Business leaders bullish on economic recovery

Appetite for risk is also up, finds research from Aon, as the c-suite reflects on how their businesses fared during the crisis.

More than 18 months into the pandemic, a new survey finds business leaders are bullish on the economic recovery, with more than of them expressing confidence in the economy and a greater appetite for risk.

The research, conducted by professional services firm Aon, is based on an August to September survey of 800 c-suite leaders and senior executives across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. It follows an Aon study from 2020, which similarly gauged executives’ outlook but did not include any Canadian respondents.

As of last August, 64% of North American executives described the economy as being in “excellent or good” condition. As of September, that percentage has grown to 85%. The majority feel optimistic about the future of the economy, with 92% of North American leaders expecting business conditions to get better over the next year (compared to 82% last year).

The confidence comes in part from executives indicating their businesses have experienced revenue growth over the last 12 months. Whereas 50% said revenue was up in Aug. 2020, 79% now say the same thing, 40% of which estimate revenue is up by double digits. (Only 11% report revenue declines, down from 28% last year).

Preparedness played a large role in helping businesses overcome pandemic disruptions. Among the 38% of leaders who describe themselves as “very prepared” to deal with the crisis, 55% say they have seen double-digit revenue growth.

However, Aon notes that it’s possible the c-suite is exhibiting a “confidence bias,” since there appears to be a disconnect between the c-level leadership setting the strategy and those executing it on the ground. Only 12% of c-Suite respondents felt their company was unprepared for the pandemic, compared to 22% of senior executives.

The number of leaders who say COVID-19 exposed new risks and vulnerabilities requiring a significant change in how they think about the future has grown slightly between the time of the two surveys, from 67% last year to 70% today. Despite managing through the pandemic, few feel content to stay the course.

Across the business sector, 82% of those who feel their company is stronger than before the pandemic are more willing to take risks, while 74% of those who believe their company is now weaker say the same.

“We are at an inflection point where businesses are not only focused on overcoming the current challenges we are facing, but shifting to think about other long-tail risks and how to prepare for them,” said Aon CEO Greg Case in a release accompanying the findings. “As leaders look at the future of their businesses in an increasingly volatile world, the pandemic has reshaped their views of risk and sharpened the importance of making better decisions.”