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CFO Survey: China set to lead global post-pandemic recovery in 2021

Digital transformation, talent retention and development the top priorities for capturing new opportunities

Published: 14 April 2021

China CFOs see China as a key growth driver in the post-pandemic world and have an increasingly optimistic economic outlook, although concerns about a slow overseas rebound and geopolitical tensions remain. Business transformation has emerged as a priority, and CFOs plan to invest more in digital and talent to capture growth opportunities on the horizon in 2021. This is according to the latest CFO Survey from Deloitte China's CFO Program.

"All eyes are on Asia as the global economy works to overcome the turmoil of the past year. Among the CFOs surveyed, a massive 85% picked the Chinese Mainland as one of three regions that will command the most post-pandemic growth. Because it was the first economy in the world to reopen and its widespread adoption of digital ways of doing business, China is well positioned to lead in the coming year," says Deloitte China CXO Program National Managing Partner Norman Sze.

Many other countries in the region have also made substantial progress in containing the spread of COVID-19 and resuming economic activity, which led 63% of respondents to pick Rest of Asia as a growth hotspot.

Half of CFOs are more optimistic about the economy than they were six months ago, with 81% believing it will improve in 2021 and 89% expecting their businesses to perform better over the coming year. The relative containment of COVID-19 in Asia, global rollout of vaccinations and rising consumer demand in western economies for Asian exports have created the conditions for optimism.

"A new year means new perspectives and priorities. As the world begins to rebound from the uncertainties of 2020, CFOs need to make concrete decisions about how to position their firms for the future. Opportunities are indeed emerging, but not without uncertainty and challenges," says Deloitte China CFO Program National Managing Partner William Chou.

About three in five respondents are most concerned about the post-COVID recovery and two-fifths are primarily apprehensive about geopolitical issues. Strengthening risk assessments and controls (60%), accurately modelling cash flows (55%) and effectively monitoring and managing receivables (53%) are the main areas in which CFOs plan to address these challenges.

CFOs also see a correlation between investing in technology and realizing growth opportunities, with digital transformation (58%) and talent retention and development (45%) the top two priorities for capturing growth opportunities in 2021.

In terms of digital technology, automation (53%) and IT resources (45%) will be the top investment targets. Investments in workforce enablement, which was a priority in 2021 amid the impact of the pandemic, will likely shift to AI, an area in which 40% of CFOs are now prioritizing investment, up from 19% last year.

With the pandemic and technology rapidly altering how we live and do business, over 70% said they will undergo a business transformation in the coming 6-12 months to increase their resilience. This has implications for workforces, with 82% of CFOs expecting to acquire or develop talent with different skillsets from their current mix of abilities.

The Deloitte China CFO Survey gauges sentiment in China's CFO community and gathers insights into the priorities of Chinese companies. Conducted in February, the Q1 2021 edition reflects the views of CFOs and senior finance practitioners from companies of a range of sectors and sizes. Download the full report here.

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