Record number of CFOs prioritising investment, say Deloitte

By Kate Birch
Investment in digital technology and upskilling will take priority, as UK finance leaders focus on growth amid labour shortage and pandemic, say Deloitte

Finance leaders are focused on growth, with a record 37% rating an increase in capital investment as a strong priority for their business in the next 12 months, according to Deloitte’s UK CFO Survey Q4 2021. 

Expansionary strategies, including introducing new products and services, expanding into new markets and raising investment are a greater focus now than at any time since the question was first asked in 2009.

CFOs cite growth in demand at home and abroad, and the climate transition as the main drivers of investment. On the type of investment, an overwhelming majority of CFOs expect to invest more in digital technology (94%) and workforce skills (77%) over the next three years than in the years pre-pandemic. And most CFOs (84%) expect productivity to grow faster in the next three years than in the years before the pandemic.

Conducted between 1 and 14 December 2021, the latest survey polled 85 CFOs from the UK’s largest businesses, including 21 FTSE 100 and 29 FTSE 250 firms. 

Recovery and risk outlook

CFOs rate persistent labour shortages, the pandemic, climate change and higher inflation respectively as the top risks facing their businesses. Compared to this time last year, CFOs have reduced their risk rating for the COVID-19 pandemic. By contrast, labour and supply shortages have emerged as significant short-term risks over the last year, resulting in a higher risk rating for inflation.

In terms of recovery of demand for their own businesses’ products and services, 59% of CFOs state that it already returned to pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2021. Around a quarter (27%) expect demand to return in Q3 2022 or later, consistent with findings from the previous edition of the survey.

According to Ian Stewart, chief economist at Deloitte: “it is a measure both of the remarkable snap-back in activity from the pandemic and the scale of the challenge today that CFOs rate labour shortages as the greatest risk to business. This is ahead of even the pandemic, in second place. Strikingly, the worries that dominated the risk list in recent years - above all Brexit and weak global growth – have dropped sharply down the risk rankings.”

Labour market and supply chains

Almost half of the CFOs surveyed (46%) reported that their businesses have faced significant or severe recruitment difficulties in the last three months of 2021. Things are expected to improve in 2022, with just one in four CFOs expecting significant or severe recruitment difficulties in a year’s time.

There has been an uptick in the proportion of CFOs (37%) reporting that their businesses have experienced significant or severe supply chain disruption over the past three months, compared to the previous edition of the survey (28%). They expect some easing of constraints, with one in five CFOs anticipating similar levels of disruption in one year’s time.

“CFOs are going into 2022 with their sights set on expansion. Investment in technology and skills are key priorities for business as they seek to grow, innovate and build resilience,” Richard Houston, senior partner and CEO of Deloitte, says. 

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