Growth and profitability are the most common challenges now facing the UK’s top CFOs

19 Nov 2020

Growth and profitability are the most common challenges now facing the UK’s top CFOs

We conducted a survey of 410 CFOs for the annual Odgers Berndtson CFO & Audit Chair event held on the evening of 17 November, which revealed some of the major challenges facing top UK CFOs, as well their plans for redundancies and when they believe the UK economy will start to recover from the pandemic.

The event was hosted by Mark Freebairn, Managing Partner and Head of our CFO Practice, alongside keynote speaker Roula Khalaf, Editor of the Financial Times, and was attended by CFOs from some of the UK’s largest organisations

When asked to pick the challenges they currently faced, growth (28%) was the most common answer chosen by CFOs, followed by profitability (21%) and returning to the office (18%). These were followed by managing redundancies and current staff (13%), optimising cash reserves (12%) and managing capital structure (8%).

The responses to the question about whether they had plans to make redundancies provides some positivity for job security in the UK, with over half (57%) of CFOs stating that they had no plans to make any of their staff redundant. However, 21% said they still planned to make redundancies, and 15% said they were still considering it for their organisation. 7% were not sure.

Despite the challenges they face, as well as the prospect of making redundancies, the majority of UK CFOs were confident about the UK economy, with 37% expecting it to start recovering from the pandemic next summer. 24% of CFOs were even more bullish, expecting it to start recovering in Q2 of 2021, while 17% believed Q4 of 2021 was more realistic. Only 22% of CFOs said sometime in 2022 would be when the UK economy would start to recover.

Taking a broad view of the results from the UK’s leading CFOs enables us to ‘take the temperature’ of the country’s economic vitality. There are clear signs of positivity, with just under half of CFOs stating that they have no redundancy plans and the majority of them seeing early to mid-2021 as the start of the recovery period. However, with growth and profitability topping the CFO challenges list, they certainly feel that we’re not out of the woods yet.

When asked about the potential effect of a no-deal Brexit, only 15% of CFOs said it would impact their company’s operations significantly, whereas the majority (65%) felt that a no-deal would only slightly impact areas of operations and 20% said it would have no impact at all.

Looking at the U.S. election, over half (51%) of CFOs felt that the result would have a positive impact on the UK economy, while only 14% felt that it would have a negative impact. 28% stated that Joe Biden’s victory would have no impact at all on the UK’s economic health, 3% believed it would have a very positive impact and 4% felt that it would have a very negative impact.

Commenting on the event, Mark Freebairn said:

“In a world of complete uncertainty, it’s reassuring to see that an annual event has been attended by almost twice the usual number, demonstrating that – even though it’s virtual – providing something regular and familiar in all the craziness is more important than ever.”