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Gartner has published the results from its 2Q20 Emerging Risks Monitor Report, which shows that senior executives see renewed outbreaks of the COVID-19 pandemic as their top emerging risk.

Gartner surveyed 131 senior executives across industries and geographies on the top concerns facing their businesses with results showing that the ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 topped executives’ concerns, even as many regions are struggling with the first wave of the virus. Concerns related to the financial implications of the pandemic were present throughout the top 10, with executives in particular expressing concerns about their organizations’ new working conditions and strategic responses to the crisis:

Top Five Risks by Overall Risk Score: 2Q19-1Q20







Digitalization Misconceptions

Strategic Assumptions

Strategic Assumptions

The Second Wave


Lagging Digitalization

Cyber-Physical Convergence

Cyber-Physical Convergence

The New Working Model


Strategic Assumptions

Extreme Weather Events

2020 US Presidential Election

Strategic Corrections


Data Localization

Data Localization

Data Localization

2020 US Presidential Election


U.S.-China Trade Talks

U.S.-China Trade Talks

Macroeconomic Stagnation

US/China Trade Talks

Source: Gartner (July 2020)

“The concerns about a second wave of the pandemic reveal the psychological fragility of most business leaders heading into summer,” said Matt Shinkman, vice president with the Gartner Risk and Audit Practice. “Executives have been grappling with reopening strategies, complicated by different stages of the coronavirus in different regions. It’s now becoming clear that a ‘re-exit plan’ will also be a required part of any such strategy.”

While external factors have played an unusually large role in shaping senior executives’ views about risk since the start of the year, it’s notable that two of the top three risks highlighted by executives in 2Q20 were internally focused: developing an effective new working model for employees and customers, and responding strategically to new conditions created by the pandemic.

Regarding the two internal risks related to the pandemic, Gartner recommends the following:

  • The New Working Model – while executive teams continue to grapple with the requirements of reopening, such as ensuring adequate social distancing measures, transforming workplaces and managing staggered employee schedules, Mr. Shinkman said that employees and customers will also need psychological guidance and encouragement with how to act in this new environment. Risk managers are collaborating across functions to work holistically on these issues while also encouraging scenario planning to reflect the unsettled nature of the ongoing pandemic.
  • Strategic Corrections – as many organizations move from a pure survival posture to attempting to seek a more effective position in the new operating climate, the pitfalls of overcorrecting or not taking into account regional differences in working conditions could hobble any attempt at a robust recovery. Mr. Shinkman noted an opportunity for risk leaders to complement the work of strategy and finance colleagues by identifying the leading indicators that matter both from a defensive and opportunistic point of view.

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