Analysis

Central Europe CFO Survey 2018

Balancing optimism with risk aversion

Although the majority of respondents anticipate favourable macro-economic conditions for 2018, not all are looking to the future in an altogether positive light. A positive economic outlook is insufficient to encourage risk-taking among Central Europe’s businesses.

About the study

This annual questionnaire tracks the latest thinking and actions of CFOs representing the largest and most influential companies in the Central European region. It explores top-tier CFO issues across four areas:

  • Business environment
  • Company priorities and expectations
  • Finance priorities
  • Digital transformation of finance function

The group of nearly 600 CFOs that shared their opinions with us is a great audience to discuss interesting topics and to demonstrate our expertise. Our respondents are based in 12 Central European countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. The survey was conducted between September and November 2017.

 

Economic outlook

What are CFOs’ expectations for economic environment development? What kind of expectations do they have for factors like GDP or inflation? What is likely to happen with unemployment?

CFO Confidence Index

Overall, the participating CFOs display more confidence than in previous editions of the survey. The CFO Confidence Index has risen by 10 pp, from 13% last time to 23%.

This rise is mainly driven by increased optimism among finance function leaders regarding future macro-economic conditions.

GDP growth

CFOs are again more optimistic on GDP growth. The proportion of CFOs expecting high or very high GDP growth in 2018 has nearly doubled since the last survey (from 21% to 41%). Similarly, the mean of CFOs’ predictions for GDP growth has risen from 1.9% to 2.4%. CFOs in Slovenia and Bulgaria expressed the highest optimism about GDP growth in 2018, with 55% and 54% of respondents respectively expecting growth of at least 2.6%. The most conservative CFOs are those from Ukraine, where less than one in five respondents expect such a fast growth rate.

Unemployment

There is a consensus among CFOs that unemployment rates in Central Europe countries will fall during 2018. The Czech Republic was the only country to deliver a negative net balance of answers. Interestingly, the sentiment is quite the opposite in neighbouring Slovakia, where 100% of respondents expect unemployment to fall.

CFOs from the Consumer Business, Manufacturing and Construction & Real Estate sectors are the most optimistic about prospective unemployment levels, with half or more respondents expecting unemployment to fall in 2018. The most pessimistic CFOs represent the Technology, Media, Telecommunications (TMT) and Business & Professional Services sectors, where more than 25% of respondents expect unemployment to increase.

 

Business environment outlook 

How are costs for companies likely to change over the next 12 months? Do CFOs expect normal or higher country-level uncertainty? Will interest rate increases impact strategies? Is this a good time to be taking greater risk? Which factors are likely to pose a significant risk to business?

Risk

The majority of CFOs do not think 2018 will be a good time for companies to take on more risk; this was the view of 69% of respondents (up by 4 pp from last year). Latvia is the only country surveyed where the majority of CFOs believe the conditions will be favourable for taking riskier financial decisions in 2018. CFOs in Romania and Slovenia are the most risk-averse, with over 80% thinking that 2018 will not be a good time to take more risk.

Workforce and production costs

Regardless of industry, CFOs expect increases across most cost categories in 2018. The main exceptions are tax-related costs and provisions for bad debt, which are predicted to remain stable. A stand-out observation is that 91% of respondents think workforce costs will be higher in 2018 than now. In addition, more than three-quarters of CFOs expect overall production/delivery and transportation costs to increase next year.

CFOs from two industries stand out in anticipating higher costs: the Business and Professional Services industry, in the area of workforce costs; and the Life Sciences industry, relating to overall production costs.

 

Company growth outlook

What strategies are likely to be a priority for business? How do CFOs feel about the financial prospects for their companies?

Financial prospects for companies

When it comes to their companies’ financial prospects, CFOs are slightly more pessimistic compared with six months ago than they were in the previous survey. There are considerable differences between countries. While 79% of CFOs in Bulgaria expect things to get better for their companies, in neighbouring Romania 40% of CFOs are less optimistic about the future than they were six months ago. It is also worth noting that in Croatia and Slovenia, just 5% and 6% of CFOs respectively are negative about their companies' financial prospects. Similarly, CFOs from different industries have differing assessments of their companies’ financial prospects. The most optimistic are respondents from the Consumer Business and Construction & Real Estate industries.

CAPEX

The proportion of CFOs expecting their companies to increase their capital expenditure in the next year has decreased by 5 pp, from 49% to 44%. Again, only a small fraction of respondents (13%) expects CAPEX to fall in 2018. The most negative views are expressed by CFOs from Business & Professional Services companies, where 27% of respondents expect their companies’ CAPEX to decrease in the next year.

 

Automation

What are technical priorities for the finance function? In what areas do CFOs expect to derive most benefits from robotic process automation? Is change needed in finance to respond to digitalisation?

Key facts:

  • In this era of company digitalisation, CFOs are quick to recognise that ongoing process automation – across the business, but particularly in the finance department – is inevitable.
  • However, few regard their own businesses as advanced adopters of RPA and many find it difficult to estimate the possible savings that it could deliver.

The past few years have brought impressive advancements in the field of automation and digitalisation. For example, data collection is much cheaper than before and companies are therefore more-data driven. On the other hand, even automatically collected data is not of much value until it is processed. This is why many CFOs hope to take advantage of automated and customised management reporting.

Few CFOs are confident in saying that their companies are advanced in the field of robotic process automation (RPA). We predict that this will change dynamically in the years to come, as the benefits of newly implemented systems become more evident. For now, a significant proportion of CFOs are still uncertain about the cost efficiencies that could be generated by the automation and digitalisation of their companies

 

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