Deloitte CFO Signals Survey: Executive Teams Are Largely Focused on Adapting Operations for Near-Term Performance & Evolving Their Businesses for a Post-Crisis Future

Staff Report

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

Key takeaways

Assessments of the North American and European economies fell to historic lows; however, many believe conditions will be better in a year.

Executive teams are primarily focused on responding by maximizing performance during the crisis and preparing to thrive by evolving business models and making fundamental business strategy shifts for the post-crisis future.

CFOs cite historic lows for expected revenue and earnings growth, with domestic hiring growth also falling sharply.

Slightly under half of CFOs say they will resume on-site work as soon as governments allow it.

In a year, 75% of CFOs expect more of their workforce to work remotely and nearly half expect a smaller real estate footprint.

Why it matters to CFOs?
Each quarter, CFO Signals tracks the thinking and actions of CFOs representing some of North America's largest and most influential companies. Since 2010, the report has provided key insights into the business environment, company priorities and expectations, finance priorities and CFOs' personal priorities.

Global economic perceptions have dropped to all-time lows
Perceptions of North America fell drastically, with just 1% of CFOs rating current conditions as good (80% last quarter), but 58% expecting better conditions in a year (up from 35%). Europe's numbers were also down sharply, coming in at 1% and 33%. Perceptions of China's current conditions fell slightly to 9%, and expectations for a year from now rose sharply to 51%.

Optimism around reopening remains distant
CFOs' initial optimism about near-normal operations has faded, with 60% now saying this milestone will not be reached until 2021 or later. CFOs are mostly optimistic regarding their companies' ability to resume on-site work on at least a limited basis. Just under half say they will resume on-site work as soon as governments allow it, while 43% say their efforts to work on-site will be limited by expectations of a fall resurgence.

Remote work expected as next normal
Furthermore, CFOs expect major increases in remote work, automation and cloud computing. In a year, 75% of CFOs expect more of their workforce to work remotely and nearly half expect a smaller real estate footprint.

Leaders taking action to protect their people
Three-fourths say their company can sufficiently manage the risks of on-site work, and most do not expect to provide hazard pay. Additionally, more than 70% say those who can continue to work remotely will have the option. However, to resume near-normal levels of on-site work, 52% say effective on-site testing is necessary, while 35% believe treatments and vaccines are needed. Finally, just over one-third say they are substantially dependent on the reopening of school and day care facilities.

Key quotes
"While CFOs are naturally occupied with addressing the near-term realities of these challenging times, it is encouraging to see widespread recognition that an acceleration in digital transformation will lead to significant opportunities and real benefits for society over the long-term."
- Joe Ucuzoglu, CEO of Deloitte US

"The pandemic's fallout has been both severe and widespread, resulting in a dramatic drop in CFOs' perceptions of global economic activity. This quarter, only 1% of CFOs rated current conditions as good in North America, compared to 80% last quarter. CFOs are cautiously optimistic about reopening, as they work to navigate the future with a remote workforce, and an eye on returning to near normal operational levels in early- to mid-2021."
- Sanford Cockrell III, national managing partner of the US Chief Financial Officer Program, Deloitte LLP

Survey first: companies focus on cost reduction over revenue growth
Companies shifted toward their first collective cost reduction (over revenue growth) focus in survey history, and they doubled down on current geographies (over new ones) and organic growth. Year-over-year growth expectations fell drastically, with each metric hitting a new low and turning negative for the first time. Revenue growth slid from 3.7% to -8.6%; earnings growth fell from 6% to -18.7%. Capital spending slid sharply from an already-low 2.3% to -12.3%.

Capital Markets Assessments and Expectations Have Shifted
Fifty-five percent still say U.S. equity markets are overvalued (down from 83%) despite very sharp market declines. Nearly 30% expect changing FX rates or currency values to impact their business over the next year, and 25% expect a credit crisis. Thirty-one percent expect to purchase distressed assets.