CFOs are optimistic about 2021, with 87% of finance leaders expecting revenues to increase, a turnaround from the 25% who were anticipating the same in September, according to our March 2021 US Pulse Survey. Nearly one-third of those surveyed (32%) see a revenue increase of more than 10%, the highest among the executive groups we surveyed in our most recent US Pulse Survey of business leaders. This outlook for growth aligns with what US CEOs expect — 82% see revenue growth this year, according to our 2021 US CEO Survey.
CFOs also have a rosy outlook more broadly. The majority (81%) are optimistic about the US economic recovery, the global economic recovery (66%) and the US pandemic response (76%), signaling anticipation of an end to the pandemic economy that caused so much devastation. Of all C-suite executives polled in our survey, finance leaders were the most optimistic about all three macroeconomic trends.
Finance leaders see growth opportunities from the digital economy and work-from-home shift, two trends accelerated by the pandemic. This follows where CFOs said they were going to make digital investments in October: optimizing data analytics across the business, automation and moving to the cloud were the top areas of investment to accelerate growth. It’s also about preparing for work beyond COVID-19. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of CFOs say they’ve either invested or plan to invest in new tools to support digital work, and 60% of CFOs say they have already invested or will invest in upskilling and training their workforce on digital tools for remote work — higher than all executives say (62% and 56%, respectively). This digital imperative is recognized across the C-suite leaders we surveyed. US CEOs are also planning to increase long-term investments in digital transformation (84%), with 43% increasing investments by 10% or more.
Even with digital investment plans and opportunities to grow from the pandemic economy and remote work on the horizon, finance leaders also anticipate potential risks this year. One of the biggest concerns is around a lack of talent with technical skills. All C-suite leaders polled in our US Pulse Survey believe tech talent is critical to prospering this year. In fact, after supporting burned-out employees, they say finding this talent is the key to being able to thrive.
Being attuned to your workforce needs, whether it’s attracting and retaining the talent to help drive growth or supporting a weary workforce, is critical to success. Employees were the top stakeholder group CFOs focused on over the past year to build trust. Maintaining that trust is just as important as finance leaders and other executives work to drive growth and help make their companies more agile and resilient.
Policymakers and regulators were lower focus priorities for finance leaders over the past year. Yet CFOs cite a more challenging regulatory environment with a Biden administration, global trade and tax policy, and US-China tensions as the biggest risks for their business model this year. US CEOs are also concerned about potential overregulation and policy uncertainty, though trade is less of a worry.
As the economic and legislative landscape changes after an extraordinarily challenging and unpredictable year, finance leaders have the opportunity to be better business partners across their companies. CFOs should work closely with human resource leaders to better understand workforce issues, like new benefits and resources for employees and how to bring women back and support them in the workforce. They can also work with operations leaders on supply chain agility and other resiliency efforts. And finance leaders can use risk management leaders as a sounding board around risks related to digitization and cyber risks that became more pronounced for many companies during the pandemic.