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Business Leaders Optimistic

  • CFOs show greater optimism for their organizations’ financial prospects, with 67% reporting they are somewhat or significantly more optimistic compared to three months ago.
  • More than half of CFOs (54%) report having higher demands from their executive/leadership teams since the beginning of the pandemic, while 37% say they have more work/volume within the pre-pandemic areas of their functional responsibility.
  • More than one-third (36%) of CFOs anticipate the percentage of their post-pandemic travel expenses to fall to 60% or less than pre-pandemic levels.
  • Less than one-fifth (18%) of CFOs expect to require all employees or employees in some functional areas/roles to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before returning to on-site work (except those with a medical/religious or other reason).
  • CFOs’ expectations for the majority of their finance staff to work on-site post-pandemic reveal a hybrid approach.

Why it matters to CFOs?
Each quarter, CFO Signals tracks the thinking and actions of leading CFOs representing North America’s largest and most influential companies. Since 2010, the survey has provided key insights into the business environment; company priorities and expectations; finance priorities; and CFOs’ personal priorities. Participating CFOs represent diversified, large companies. More than a quarter of respondents reported revenue in excess of $10 billion.

Economic outlook
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines appears to have buoyed CFOs’ views on the North American and Chinese economies, and China’s ongoing reopening may have added to the increased positivity. In the latest quarterly CFO Signals survey, CFOs’ assessments of North America’s economy rose, with 29% citing it as good now and 73% as better in the next year. The percentage of CFOs viewing Europe’s current conditions as good also inched up from 5% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 7%, while the percentage of those expecting improvement in a year fell slightly from 37% to 36%. Regarding China’s economy, 57% of CFOs cite current conditions as good, and 64% expect they will be better in a year.

Capital markets
More than three-fourths (83%) of CFOs consider the equity markets overvalued; 2% see them as undervalued. On debt financing, 91% of CFOs view it as attractive, while 55% say the same for equity financing.

Risk-taking and risk concerns
Some 66% of CFOs think this is a good time to take on greater risk, up from 49% in the fourth quarter of 2020, and a survey high. Internal risks cited by CFOs include a concern for the well-being and retention of talent, strategy execution and growth, as well as cost containment. Among the top external risks, CFOs cited ongoing concerns over the pandemic and timing of reopening, potential regulatory changes, the health of the economy, and cyberthreats.  

Own-company sentiment
Compared to three months ago, more than half of CFOs (57%) feel somewhat more optimistic about their companies’ financial prospects, and 10% are significantly more optimistic. Only 3% are somewhat or significantly less optimistic, while the remainder see their companies’ financial prospects as broadly unchanged.

Operating levels
More than one-third (37%) of CFOs say their company is already at/above pre-crisis (or near normal) operating levels, but for 10%, recovery is significantly delayed. These results show some improvement from the fourth quarter 2020 survey when just 18% of CFOs said they were already at/above their pre-crisis operating levels or would be by the end of 2020. Looking ahead, 2% and 3% of CFOs expect to return to near-normal operating levels in the first quarter of 2021 and the second quarter of 2021, respectively. 

Key quote
“Overall, we are seeing optimism from CFOs and an expectation that the economy will continue strengthening as society emerges from the pandemic. The lasting impact that the past year has had on business is becoming clearer as organizations shift to new ways of working, and new ways of engaging with customers, enabled by the acceleration of digital transformation.”

–  Joe Ucuzoglu, Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte US

“After a year of upheaval, we are seeing a significant uptick in CFO confidence this quarter regarding both macro-economic trends and individual company performance. More than one-third of CFOs indicated their companies are operating at or above pre-crisis levels, an encouraging sign compared to prior surveys. Still, a large percentage project it will take longer, 10% as far out as third quarter of 2022 or later. And while COVID-19 cases are falling and progress is being made on vaccine deployment, CFOs remain highly concerned about the well-being of their talent and potential burnout.”

– Steve Gallucci, national managing partner, U.S. Chief Financial Officer Program, Deloitte LLP

Vaccination requirements
Less than one-fifth (18%) of CFOs expect to require all employees or employees in some functional areas/roles to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in order to return to on-site work (with the exception of those with a medical/religious or other reason). In addition, 41% of CFOs do not expect a COVID-19 vaccination to be required for any of their employees to return to work on-site. 

Post-pandemic travel
Eighty-six percent of CFOs expect their post-pandemic travel expenses, as a percentage of their pre-pandemic levels, to be less than 81%. That figure includes 60% of CFOs who expect their post-pandemic travel expenses to be less than 71% of their pre-pandemic levels. Breaking it down further: More than one-third (36%) of CFOs anticipate their post-pandemic travel expenses to fall to 60% or less than their pre-pandemic levels. 

Finance operations
Less than one-third (31%) of CFOs expect the majority of their finance staff to work four or more days on-site post-pandemic, and 45% expect the on-site work week to be three days. While results vary by industry, some industries appear to have similar expectations for on-site work. As for the functions they would most like to improve, CFOs overwhelmingly cite financial planning and analysis (63%) and management reporting (46%). Data analytics and forecasting top the areas of expertise CFOs seek to strengthen their finance teams.

Pandemic’s impact on the scope of the CFO’s role 
More than half of CFOs (54%) report having higher demands from their executive/leadership teams since the beginning of the pandemic, while 37% say they have more work/volume within the pre-pandemic areas of their functional responsibility. More than one-quarter (26%) report having broader functional responsibility than pre-pandemic (e.g., more groups reporting to them).

Each quarter, CFO Signals tracks the thinking and actions of CFOs representing many of North America’s largest and most influential organizations. This report summarizes CFOs’ opinions in four areas: business environment, company priorities and expectations, finance priorities, and CFOs’ personal priorities.

The CFO Signals survey for the first quarter of 2021 was conducted during the period opening Feb. 8, 2021 and ending Feb. 19, 2021. A total of 128 CFOs responded. This survey seeks responses from client CFOs across the United States, Canada and Mexico. All respondents are CFOs from the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The vast majority are from companies with more than $1 billion in annual revenue. Participation is open to all industries except public sector entities.

To see additional results from Deloitte’s first-quarter 2021 CFO Signals survey, download a copy at http://www.deloitte.com/us/cfosignals2021Q1

For more information about Deloitte CFO Signals, or to inquire about participating in the survey, please contact [email protected].

About Deloitte
Deloitte provides industry-leading audit, consulting, tax and advisory services to many of the world’s most admired brands, including nearly 90% of the Fortune 500® and more than 7,000 private companies. Our people come together for the greater good and work across the industry sectors that drive and shape today’s marketplace — delivering measurable and lasting results that help reinforce public trust in our capital markets, inspire clients to see challenges as opportunities to transform and thrive, and help lead the way toward a stronger economy and a healthier society. Deloitte is proud to be part of the largest global professional services network serving our clients in the markets that are most important to them. Building on more than 175 years of service, our network of member firms spans more than 150 countries and territories. Learn how Deloitte’s more than 330,000 people worldwide connect for impact at www.deloitte.com.

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S. Jack Heffernan Ph.D. Economist at Knightsbridge holds a Ph.D. in Economics and brings with him over 25 years of trading experience in Asia and hands on experience in Venture Capital, he has been involved in several start ups that have seen market capitalization over $500m and 1 that reach a peak market cap of $15b. He has managed and overseen start ups in Crypto, Mining, Shipping, Technology and Financial Services.