FEI Survey: Financial Executives Focused on Managing Covid-19 Issues in Two Phases

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Current decisions are responsive to health crisis, future decisions will be economics driven. 70% of respondents are certain work-from-home or travel policies will be altered long-term. Upcoming quarters’ most sought-after skills will likely shift to regulatory change management

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Financial Executive International (FEI), the association of choice for CFOs and other senior-level finance executives, today released the findings of its inaugural Quarterly Priorities Survey. Designed to track nationwide trends affecting financial decision-making, the first report captures baseline Q1 2020 issues based on member responses from FEI’s largest chapters across the country. Notably, this quarter’s analysis specifically reflects financial executives’ early-stage sentiments around the coronavirus pandemic given polling occurred between March 17 to April 10 when quarantine restrictions and closures first began. The survey was conducted by Financial Education & Research Foundation (FERF)—the independent non-profit research affiliate of FEI.

“Our initial intent for the Quarterly Priorities Survey was to provide financial professionals with a timely snapshot of how their industry progresses by spotlighting areas of importance by region,” said Andrej Suskavcevic, CAE, President and CEO of Financial Executives International and Financial Education & Research Foundation. “Given the pandemic has since thrust us into unprecedented circumstances, we now believe that this report can become an invaluable way to analyze the health, strategic recovery, and creative evolution of our business communities. Ultimately, we envision the survey becoming a tool for financial executives to use to best determine how to mitigate this complex economic environment.”

The Quarterly Priorities Survey uncovered three main themes that are top of mind among financial executives:

  • Digital transformation
  • Talent acquisition and retention
  • Capital preservation

Digital Transformation: Remote Workforce and Travel Policies
On average financial leaders were 70 percent certain they would alter work-from-home or travel policies in response to the COVID-19 mandatory stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders. These changes will come in two phases; near-term, which is reactionary based on the current health crisis and stringent quarantine restrictions, and long-term, which will be based largely on the looming impending economic downturn.

Travel will now be evaluated primarily by how it fits into the overall business strategy. As such, organizations are planning stringent policy reviews around common activities such as client meetings, staff meetings, and conferences to determine whether in-person attendance versus remote attendance will be justified moving forward.

The near-term phase of the pandemic has led many organizations to rapidly progress through digital transformation by enabling remote work on a massive scale. This presents significant opportunity for organizations to redefine remote work, post pandemic as survey respondents indicated that companies are at different phases in their digital transformation involving work from home policies. However, many respondents indicate they will invest more and begin to think about how to provide better remote functionality for workforce segments that don’t traditionally work from home.

Talent Acquisition and Retention
Despite 46 percent of survey respondents indicating they were seeking to decrease headcount compared to 16 percent looking to increase, attracting and retaining talent remains a top issue for financial executives.

The recent change in economic climate has disrupted the job market equilibrium—shifting power from the professional to the organization as a result of layoffs and furloughs over the month of April. Companies seeking highly skilled finance professionals as disrupted economic conditions are present means that companies have a greater need for an already scarce population.

In Q1, the top three most difficult finance positions to fill were:

  • 34% data management/scientist
  • 27% financial planning and analysis
  • 24% technical accounting

Notably, regulatory specialists were not included on that list as these roles were historically easier to fill—per the survey respondents. However, given complexities brought on by the nascent CARES Act as well as other regulatory changes, hiring and retaining a regulatory professional will likely become a higher priority in the coming quarter. These regulatory changes underscore the increasingly expanding requirements for the modern financial leader.

Respondents also indicated that the current environment will likely impact the hiring process itself. The economic conditions, absence due to health issues, as well as social distancing measures may, for example, draw out the hiring process. This potential fallout may make onboarding much needed talent more challenging.

Capital Preservation
Overall, 32 percent of survey respondents indicated that their working capital increased over the last quarter, 33 percent indicated that their organization’s working capital decreased, and 35 percent of respondents indicated that their working capital stayed the same. Given the anticipated duration and severity of the downturn, working capital can be expected to decrease while companies begin to take significant measures to preserve capital. The impacts could manifest in postponing or cancelling planned investments as well as trimming of corporate payrolls—among other cash-savings measures.

Methodology and Sources
The Financial Education & Research Foundation surveyed 228 executive members from FEI’s 11 largest chapters (Arizona, Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Houston, New Jersey, New York, Northeastern Wisconsin, Silicon Valley and Twin Cities). The survey focused on questions pertaining to regional and national economic sentiment, net working capital, merger and acquisition appetite, human capital, and policies pertaining to remote work and travel.

About FEI
Financial Executives International (FEI) is the leading advocate for the views of corporate financial management. Its more than 10,000 members hold policy-making positions as chief financial officers, treasurers and controllers at companies from every major industry. FEI enhances member professional development through peer networking, career management services, conferences, research and publications. Members participate in the activities of more than 65 Chapters in the U.S. FEI is located in Morristown, NJ. Visit http://www.financialexecutives.org for more information.

About Financial Education & Research Foundation, Inc.
Financial Education & Research Foundation (FERF) is the non-profit 501(c)(3) research affiliate of Financial Executives International (FEI). FERF researchers identify key financial issues and develop impartial, timely research reports for FEI members and nonmembers alike, in a variety of publication formats. FERF relies primarily on voluntary tax-deductible contributions from corporations and individuals, and publications can be ordered by logging onto https://www.financialexecutives.org/Research.aspx

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Lili DeVita
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