Press release

25 Sep 2023 Singapore, SG

CEO confidence in artificial intelligence (AI) tempered by social, ethical and security risks

CEOs globally are embracing opportunities created by AI, but also remain wary of unknown, unintended consequences.

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Sophia Mah

Media Relations Lead (Assurance, Tax, Strategy and Transactions, Growth Markets), Ernst & Young Solutions LLP

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  • 66% of Singapore respondents (global 65%) see AI as a force for driving business efficiency – but also fear unintended consequences
  • 90% of Singapore respondents (global 88%) are integrating AI into capital allocation, almost half plan significant AI investments in the next year
  • M&A to rebound into 2024 – 71% of CEOs globally (Singapore 63%) using AI to strengthen deal strategies 

CEOs globally are embracing opportunities created by AI, but also remain wary of unknown, unintended consequences, according to the findings of the latest EY CEO Outlook Pulse survey. Two-thirds (Singapore 66%, global 65%) of CEOs surveyed agree that AI is a force for good; however, a near equal proportion say more work is needed to address social, ethical and security risks – from cyberattacks to disinformation and deepfakes.

The survey of 1,200 global CEOs (including 40 from Singapore), which provides insights on AI, capital allocation, investment, sustainability and transformation strategies, found that 68% of Singapore CEOs (global 66%) believe the impact of AI replacing humans in the workforce will be counterbalanced by new roles and career opportunities that the technology creates.

However, while CEOs embrace the potential upsides AI can bring for business and society, they are cognizant of the risks of the emerging technology. More than half (Singapore 53%, global 67%) of CEOs surveyed said that the business community needs to focus on the ethical implications of AI, while almost the same proportion (Singapore 71%, global 64%) say businesses are not doing enough to manage the unintended consequences of the technology.

Despite these concerns, CEOs are adapting investment strategies to maximize the benefits that AI could bring to their businesses. A significant majority of CEO respondents (Singapore 90%, global 88%) are integrating AI into their capital allocation, of which, 40% of Singapore respondents (global 43%) are actively investing in the technology, while the other 50% (global 45%) said they are planning to make significant investments in AI in the next 12 months.

Vikram Khanna, EY-Parthenon Asean Digital Leader says:

“Generative AI is fast gaining the interest of corporate leaders in Singapore and across Southeast Asia, as many are looking to tap on its potential for business and enhanced productivity. At the same time, there is a degree of caution emerging around data, security, regulations and the accuracy of results from generative AI. We see a growing momentum as companies are experimenting with AI. While this may lead to a hype cycle, the transformational potential of AI is undisputed.” 

Economic instability remains; sustainability initiatives at a crossroad

Despite ongoing macroeconomic volatility, CEOs are cautiously more optimistic regarding a global economic downturn than at the start of 2023, as only 20% of Singapore CEOs (global 33%) expect a severe temporary or persistent downturn, compared to 63% (global 50%) in January. But CEOs remain split on whether they are more optimistic (Singapore 35%, global 47%) or less optimistic (Singapore 43%, global 36%) about the outlook for their own company’s financial performance than they were six months ago.

The harsh realities of today’s low-growth, high-inflation and rising interest rate environment has compelled many CEOs to focus more sharply on near-term performance, particularly at the expense of sustainability goals.

Today, just of 28% of Singapore CEOs (global 38%) stated that they would prioritize sustainability issues when making capital allocations decisions. This is in contrast to the CEO Outlook of January 2022, when 73% of Singapore CEOs (global 83%) said that sustainability and ESG issues would be an important driver of growth in the near-to-midterm.

Vikram Chakravarty, EY Asean Strategy and Transactions Leader says:

“In Singapore and Asean, we see companies increasingly being more focused on the path to net zero. While regulations play a role in encouraging companies to embark on their ESG journey, leading companies will embrace sustainability as a way to differentiate themselves from other market players. Such sustainability pivot, if executed well, can lead to enhanced value for the organization.”

M&A to rebound into 2024

Dealmaking remains a priority for CEOs. All (Singapore 100%, global 98%) of CEOs expect to actively pursue a strategic transaction in the next 12 months, with 55% (global 59%) looking to M&A, 53% (global 47%) looking to divest and 58% (global 63%) looking to enter strategic alliances or joint ventures. The appetite to acquire is close to a record high but barriers to doing deals in the current market such as increasing regulation and a higher cost of capital will likely temper many of these plans.

Improving technology capabilities and innovation is a primary driver of M&A, with 10% of Singapore respondents (global 16%) stating that this is a primary investment goal. Furthermore, CEOs are incorporating AI in M&A strategies – leveraging these technologies in their deal sourcing and processing. A majority of respondents (Singapore 63%, global 71%) are incorporating AI into the transaction process, either significantly or through pilot programs. Only a tiny cohort (Singapore and global 5%) have no plans to use AI – and they risk being outmanoeuvred by the competition.

Luke Pais, EY Asia-Pacific Private Equity Leader says:

“Across Asean, CEOs are very focused on driving market leadership in their core businesses while exiting from those that are non-core or deliver low returns. This should play out nicely –the region is well-placed to benefit from the structural realignment in global supply chain coupled with strong medium to long-term fundamentals given its highly aspirational population. Deals done in uncertain economic conditions often prove to be good vintages. Currently, there is a significant amount of private capital in the region looking to partner great businesses to drive value. The key to success is a well-articulated deal thesis, supported by strong execution to drive the desired outcomes”

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About the EY 2023 CEO Outlook Pulse

The EY 2023 CEO Outlook Pulse Survey aims to provide valuable insights on the main trends and developments impacting the world’s leading companies as well as business leaders’ expectations for future growth and long-term value creation.

It is a regular pulse survey of CEOs from large companies around the world conducted by FT Longitude, the specialist research and content marketing division of the Financial Times Group.

In June and July 2023, FT Longitude surveyed on behalf of the global EY organization a panel of 1,200 CEOs across Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, India, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea. Respondents represented the following industries: advanced manufacturing and mobility; consumer products and retail; energy and resources; financial services; health sciences and wellness; and technology, media and telecoms.

  • Surveyed companies’ annual global revenues were as follows: less than US$500m (20%), US$500m–US$999.9m (20%), US$1b–US$4.9b (30%) and greater than US$5b (30%). 
  • The CEO Imperative Series provides critical answers and actions to help CEOs reframe their organization’s future. For more insights in this series, visit