Survey: CFOs More Upbeat About Economy

A new survey from Chicago-based Grant Thornton (FY22 net revenue of $2.3 billion) revealed that chief financial officers (CFOs) are more optimistic about the U.S. economy than they’ve been in nearly three years.

Grant Thornton’s Q1 2024 CFO survey, which polled 273 senior finance leaders, reported that more than one-third (34%) of CFOs are “very optimistic” about the U.S. economy. This marks an 11-quarter high for the survey. At the same time, 12% of CFOs said they were pessimistic – marking an 11-quarter low.

“The expectation that the Fed may lower interest rates continues to have a positive effect on some of our clients, and obviously that’s good from the perspective of the overall economic outlook,” said Jim Wittmer, Grant Thornton’s national MP for tax growth. “The confidence reflected in the CFO survey is very consistent with the client and prospect interactions we’re having right now.”

Highlights of the survey:

  • 34% of respondents said they are very optimistic about the economy.
  • 55% said they consider cost optimization a top focus area.
  • 50% said operation costs will increase within the next year.
  • 71% projected growth in net profits.

The road ahead contains ample challenges, the firm announced.

Operation costs spike – Controlling costs remains a priority for CFOs, with more than half (55%) of respondents identifying cost optimization as a top focus area. What’s more, 50% of finance leaders said operations costs will increase within the next year – tying an all-time high in the survey and representing a rise of 12 percentage points from the previous quarter. In response, CFOs are turning to automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance efficiency. Despite these cost-related concerns, economic confidence remains strong, with 71% of CFOs projecting growth in net profits over the next 12 months.

Increasing spending on technology – A substantial increase in sales and marketing investment may be the best indicator of CFOs’ plans to take advantage of the current economic conditions. According to the survey, 52% of finance leaders expect to increase spending in these areas – the highest response for this category since the first quarter of 2021. Simultaneously, CFOs are poised to continue increasing their spending on technology and digital transformation (55%, up from 49% in the previous quarter) and cybersecurity (55%, up from 45% in the previous quarter).

Optimizing monthly close processes – While CFOs express overall satisfaction with their organizations’ monthly close processes, 53% are looking for more timely, actionable data from their close, and 68% would like technology and automation enhancements to improve the process. In fact, although more than three-fourths (76%) of respondents are closing within 15 days, 43% want to close faster.

Securing future funding – Despite the notable interest rate hikes that started in 2022, access to capital has remained relatively unhindered, with just 22% of survey respondents reporting a reduction in access. However, funding is significantly more expensive compared with two years ago – and CFOs are split on where their funding will come from in the next two years. To that point, 42% cited bank borrowing, while the same percentage cited private equity or private credit. Meanwhile, almost one-third (31%) of respondents said they’ll take advantage of Inflation Reduction Act tax incentives.


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