CFO optimism at 6-year high

Moving past downturn to growth, spending: Survey

Canadian CFOs have an optimistic outlook when it comes to economic growth, according to the American Express/CFO Research Global Business & Spending Monitor, which surveys senior finance executives from the United States, Europe, Canada, Latin America, Asia and Australia.

CFOs have moved past the economic downturn and are focused on growth and spending to get ahead. Globally, the majority (72 per cent) have reported plans for economic expansion over the next year.

In Canada, 48 per cent of CFOs surveyed reported very good financial performance over the past year and 76 per cent expect to see expansion over the next 12 months, a 14 per cent rise from last year and a 53 per cent increase from 2009.

This confidence also appears to translate into spending as 73 per cent of CFOs in Canada forecast moderate to aggressive spending and investment in the coming year, said American Express.

"This year, the regional differences across the globe have begun to converge and the overall outlook for 2014 is strong," said Paul Parisi, vice-president and general manager of global corporate payments at American Express Canada. "The monitor indicates that Canadian CFOs are ready to invest, particularly in IT, in order to meet customer needs and improve efficiency and productivity."

From a global perspective, spending priorities are varied, with an overall focus on entering new markets (72 per cent), better meeting customer needs (71 per cent) and pursuing business transformation and innovation (69 per cent), found the survey of 507 senior finance executives at companies with annual revenue of $500 million or more, with 30 based in Canada.

In Canada, however, CFOs are focused on investing in IT systems and plan to increase spending notably in this area over the next year. The majority (50 per cent) revealed that cloud computing would be the most critical IT spend, followed by technology consultants or outsourcing (43 per cent) — despite the fact that 86 per cent of those surveyed rate their current company's IT as ahead of or on par with other companies similar to theirs.

Another trend revealed in this year's study is the focus on process improvements.

"Whether it's production-based, marketing or decision-making, it's a clear priority given 73 per cent of Canadian CFOs believe good processes have helped their companies' performance,” said Parisi.

Overall, senior finance executives are showing a greater tolerance for aggressive stances on spending and investment. Marking the growing sense of worldwide optimism, 17 per cent of respondents this year said they plan to pursue aggressive spending and investment plans, compared to just 10 per cent last year, found the survey. Only five per cent said they plan to decrease spending, down from 10 per cent last year.

"It's an exciting time for CFOs across the globe who seem to have bounced back to where they were before the economic downturn," said Parisi. "In Canada, not only are the majority reporting financial strength, but spending is on the rise, which is great news for our market."

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