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Northern Ireland business chiefs confident of growth despite huge post-Brexit challenges

By Michelle Weir

More than 90% of Northern Ireland business leaders are confident their companies will grow over the next three years, despite facing challenges from the threat of cyber attacks and Brexit, according a new survey.

The KPMG Global CEO Outlook, which quizzed Northern Ireland chief executives and others around the world, identified a “pragmatic group of leaders who are determined to put strategies in motion to overcome these growing pains and to personally drive digital transformation and the transition of the workforce for the digital age”.

John Hansen, a partner in charge at KPMG in Northern Ireland, said: “Northern Ireland’s chief executives are driving their businesses forward at a time of great change.

“Our survey shows they are having to be agile in order to meet the challenges posed in an ever-changing environment where new threats are emerging all the time.

“With those challenges comes opportunity, and by exhibiting the fortitude, resilience and innovation with which they have become known for, Northern Ireland companies will be able to thrive in the run-up to and after Brexit.”

The survey found 92% of chief executives in Northern Ireland were confident about their company’s growth prospects in the next three years.

However, the report — which surveyed 1,300 bosses across many of the world’s largest and most successful businesses — showed that expectations for business growth in Northern Ireland are low.

Most local respondents predicted an uplift of under 2% over the next three years, with the remaining 16% expecting growth of 2% and 5%. In the Republic, those figures are 72% and 24% respectively, with 4% of chief executives expecting growth of 5% or more.

On the specific challenges Northern Ireland companies face, almost two-thirds placed operational risk as the biggest worry, followed by cyber security risk and talent risk.

The threat of a return to “territorialism” was only cited as a threat to growth by one-quarter of Northern Ireland chief executives, despite being one of the most important threats for those in the Republic and further afield.

Disruption was welcomed as an opportunity by 92% of bosses in Northern Ireland and, encouragingly, only 8% believed their organisation was struggling to keep pace with the rate of technical innovation in their relevant sector.

The majority (92%) are actively disrupting the sector rather than waiting to be disrupted by others.

Despite the ever-present risk of a cyber attack, the survey revealed Northern Ireland leaders were more confident about identifying and dealing with a cyber attack than those in the Republic.

Two-thirds (68%) of Northern Ireland bosses feel well prepared for a cyber attack and only slightly less (60%) feel able to contain the impact of a cyber attack on their strategic operations.

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