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What will be important to CFOs in 2021?

Six topics that will shape the finance leader agenda

How CFOs are preparing for a changing tax policy landscape

As we head into the last quarter of 2021, CFOs are in a difficult position. They need to prepare their companies for multiple competing policy and regulatory imperatives, but tension in Washington and uncertain timelines are clouding the horizon. 

Whether it’s the bipartisan infrastructure or budget reconciliation bills currently working their way through Congress, debt ceiling negotiations, tax reform proposals or anticipated foreign tax policy shifts, the impact of tax and regulatory updates are at the forefront of every business and strategy conversation. To navigate these uncharted waters, successful CFOs should consider how they can collaborate closely with their tax leaders to anticipate and leverage these activities as a catalyst for their growth agenda.

For more insights on other topics important to CFOs in 2021, see our analysis and resources below.

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What does 2021 look like for today’s CFOs?

Here are six topics that will likely be high on CFOs’ agendas in 2021, based on our PwC Pulse surveys and our roundtable conversations with CFOs across the country. This list offers a starting point of where CFOs can focus in 2021. Click through to learn more about each area.

Taxes, risks and regulation

Leading up to the presidential election, CFOs’ top concern was a corporate tax policy change under a Biden administration, and the election didn’t seem to change their perspectives on risks that might arise with a new administration. Though CFOs are concerned about policy and regulatory risks, many say other risks will be just as pressing, including compliance, third-party disruption, cybersecurity and brand damage.

Looking ahead:

Businesses will want to prepare for proposed changes to tax policy, including a potential increase in the corporate tax rate to 26.5%. However, the need for near-unanimous support of House Democrats and all 50 Democratic senators could limit the scope of any tax legislation. In addition, certain provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are set to expire, and there will likely be continued uncertainty around global tax policy, particularly around international digital taxes being discussed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and G20.

Most CFOs are already putting more resources into tax scenario planning, and they may want to consider partnering with tax leaders to understand the impact of any potential tax proposals that may be enacted by the Biden administration. CFOs will also want to work with other business leaders to assess how President Biden might advance policies through executive orders and agency rulemaking, while also looking to agency appointees for hints on policy shifts.

CFOs can focus on these issues to help prepare their people and themselves for the future. Finance leaders can use this list to understand what’s key to help bring success to the finance function and ultimately the company’s success.

Future of work

CFOs are optimistic about the future, and they’re placing big bets on people and technology as they redefine both the future of work and their future growth agenda. While their early technology investments are paying off in easing the transition to hybrid work, they also recognize that this new model presents its share of challenges for their people.

Looking ahead:

CFOs continue to be concerned about their people and supporting their success in transitioning to a hybrid work model. They’re especially focused on finding ways to preserve corporate culture, create innovation opportunities and encourage mentorship as they look to attract and retain talent. Many are taking steps to allocate resources to both general training and new initiatives like leadership development programs to create a differentiated employee experience.

As they envision the future of work, CFOs can collaborate with CHROs to better understand the complexities of the changing work environment, prioritize investments for new programs and tools to support their people, and elevate the company’s corporate purpose and values to stand out in a highly competitive and quickly changing marketplace.

CFOs can focus on these issues to help prepare their people and themselves for the future. Finance leaders can use this list to understand what’s key to help bring success to the finance function and ultimately the company’s success.

Digital transformation

Digital investments will remain critical to company revenue strategies designed to keep up with changing customer needs. The shift to remote work for many people made it difficult to innovate and collaborate, underscoring the importance of new collaboration tools and workforce models.

Looking ahead:

Technology is driving business transformation, and investing in transformation continues to be a top priority for CFOs, for both top-line growth and operating efficiencies. They’re placing bets on data analytics, automation, cloud and customer transformation. CFOs see tech spending driving growth with agile sprints that can be done in a quarter instead of in 12 months. The goals: to better serve customers, have leaner operations, get digital right and be more resilient for any disruptions in the future.

Learn more about digital transformation:

CFOs can focus on these issues to help prepare their people and themselves for the future. Finance leaders can use this list to understand what’s key to help bring success to the finance function and ultimately the company’s success.

Purpose and ESG

The pandemic presented companies with an opportunity to showcase their purpose — what they stand for and what their values are, and how they took care of their employees and communities. Creating value for a broad group of stakeholders, including investors, employees, customers and suppliers, while continuing to manage broader societal obligations is now more important than ever for companies. And environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues will continue to be high on the list of priorities for investors, employees and the C-suite alike.

Looking ahead:

This connection between business and society is growing. Employees — new recruits and long-tenured alike — are looking for companies that value purpose, and consumers want to believe in a company. Leading with purpose can distinguish one company from another, helping with recruitment and retention and attracting customers and building loyalty. ESG and human capital management disclosures can help improve transparency with investors and all stakeholders, though CFOs should expect more pressure around disclosures broadly and progress on their ESG efforts. Still, CFOs can use ESG as a springboard for collaboration with leaders in operations, human resources, tax and risk, as well as with the CEO.

CFOs can focus on these issues to help prepare their people and themselves for the future. Finance leaders can use this list to understand what’s key to help bring success to the finance function and ultimately the company’s success.

Return to growth

A year after COVID-19 shut down the global economy, CFOs’ outlook on revenue and growth has turned around. After a dismal view last March, with no CFOs expecting any increase in revenue at all, things started to pick up as companies got a better handle on the pandemic and its impact on their business. The decisions CFOs made to unlock new revenue streams in the early months of the pandemic helped their companies survive, and by October, 28% of CFOs said they expected an increase in revenue in the next 12 months. Fast forward to March of 2021, and three times as many CFOs (87%) said they expect an increase in revenue.

Looking ahead:

CFOs will continue to focus on rebuilding revenue, customer strategies and scenario planning as they look to emerge stronger. They’ll keep making changes to products and services, pricing strategies and customer segments to increase revenue. They will also invest in data analytics, cloud technologies and automation to help spur growth and improve efficiencies.

CFOs can focus on these issues to help prepare their people and themselves for the future. Finance leaders can use this list to understand what’s key to help bring success to the finance function and ultimately the company’s success.

Diversity and inclusion

The social tension and unrest that were defining elements of 2020 helped spark many US company leaders to do more to better support their employees and communities. In recent months, businesses have ramped up their diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives.

Looking ahead:

Many business leaders, including CFOs, are planning to help bridge the divide underscored by the election. Around half of CFOs say they are increasing diversity and inclusion training for employees and creating new opportunities for them to have conversations about difficult social issues. Tolerance and unity help improve productivity and innovation while also helping build trust and transparency with employees and other stakeholders alike. While a D&I journey may be difficult to take on, such efforts are beneficial—to companies and to society broadly—and it’s the right thing to do.

CFOs can focus on these issues to help prepare their people and themselves for the future. Finance leaders can use this list to understand what’s key to help bring success to the finance function and ultimately the company’s success.

PwC Pulse Surveys

Real-time surveys. Business insights.

To view data and insights from PwC Pulse Surveys, please see below.

Pulse Surveys homepage

August 2021 - US Pulse Survey: Next in work

March 2021 - US Pulse Survey of C-suite executives

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J.C. Lapierre

J.C. Lapierre

Chief Strategy and Communications Officer, PwC US

Neil Dhar

Neil Dhar

Vice Chair and Consulting Solutions Co-Leader, PwC US

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