CFO Confidence is on the Rise

A new survey from Grant Thornton, a provider of audit and assurance, tax and advisory services, revealed that in Q4/23, CFOs had dramatically higher expectations compared to previous quarters. In fact, the majority of CFOs in the survey said they were confident in their ability to meet business goals related to growth, cost control, supply chain and labor needs.

The survey, which polled 241 senior finance executives, revealed that supply chain expectations experienced a significant upswing last quarter, as two-thirds (67%) of CFOs said they were confident their business could meet supply chain needs. That’s an increase of 22 percentage points over the 45% who reported confidence in their supply chains in the previous quarter and the highest mark reported since the survey began asking the question in Q4/21.

CFOs were also asked about their labor needs heading into a new year, with 57% percent saying they were confident that they could meet their labor needs, up from 49% in the third quarter. This was also an all-time high since the question’s inception in Q4/21.

With confidence in so many vital areas surging, the portion of respondents predicting revenue increases rose to 71%, up from 66% the previous quarter — another sign that CFOs are optimistic about the future.

“Despite a turbulent economy and the current shipping crisis in the Red Sea, CFOs seem confident in their supply chain and in their growth projections,” Paul Melville, national managing principal of CFO advisory at Grant Thornton, said. “It’s also clear that CFOs feel they can actually deliver on their growth projections.”

Tax Technology Presents Opportunities

Grant Thornton’s Q4/23 CFO survey also revealed that many finance leaders have an opportunity to improve their tax processes — and enhance their business’ performance — by implementing more technology and a strategic tax plan. Although 67% of CFOs said the technology in their tax functions is effective, one-third (33%) are working with inadequate technology tools.

“Organizations that invest in smarter tax technology can enable better decision-making and also move specialists into more strategic roles,” Jim Wittmer, national managing partner of tax growth at Grant Thornton, said. “By utilizing advanced technologies, CFOs can not only position their companies for growth, but they can also have their employees focused on more strategic priorities.”

The Q4/23 survey also confirmed that artificial intelligence is emerging as a go-to technology in tax. When asked about the integration of AI in their tax departments, 30% of CFOs said they have implemented AI and another 30% said they are planning AI adoption within the next 12 months.

Beyond AI, there were also gaps in other technology integrations. According to the survey, the following technologies have been adopted by substantially less than 50% of tax departments: data analytics software (41%), tax automation (38%), tax compliance software (38%), tax provision software (31%) and business intelligence/visualization tools (29%).

Confidence In Cost Control

Although some economists are still predicting a mild recession in 2024, there were numerous macroeconomic reasons for optimism by the end of 2023. For example, the S&P 500 rose 24% in 2023. That could explain why 50% of CFOs surveyed said they were optimistic about the U.S. economy. That figure also outnumbered those who said they were pessimistic about the U.S. economy (24%) by about two to one.

What’s more, 56% of CFOs said they were confident in their ability to control their costs in this environment, a rise of 10 percentage points over the previous quarter. The portion of CFOs who ranked cost optimization as one of their top two areas of focus fell nine percentage points from the previous quarter to 36% — the lowest mark recorded in survey history.

“CFOs are becoming increasingly confident in their ability to meet demand, manage costs and hit on some growth targets for the first time in two years,” Melville said.

Despite their ability to control costs, however, 45% of respondents reported potential cost cuts in human capital expenses related to headcount and compensation levels. That was up from 32% in the previous quarter.

Tax Leaders Need a Seat at the Table

Changes built into the federal tax code are restricting the ability of companies to deduct interest from their debt. Plus, with key pieces of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Pillar 2 global minimum tax regime taking effect in 2024, many multinational companies will be impacted. Those changes could be why 68% of CFOs surveyed said they expect their tax liability to grow in the next 12 months.

Despite these concerns, a substantial number of CFOs are not making strategic use of their tax departments. In fact, 39% of finance leaders said their tax leader is involved only somewhat, a little or not at all in strategic conversations with the C-suite of their organization.

What’s more, 37% of respondents said their tax function is either compliance-only or just slightly strategic. These numbers indicate that in the year ahead, there may be opportunities to include tax leaders in strategic cash management discussions.

“Often there’s an opportunity in tax planning for companies to accelerate the achievement of their strategic objectives,” Wittmer said. “In order for this to not be an afterthought, tax leaders should have a seat at the table to help ensure the company doesn’t have gaps in what it is achieving compared to its competition.”

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Terry Mulreany
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