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CFO Survey: Navigating Volatility while Positioning Companies for Growth

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

According to a recent McKinsey & Co. quarterly report, chief financial officers (CFOs) want to allocate assets to grow their organizations but are often overly sensitive of risk when it comes to seizing opportunity due to the contemporary volatility of markets. Identifying, navigating, and leveraging volatility with strong leadership is what sets the best executives apart from the rest.


Plans by CFOs to build new businesses mark a shift from a defensive stance during the past year.


Thirty-eight percent of top financial executives said that during the past 12 months they spent most of their time buffering their companies against credit, liquidity and market risks,” McKinsey said. “Only 29 percent said they focused the most hours on identifying growth opportunities.”


Amid ongoing economic volatility and, for many industries, strategic challenges with long-term effects such as structurally higher capital costs and geopolitical tensions, it’s no wonder that CFOs are spending much of their time managing financial risks,” said McKinsey.


Rising optimism among CFOs coincides with sunnier predictions for economic growth during the next few quarters.


Many private- and public-sector economists have upgraded forecasts for the rest of 2023 and early 2024 from recession to low growth after recent strength in both the labor market and consumer spending exceeded expectations.


The Atlanta Fed forecast on Friday that the economy will grow at a 5.6 percent annual rate during the third quarter, increasing its estimate from 3.9 percent early last month.


Also, signs of easing inflation have prompted predictions that the Federal Reserve has finished, or is close to finishing, its most aggressive monetary tightening in four decades.


That was a hell of a good week of data we got [recently], and the key thing out of it is it’s going to allow us to proceed carefully,” Fed Governor Christopher Waller recently told CNBC, referring to government data showing solid job growth and easing price pressures.


We can just sit there, wait for the data, see if things continue,” Waller said. At the same time, Waller said that policymakers need to see a clear disinflationary trend before they stop increasing borrowing costs. They have pushed up the federal funds rate since March 2022 from near zero to a range between 5.25 percent and 5.50 percent.


I want to be very careful about saying we’ve kind of done the job on inflation until we see a couple of months continuing along this trajectory,” Waller said.

Given the current economic landscape, CFOs see as essential cultivating skills in adaptability, collaboration, and project management among their finance staff, McKinsey said.


CFOs “most often cite change management skills, such as adaptability and project management, as the ones most critical for the [finance] function in the future,” McKinsey said. Just 12 percent of CFOs said that most of their finance employees currently deploy such skills.


The importance of finance employees implementing changes during cross-functional projects — as opposed to focusing solely on analytics — is a high priority for them,” McKinsey said.


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