China CFOs Prioritize Business Expansion as Economic Confidence Improves

Chief financial officers in China are shrugging off policy uncertainties and geopolitical concerns and have become more optimistic about economic outlook, backed by their beliefs that consumption upgrade will be a significant driver for business growth, according to the Q1 findings of Deloitte China CFO Survey 2017.

Economic confidence among CFOs in China has continued to improve, with 26 percent of respondents expressing optimism towards the macro-economy, a quantum leap from only 8 percent in the previous survey conducted in Q3 2016.

"Over the past 12 months, what we have seen is the growing confidence among CFOs in China towards the economic outlook, where only 25 percent of them were 'less optimistic' when asked about their views about the economy, versus 50 percent back in 2016 Q1,”  said Sitao Xu, Deloitte China Chief Economist.

“Nearly half of them believed there was no change in economic sentiment during the past few months.

"CFOs have also become more ambitious in expanding into new markets and growing their businesses, and over 30 percent perceive that new opportunities would come from China's transformation into a more consumer based economy in the next 3 years."

Expand rather than reinvent

According to the survey, around 60 percent of the CFOs will expand the range of their products or services, and more than 50 percent would choose to develop new offerings rather than reinventing their existing products/services.

CFOs are also more willing to explore new markets, evidenced by 60 percent of respondents expressing their intention to focus more on new customers than existing ones.

William Chou, National Managing Partner of China CFO Program, Deloitte China, said "In the future, we believe companies are likely to increase their investments in products/services development and innovation, which however will call for their efficiency in resources allocation to ensure that enough is reserved for their core business -- the important pillar for achieving sustainable growth."

"While regulatory compliance and market competition have continued to keep CFOs awake at night, talent issue has become the top challenge for companies to achieve revenue growth in the short term. In our survey, CFOs are keen on exploring new business opportunities, but they would need high quality employees for product range expansion and promotion. It is not only about recruiting the right people, but retaining and developing them in the long term," Chou added.

Tools for decision-making

The survey also showed an increasing awareness for the finance department to increase their ability in providing data metrics, information and tools for more informed business decision and strategy.

"While new technologies, new processes and new systems are the immediate concerns of the CFOs and their teams, today's CFOs are expected to play four diverse and challenging roles," said Jens Ewert, MNC Sector Leader, China CFO Program, Deloitte China.

"The two traditional roles are Steward, preserving the assets of the organization by minimizing risk and getting the books right, and Operator, running a tight finance operation that is efficient and effective.

"It is increasingly important for CFOs to be Strategists, helping to shape overall strategy and direction, and Catalysts, instilling a financial approach and mind set throughout the organization to help other parts of the business perform better.

"CFOs should balance their time among these roles in order to operate an efficient and effective finance department," he added.