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Survey: As states reopen, CFOs prioritise cost containment, safety measures

From CFO Dive:

  • Seventy-seven percent of CFOs anticipate changing workplace safety measures upon returning to onsite work, according to the fourth installment of PwC’s COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, released Monday. 

  • Of those respondents, 65% anticipate reconfiguring their work sites to allow for greater physical distancing, and 52% anticipate alternating shifts to reduce exposure. 

  • Of the 305 U.S.-based CFOs surveyed, half expected a high demand among their employees for broad measures of protection. Those surveyed include 14% work in consumer markets, 20% in financial services, 12% in health industries, 23% in industrial products, and 20% in technology, media and telecommunications. PwC conducted the survey between April 20 and 22.

As states begin lifting stay-at-home orders, effectively reopening local economies, 52% of these respondents anticipated their businesses returning to normal in under three months, "if COVID-19 were to end immediately."

Should the pandemic continue on its course for several more months, on the other hand, CFOs will strongly consider extended layoffs as a means of cost containment. PwC found 32% of CFOs are now anticipating layoffs, up from 26% in their survey two weeks ago. Additionally, 53% of CFOs now project revenue/profit losses exceeding 10% in 2020. 

PwC's research reveals CFOs' recognition that "they not only play a crucial role in the health, safety, and stability of their employees, but also that of their communities," said Tim Ryan, PwC’s U.S. Chair and Senior Partner. "As we continue navigating this crisis, I'm encouraged to see that despite difficult decisions and potential profit losses, business leaders are continuing to do what they can to put their people first and, in turn, help support local communities and economies as the nation looks to rebound."

In an effort to reduce health risks, 22% of CFOs surveyed shared plans to implement contact tracing, a tool that allows companies to identify and alert employees who may have come into contact with a coworker who has tested positive for COVID-19. 

Alongside worker safety comes another concern — financial survival of the company. To contain costs, which 86% of CFOs are prioritizing, many options are on the table. 70% of CFOs are considering deferring or canceling planned investments, such as IT infrastructure or workplace improvement. 

Fifteen percent of CFOs indicated an increased appetite for mergers and acquisitions during this uncertain time. More than nine in 10 CFOs plan to discuss COVID-19 in their upcoming external reporting, while half plan to discuss COVID-19 in their financial statements.

About half of CFOs anticipate switching several roles to remote permanently, a sentiment echoed by CFOs in many similar surveys. The emphasis on work from home could avail greater office space, allowing for lower rent. Additionally, it could open the door to out-of-state hires whose salary expectations may be lower. Indeed, 71% of respondents named financial impacts as their top concern.

"While business leaders begin to forge strategies to bring employees back into the workplace and to engage with their customers in person, they are realizing that the physical workplace and customer experience will be drastically different," PwC chief clients officer Amity Millhiser said. "Many of them are turning to new technologies and digital solutions to help them adapt and maintain social distancing, which will likely be a new normal for the foreseeable future."

While four in five CFOs expected COVID-19 to decrease their company's revenue and profits this year, 12% said the virus’ impact on their financials is still too difficult to assess. On the other end of the spectrum, 5% of CFOs expect a more-than 50% revenue decrease.

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