For CFOs, Optimism Soars, Talent Remains Top Concern

Deloitte’s quarterly CFO Signals report shows optimism regarding the health and trajectory of the North American, Chinese, and European economies hit survey highs, while talent concerns again top CFOs’ list of internal risks.


CFOs’ assessments of the North American economy rose sharply in the first quarter of 2017 and remained very strong throughout the year. This quarter’s assessments got even stronger, with nearly 90 percent of CFOs rating current conditions as good, well up from 74 percent last quarter and a new survey high by a wide margin.

“It’s truly far and wide the most optimistic we’ve ever seen,” said Sandy Cockrell, national managing partner and global leader of Deloitte’s CFO Program. “And while that may seem surprising – tax reform and views of the economies have served as the buoy that is boosting the outlook of CFOs. Nearly all CFOs – 93 percent – are investing tax savings in core business functions. Consumer and business spending, as well as exports are contributing factors. Growth expectations for revenue, earnings, capex, and hiring all rose to multi-year highs as well. Own company optimism as a result, too, has gone up tremendously.”

Perceptions of Europe’s current state and trajectory both hit new survey highs this quarter. Fifty-five percent of CFOs now say current conditions are good, and 51 percent expect better conditions in a year—both metrics up sharply from last quarter’s survey highs of 35 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Perceptions of China’s economy also rose to new survey highs this quarter, with 50 percent of CFOs say current conditions are good (up from 49 percent), and 37 percent expect better conditions in a year (down from 41 percent). 

Talent concerns have topped CFOs’ list of internal risks for many quarters. This quarter, as CFOs claimed rapidly growing struggles to execute on initiatives supporting their growth strategies, their focus on talent acquisition, quality, and retention further intensified.

Anticipating higher post-tax-reform investment, CFOs voice very strong internal concerns about securing the talent they need.  “What we’re hearing from CFOs is that there is a challenge with attracting and retaining key talent they need,” said Cockrell. “This has been a persistent survey finding and even more pronounced this quarter, with an intensified focus on talent acquisition, quality, and retention. As technology is increasingly playing a more central role for companies across the board, the finance function is no exception. But CFOs are competing for the same skillsets that are for technology jobs that are sometimes more attractive on the surface, so attracting talent is a real concernIt’s no wonder that 31 percent expect to increase hiring and 38 percent expect to raise wages, particularly in the services sector. Furthermore, 55 percent expect to use repatriated earnings to hire new employees, 43 percent will raise wages, and 23 percent will pay one-time bonuses.”

Cockrell has seen the CFO role shift dramatically over the last several years from number cruncher to strategist. “CFOs are increasingly being called upon to act as strategists and catalysts in their organizations, and the traditional finance skillsets are being redefined by the need for talent to be tech savvy moving into the future. As technology permeates practically every business function, an understanding of which skills will be most important in the future is key. Our Deloitte 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report found that as technologies eliminate routine tasks and complement the human workforce, executives are placing a higher premium on essential human skills such as complex problem solving (63 percent), cognitive abilities (55 percent), and social skills (52 percent). These will be key skillsets going forward.”