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The top 10 business risks keeping CEOs awake at night

25 October 2019

The top 10 business risks keeping CEOs awake at night

These are challenging times for business leaders, with an uncertain economy linked to political conflict and social instability. A new report from the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Initiative gathered the collective insights of CEOs to identify the top business risks in 2019.

Fiscal crises

Since the 2008-2009 crisis, the global economy has plateaued, and there are signs of an impending recession. During the second quarter of 2019, the world’s seven largest economies all grew at slower rates than in 2018, and executives in every region are expressing concern about this development.


Cybercriminals are growing bolder in their techniques and their ambitions, with a 67% increase in cybersecurity breaches over the past five years. This is a pressing issue in North America and Europe, where the economy is increasingly digitalised, and high-profile breaches have boosted fears of foreign hackers being able to access, and even disable, entire networks.

Unemployment or underemployment

Unemployment is the number one concern in Sub-Saharan Africa, where economic growth has failed to keep pace with the increase in population. Even in stronger economies, automation has led to fewer jobs as opposed to shorter working hours. Combine a fiscal crisis with technological change and this situation could considerably worsen.


Energy price shock

Energy prices have a knock-on effect for every part of business. Shifting subsidies, political disputes and attacks on infrastructure can dramatically influence supplies, as shown by the recent drone attack in Saudi Arabia. Intense investment activity in this sector could exaggerate price spikes and create a painful economic shock.

Failure of national governance

CEOs in Latin America and the Caribbean are among those most worried about failures of governance. Corrupt or unstable governments create economic uncertainty, disrupt business and unsettle employees. These failures can trigger dramatic upheavals such as the recent Chilean riots.

Profound social instability

Economic liberalisation and political change have removed steady support of public services and triggered instability. Some civilians are disengaging from existing social structures while others engage in mass protests, as seen in Hong Kong.


Data fraud or theft

Data fraud has become a significant business concern due to repeated criminal behaviour compounded by limited government response. Gathering sensitive data has created sizable opportunities to target customers, but it has also created damaging opportunities for fraudsters.


Interstate conflict

Violent conflict is an immediate problem in regions such as Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere. CEOs in Europe fear trouble within a weakened EU, while forceful U.S. foreign policy is raising tensions with Iran and China.


Failure of critical infrastructure

Infrastructure failures are a huge concern in Africa and Latin America, where lack of investment has seen fundamental systems become inadequate. It is also a serious problem in North America, where underinvestment in the U.S. and climate change in Canada are putting a massive strain on critical systems.


Asset bubble

From high property prices in Europe to falling values in the Gulf, there are signs the asset bubble may be about to burst. A repeat of the 2008-2009 crisis could devastate property investments and send a ripple of chaos through the wider economy.


Facing the crisis

It can be hard to evaluate all these risks, but with the right skills, CEOs can identify and plan to tackle their top business risks.


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