Generative AI tops global CEOs’ investment list

Generative AI is the top investment priority for 70 per cent of company leaders across the globe, according to new research from KPMG.

KPMG International’s annual CEO Outlook survey of 1325 business leaders, including 50 from Australia, showed as tools like ChatGPT gain increasing prominence, global CEOs increasingly recognise generative AI’s potential to help their businesses grow.

“Generative AI is an increasingly hot topic in boardrooms, with leaders looking to better understand its potential and how to implement this technology in their business strategies,” KPMG Global Chief Digital Officer Lisa Heneghan said.

“The challenge is spending the money in the right places and having the right skills to fully exploit the opportunities it presents.”

The survey, which was conducted between August 15 and September 15, revealed 70 per cent of CEOs globally saw generative AI as the number one investment priority, as a way to secure a competitive advantage for the future.

Most (52 per cent) also expect to see a return on their investment in three to five years, with 22 per cent citing increased profitability as the top benefit of implementing generative AI.

However only 56 per cent of Australian CEOs view generative AI as the top investment priority, as they expect to see pay-back from investment in this area taking longer than their overseas counterparts.

KPMG Australia CEO Andrew Yates said he was not shocked to see generative AI at the top of the global list.

“I am not surprised to see generative AI at the top of the investment priorities for CEOs given its vast potential to transform business processes, but I am encouraged to see that business leaders do not view it as a threat to their employees but, on the contrary, as a driver of job creation,” he said.

However, two-thirds of Australian CEOs believe there are ethical challenges in using AI, while 62 per cent were concerned about a lack of regulation and cost of implementation. 

“Companies in many sectors are looking to establish a Responsible AI Framework to help them deal with the ethical challenges around the use of AI, while also taking advantage of the technology advances,” Mr Yates said.

Most CEOs, 82 per cent globally and 69 per cent Australian, said AI could both help fight cyber threats and provide new attack strategies for adversaries. 

Some 41 per cent of Australian CEOs felt their companies were not prepared for a cyber attack, compared to 20 per cent of CEOs globally.

Looking at the big picture, the report showed most CEOs were confident in their businesses’ growth prospects over the next three years, despite holding concerns about interest rates and cost of living. 

Just under 80 per cent of local and international leaders were optimistic on the short-medium-term outlook, although a similar number said continuing high interest rates and tight monetary policy could prolong a downturn.

Australian CEOs were slightly more bullish than their overseas counterparts, with 26 per cent predicting growth of over 5 per cent, while 8 per cent foresaw growth of between 10-20 per cent. 

A higher proportion, 22 per cent, of Australian CEOs also predicted possible job losses, of up to 5 per cent, over the next three years compared with only 8 per cent globally. 

Fewer local CEOs (64 per cent) were optimistic about their country’s own economy than overseas (78 per cent).

Australian CEOs view cyber crime/insecurity as the biggest threat to their companies (84 per cent), followed by cost of living (82 per cent), trade regulation (74 per cent) and disruptive technology (70 per cent). 

Talent slipped down the list from recent years, with only 58 per cent saying talent issues would impact growth over the next three years, compared with 68 per cent globally.

Just over half (54 per cent) of Australian leaders mentioned natural disasters and extreme weather events, but there was less concern in Australia than globally about failure to adapt to climate change (38 per cent compared to 55 per cent).

“It is encouraging to see business leaders both here and overseas more confident than last year, when we were still emerging fully from the pandemic,” Mr Yates said.

“There is clearly some concern about inflation and interest rates dampening prospects but overall, the figures are positive.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.