Deloitte Survey: 61% of CFOs Expect Near-Normal Operations to Return in 2021 or Beyond

Deloitte released the results of its Q2/20 edition of its CFO Signals Survey. Participating CFOs represent diversified, large companies averaging over $10B in annual revenue.

Key Takeaways:

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.

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.

“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,” said 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,” said Sanford Cockrell III, national managing partner of the US Chief Financial Officer Program, Deloitte LLP

To see additional results from Deloitte’s Q2/20 CFO Signals survey, download a copy.

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 Deloitte CFO Signals survey for the third quarter of 2019 was conducted during the period opening May 4, 2020 and ending May 8, 2020. A total of 156 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 for public sector entities.

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