What CFOs Are Expecting as the Economy Begins to Reopen

PwC surveyed more than 300 U.S. finance leaders to gauge sentiment

A hand on a doorknob
Chief financial officers say that they're prioritizing worker safety in back-to-work playbooks. Getty Images

Key insight:

As states make plans to reopen their economies, U.S. finance leaders’ Covid-19 concerns are high, but stabilizing, according to a new survey by accounting and analytics firm PwC—the third it has conducted since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Based on the responses of more than 300 chief financial officers, PwC reports that business perspectives on what’s required to shift back out of crisis mode are solidifying, with a focus on employee health. While 72% of respondents expect the pandemic to have a “significant impact” on their business operations, that’s down from 74% two weeks ago.

CFOs expect some things to change permanently as a result of the pandemic. Around half of respondents expect remote work to become the norm for certain roles, with a quarter of respondents expecting to decrease their real estate footprint through partial openings of offices or retail locations.

To keep employees safer, 77% are planning to increase measures like testing in the workplace. More than half, 65%, are planning to reconfigure workspaces to promote social distancing, and 50% also expect an increased demand for sick leave and other worker protections. The report recommended implementing tools like workforce location tracking and contact tracing to identify exposure risks.

Nearly half of respondents expect it to take more than three months to get back to 'business as usual' if the pandemic ended today.

The survey showed that cost pressures are continuing to increase. While 80% of respondents said they’re expecting a decrease in profits and/or revenue this year as a result of Covid-19, more than half said that they expect that decrease to be more than 10%. One-third are expecting layoffs, up from 26% two weeks ago, and 70% are considering deferring or canceling planned investments.

Expectations for recovery time has also shifted in the last two weeks. Nearly half of the CFOs surveyed (48%) are expecting a full recovery to take more than three months, up from 39% during the week of April 8.

A large majority of CFOs are implementing cost containment strategies to mitigate the impacts of Covid-19.

The survey also asked respondents to rank their top three concerns related to Covid-19, which showed a significant increase over the past two weeks among consumer market CFOs related to consumer confidence. During the last survey, 40% of consumer market CFOs ranked consumer confidence in their top three concerns, and in the most recent survey that number jumped to 66%.

For consumer market CFOs, trends in consumer confidence “translate almost directly to revenues,” according to the report, “with 32% projecting an adverse impact on revenue and/or profit of at least 25% in 2020, compared with 24% of respondents across all industries.”

@klundster kathryn.lundstrom@adweek.com Kathryn Lundstrom is Adweek's breaking news reporter based in Austin.