CFO and finance leaders

Latest findings from PwC’s Pulse Survey

Bracing for recession, CFOs focus on building resilience

Facing the most challenging collision of macroeconomic risks in decades — looming recession, elevated inflation, rising interest rates, geopolitical uncertainty — CFOs are the fog lights guiding their organizations through the storm. Amid all these factors, finance leaders are focused on readying their companies to address the toll of slowing global demand on their bottom line. 

According to our latest PwC Pulse Survey, 70% of CFOs are very concerned about the impact of these macroeconomic conditions on their businesses (versus 56% overall). One-third of finance leaders say they’re dedicating much more time to inflation than they were a year ago, while 36% strongly agree (and another 46% agree) there will be a recession within six months. 

CFOs are concentrating on strategies to help counter inflation, manage costs and scrutinize capital allocations in order to emerge from a downturn in a better and healthier position. They’re also doubling down on scenario planning to better anticipate how the recession may impact the business. Even so, most CFOs believe they can bolster resilience while staying on track to meet long-term growth goals.

Cost containment

In lean times, managing costs is a top priority.

77%

of CFOs are deploying new cost-cutting measures

CFOs contain costs — but not at any price

Serving as the steward of a corporation’s finances means balancing operating costs with strategic investments. With economic pressures mounting, 77% of CFOs are adopting new cost-cutting measures.

Finance leaders are also taking a hard look at pricing, though they recognize they can’t bump up prices indefinitely. More than half (52%) say they’re very concerned that ongoing inflation is eating away at consumer purchasing power. Meanwhile, 76% are renegotiating vendor and supplier contracts as they look for additional ways to rein in costs. 

Our survey also finds that CFOs are using a mix of other tactics, including rethinking capital spending and hedging currencies or raw materials to limit the potential impact of input price fluctuations. 

What you can do 

  • Eliminate nonessential expenses, particularly capital spending that isn’t moving the needle on strategic goals.

  • Evaluate pricing to inform how much, for how long and on what products you can increase prices.

  • Renegotiate vendor and supplier contracts. Those who value your business will try to work with you.


More scenario planning and ultra-selective spending

CFOs are becoming more selective about spending — but they’re not stopping completely.

74%

of CFOs are changing capital spending strategies in response to the current economic climate

Leaner times call for scenario planning, prudent spending 

CFOs who take the long view remain focused on growth while scrutinizing outlays wherever possible and directing their teams to do the same. Some spending will still be required — particularly for investments that are part of the long-term growth strategy and could be difficult to pull back on, such as building new factories or distribution facilities.

While rationalizing expenses, CFOs can lean into more agile, data-driven scenario planning that allows them to model out the potential impacts of key decisions or market events. It seems to be paying off. Most CFOs (74%) say they have balanced price increases with long-term customer demand, and 62% tell us they’ve fine-tuned their compensation strategy in response to increased wage pressures. For finance leaders, who two months ago cited talent acquisition and retention as a serious risk, more so than other executives, some of this balancing may even mean strategic hiring. More than half (57%) of CFOs say in the next 12 to 18 months they plan to hire in specific areas to drive growth. 

What you can do 

  • Vet all spending, assessing whether each investment will propel strategic projects or goals closer to the finish line.

  • Run analyses of multiple scenarios — including the best, worst and gradations in between — to help guide investment and cost-cutting decisions.

  • Examine capital spending strategies and adjust or eliminate where possible.


Balancing inflation costs

CFOs can’t continue to rely on increasing prices to counter inflation.

74%

of CFOs are raising prices selectively in the current environment

CFOs favor price hikes to offset inflation 

CFOs report increasing prices in response to rising inflation. But 74% are doing so selectively, versus 57% who are increasing prices across the board. As the inflationary threat drags on, price increases are becoming a less viable option as consumers start to substitute lower quality items to stretch their paychecks.   

Historically high interest rates create additional challenges for CFOs because borrowing money costs more than it has in decades, which can eat into cash flow and make funding strategic projects more difficult. CFOs are also looking at other solutions — like selling off part of the business — but even those may become a challenge if the recession lasts longer than expected.

This shows the increasingly complex nature of the role of the CFO. Finance leaders have to keep tabs on a huge range of factors to inform decision-making in uncertain times. No wonder CFOs often get promoted to CEO. 

What you can do 

  • Continue to analyze the potential to raise prices selectively, taking into account the likely impact on consumer demand.

  • Closely monitor the areas of the business earmarked for strategic growth, collaborating with C-suite colleagues to adjust budgets and pricing models as needed.


About the survey

Our latest PwC Pulse Survey, fielded October 12 to October 18, 2022, surveyed 657 executives and board members from public and private companies about the current business environment, the risks executives are facing and the impact those risks have on company strategy and growth plans. Of the respondent pool, 91 are CFOs.

Contact us

Kazi Islam

Kazi Islam

Assurance Strategy Leader, PwC US

Christopher Dimuzio

Christopher Dimuzio

Finance Transformation Principal, PwC US

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