While other executives hope to continue the spring season's cost cuts, CFOs are bullish to return to spending, Brainyard NetSuite's Fall 2020 State of the CFO Role Survey, released Monday, found.
As business inches towards normality, CFOs are particularly invigorated, with 54% of them logging more than 50 hours per week. Fifty-two percent of the non-finance leaders rated their companies' CFOs' pandemic management as "very good."
CFOs have gone from "spending watchdog to spending champion" over the course of 2020, Brainyard said, as the pandemic has become slightly more manageable.
In March, some CFOs prioritized spending cuts, with the intention of extending cash runways as far as possible, Brainyard editor and survey author Art Wittman wrote, adding staffing and marketing were the first to go.
Now, those same CFOs are reconsidering whether that was the right call. In industries that weren't completely shut down, it proved smarter to wait and see if the competition would cut deeply; if they did, it would leave fertile ground for stealing market share, Wittman said.
"What surprised me is that CFOs' colleagues are really looking to them to offer strategic advice on growth and the future of the business," Wittman told CFO Dive. "They rated the CFO's knowledge of the business higher than their financial skills."
Non-finance executives really want strategic input from their CFOs, Wittman said. "KPIs are cool; telling us what to do about them is even cooler."
About half of respondents said their companies' tech use, new customer acquisition, operations and lead generation had all changed substantially or completely this year in response to the pandemic.
"Those prescient enough to see e-commerce as a way to engage their customers, and were willing to spend on technology to improve the experience, found themselves on the crest of a wave of new sales," Wittman wrote. "It wasn't finance leaders who pushed a wait-and-see attitude, or who were eyeing technology as a way to continue business as usual. It was non-finance leaders who wanted a slower, more surgical approach to managing spending."
The survey revealed CFOs' renewed focus on financial planning and analysis, followed closely by cash flow and scenario planning. And according to the non-finance leader respondents, only 10% of CFOs were solely focused on finance, while 66% had either broad or focused non-finance responsibilities.
As a result of the pandemic, which has required widespread remote work, many finance leaders hesitant towards automation may finally make the switch, the survey report said. Doing so would likely free up large swaths of their time, as well as provide them with access to better data on business operations and the ability to use that data more effectively.
Finance and non-finance leaders alike have said both are a top priority in each of NetSuite's past four quarterly surveys.
"There's a difference between saying what we think we'll do in 2021 versus what we'll actually do," Wittman said. "It's clear the ambition is to get to near-normal spending levels; CFOs have cut about as far as they can right now."
Many businesses see a good recovery path, and are getting out of the save-it-all-at-any-cost mindset, he said. "Even if business is somewhat challenged, don't cut to the point where you're injuring the core business."
Respondents, about two-thirds CFOs and one-third other leaders, were asked about the CFO's job scope, success in the role and competence as they were in each of the previous quarterly surveys, and the results were based on interviews with 120 finance chiefs.