Finance leaders are mostly confident in their companies' recovery and optimistic towards the wider U.S. economy, according to a Deloitte survey of 128 North American CFOs. More than a third have already returned to "near-normal operations."
Twenty-nine percent called the economy "good" in the first quarter, compared to 18% in the fourth quarter of 2020. Deloitte conducts the CFO Signals Survey every quarter. Nearly seven in 10 CFOs (67%) reported being "somewhat" or "significantly" more optimistic than they were three months ago.
One area CFOs don't see fully rebounding: travel. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of CFOs expect travel expenses post-pandemic to be 50% to 80% of pre-pandemic levels, and more than a third (36%) expect the expenses to drop to 60% or less than pre-pandemic levels.
While CFOs vary widely on remote work expectations, about one-third (31%) expect most of their finance staff to work four or more days on site post-pandemic; 45% expect three days.
Even so, over three quarters (76%) of CFOs expect the bulk of their finance work to be completed remotely after the pandemic. Additionally, 24% expect to have fewer internal finance workers, with 21% expecting to outsource finance services more so than pre-pandemic.
As millions of Americans receive vaccines and coronavirus cases drop, CFOs have expressed greater confidence in their organizations' recovery. The proportion of CFOs optimistic towards their company's prospects now, as compared to three months ago, jumped from +46 to +64, with 67% expressing rising optimism and just 3% citing falling optimism.
Ultimately, however, the pandemic has put more on CFOs' plates, nearly all the respondents, who lead both public and private companies, said.
The pandemic also highlighted some serious shortcomings; 63% of CFOs named FP&A processes as the area in which their companies most need improvements, followed by management reporting (46%) and controllership (25%).
To strengthen their finance teams for a post-pandemic world, CFOs unanimously prioritize data analytics and forecasting to strengthen their finance teams, followed by technology, digital and automation investments.
Despite the hectic year, CFOs remain largely undaunted by risk. Nearly two-thirds (66%) reported an increased appetite for greater risk-taking, compared to 49% in the 4Q20 survey, "perhaps in the search for growth in a post-pandemic environment."
As for their risk-based concerns, CFOs cited the well-being of their talent, the ongoing pandemic, the health of the economy, and regulatory developments.
The quarterly survey, published Thursday, was conducted in mid-February 2021.