Press release

20 Apr 2020

Nearly 80% of Board Members Felt Unprepared for a Major Risk Event Like COVID-19: EY survey

Financial Services Sector was More Confident in Level of Preparation than Other Industries

Press contact
Lizzie McWilliams

EY US Public Relations Associate Director

Strategic communicator and adviser.

Related topics COVID-19

Financial Services Sector was More Confident in Level of Preparation than Other Industries

According to the Global Board Risk Survey that Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) conducted with the participation of 500 global board members and chief executive officers (CEOs) not with EY, only 21% of board members believed their organizations were very prepared to respond to an adverse risk event from a planning, communications, recovery and resilience standpoint, before the COVID-19 outbreak. The financial services sector felt more prepared, with 80% of directors indicating that they felt their firms were very or nearly very prepared to respond to such events.

With COVID-19 now posing critical challenges for businesses, many organizations are experiencing vulnerabilities related to their human capital, significant fluctuations in product demand and heavy supply chain disruption from the affected areas. Unpredictable events and uncertainty related to the pandemic continue to expand the scope of risks, highlighting the heightened need for crisis management planning to build strategic, operational and financial resiliency across the business.

“COVID-19 began as a public health crisis; however, it has rapidly evolved into a significant global economic challenge as well, encompassing nearly every layer of organizations from human capital to supply chains,” says Steve Klemash, Partner, Ernst & Young LLP and the EY Americas Leader of the Center for Board Matters. “While participants responded to this survey before the COVID-19 pandemic began, it underscores the importance for organizations to be prepared for these kinds of events. Now, more than ever, it is imperative for boards and directors to adopt a new risk mindset and take a future-first risk approach so that they are prepared for even the most unpredictable issue.”

Top Risks

Nearly half of board members surveyed cite unfavorable economic conditions as the most important risk category, with those that sit on boards of US companies ranking geopolitical risks and people issues as a joint second. Cyber attacks and data breaches are also putting immense pressure on boards, with 48% of board members overall and 69% of financial services companies’ board members believing these will more than moderately impact their businesses over the next 12 months.

Risk and Strategic Value

While nearly three-quarters of board members believe their organization’s strategy is aligned with its risk appetite, the survey reveals opportunities to adjust this to be more future-fit and turn risk into strategic value. Less than a quarter of board members are very satisfied with their effectiveness in overseeing changes to the risk landscape and adjusting the organization’s risk appetite accordingly. Within the financial services sector, directors are more confident, with nearly three-quarters (71%) extremely or nearly extremely satisfied in their effectiveness in overseeing how changes to the risk landscape lead to adjustments to risk appetite.

With only 40% of board members satisfied with the management of new and emerging risks—citing talent and skill sets as the top obstacles—boards have the opportunity to challenge how the organization’s talent strategy is enabling the transformation of enterprise risk management (ERM). Similar views also exist within the financial services industry, where 42% of directors believe that their firms are only somewhat effective in managing atypical or emerging risks.

Risk Reporting

Even with significant changes made to reporting over the last decade, fewer than 20% of board members are extremely confident in risk reporting from management on a range of significant issues, including business megatrends, new and emerging business models and culture, and conduct-related risks, and only 21% are very satisfied with the accuracy, completeness and breadth of the risk reports they do receive. Among financial services board members, confidence in the quality of reporting varies by risk type, with directors having more confidence in risk reporting related to top or emerging risks (65%) and changes to the firm’s risk profile and management actions to address those changes (60%). Similar to other board members, directors in the finance sector are not as confident in risk reporting pertaining to new and emerging competitors (54%) and culture-related risks (51%).

However, boards also play a role in communicating their reporting requirements to management, and only 26% strongly agree that they have done so.

Board’s Role in ERM

While board members across the spectrum are fairly confident in how they oversee risk, they are still requesting more time on the agenda to discuss emerging risks and trends and setting aside time to discuss scenarios that could threaten the organization’s business model.

The survey results also suggest the need to upskill boards, since only 64% of board members believe their composition and represented skill sets are adequate for overseeing the organization’s risk management. Within the financial services industry, however, board members hold a different view, since nearly three-quarters (74%) strongly or somewhat agree that their board composition and skill sets provide for adequate oversight.

Ways to Advance Board Oversight of Risk 

Given the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on organizations across all industries, building risk resiliency is even more important. EY experts recommend that boards should work with management to advance their risk oversight by:

  • Reprioritizing top risks to keep pace with market disruption – encourage stronger alignment and more rigorous oversight of key emerging risks
  • Turning risk into strategic value – look at “upside” opportunities that risks can provide to achieve performance management goals and strategy objectives by leveraging external data sources in risk identification and improving monitoring of risk responses.
  • Redefining risk reporting to reflect the dynamic risk landscape – adjust risk reporting to reflect the new risk landscape, including new reporting on emerging risks, and ask for more predictive insights
  • Evolving the board’s role in ERM – focus on emerging and existential risks on the board agenda, and utilize external experts to upskill the board, advise on specialized risks, and stay on top of megatrends to identify risks and uncover opportunities


Note to Editors

About the survey

This research for this global survey was conducted in October and November 2019. There were 500 participants, of which 81% were non-executive directors, and the remainder were CEOs. The participants were from a range of sectors, and spanned the globe, including the Americas (34% of the participants); Asia-Pacific (32%); and Europe, Middle East, India and Africa (34%)

In addition to an overall survey report, a separate report on the financial services industry has also been published (99 of the survey participants were from this industry).

About EY

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

EY refers to the global organization, and may refer to one or more, of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited, a UK company limited by guarantee, does not provide services to clients. Information about how EY collects and uses personal data and a description of the rights individuals have under data protection legislation are available via For more information about our organization, please visit

This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young LLP, a member firm of EY serving clients in the US.