhere (33%) and there is a clear focus on digitally-native workforce, cited by 60%.

Embracing diversity

Along with mainland China, Hong Kong is at the forefront of the global drive for workplace diversity, with more than half (56%) of respondents citing it as their strategic talent priority – 51 percentage points up on last year. EY’s Chan says: “There are visible signs that companies are changing. Where once it was mainly the large international companies that were committed to diversity, many of Hong Kong’s local companies are now joining the trend.”

增長型企業需要更大的團隊;為此,36% 的受訪者期望在未來 12 個月內能僱用更多全職員工,而只有 15% 的受訪者計劃保持員工人數不變,遠低於世界其他地區 (34%)。與中國內地一樣,香港仍然致力於零工經濟,26% 的公司計劃僱用更多的自由職業者和合約員工。

香港高級管理層對最佳技能組合有著清晰的認識,接近三分之一 (32%) 的受訪者認為具備適當技能的人才是增長加速因素,排在第一位,而且 25%的受訪者將人才列為商業機敏性的驅動因素,排在第二位。儘管受訪者並未將缺乏人才列為重大增長挑戰,但有確鑿證據表明,香港人才緊缺,並且預測中國勞動力在未來 30 年會大幅下降 ;有鑒於此,人口結構變化成為排名第一的顛覆性大趨勢亦是意料之中。46%的受訪者表達了這個觀點,遠高於世界其他地區 (33%),並有 60%的受訪者表示非常專注於原生數字化勞動力。


與中國內地一樣,香港處於全球職場多元化的前沿,超過一半 (56%) 的受訪者將多元化視為策略性人才優先要務,比去年增加 51 個百分點。安永的陳瑞娟表示:「有明顯跡象表明公司正在轉變。在過去,主要是國際大公司致力於實現多元化,但是現時很多本港公司正在匯入這個趨勢」。