Survey: Executives Optimistic Despite Financial Disruption, Prioritizing Technology Adoption to Combat Talent Shortage

As we near the halfway mark of 2023, the overwhelming theme throughout the year has been uncertainty. Economists continue to speculate on the possibility and severity of a recession. Lingering questions remain regarding the full impact of a string of bank collapses. High inflation persists despite actions taken by the Federal Reserve. And geopolitical tension remains a serious risk to financial stability.

This complex array of factors begs a question: How are businesses reacting to an uncertain — and volatile — outlook?

The latest quarterly survey fielded by Wakefield Research and sponsored by Oracle NetSuite polled 500 executives and managers in late March to gauge their current sentiment and priorities. These leaders included 300 CFOs, 100 nonfinance executives, and 100 directors or managers, all from companies with $250 million or less in annual revenue.

Key findings from the survey:

  • 30% of respondents cited global financial disruptions as the most significant factor impacting the economy. Inflation moved down to the third-ranked impact, tied with the US regulatory environment at 13%.
  • 69% of organizations expect to increase their use of artificial intelligence (AI) over the next year.
  • Data analysis and leadership were ranked by CFOs as the most important skills for new team members, outpacing more traditional competencies like accounting and project management.

Despite palpable concerns around global economic disruption, business leaders are largely optimistic and anticipating a good rest of 2023. More than four in five respondents said they will meet or exceed key objectives. Further, 84% of finance executives and 92% of nonfinance executives expect revenues to grow through year’s end.

Positive expectations for the business are likely rooted in the fact that many respondents see the current economic climate actually helping their organizations. Executives were 20% more likely to predict economic expansion in 2023 than a recession. Three-quarters, 74%, of CFOs and 86% of their nonfinance colleagues expected the current US economic environment to have a positive impact on their businesses over the next six to 12 months.

Expectations for 2023 business performance are largely positive

Budgets reflect this optimism, with the majority of both finance and nonfinance respondents expecting to spend more across the board this year. Quarter-over-quarter, top areas slated for increases by the finance team were sales and marketing with production, customer support, and technology in a four-way tie for third.


CFO Concerns

The survey was fielded soon after the SVB collapse, which could be a driving force for the one-third of respondents citing global financial disruptions as the most significant factor impacting the economy.

Surprisingly, inflation is now the third-ranking factor, dropping to 13% after leading the list of concerns for the past six months. In another “glass half full” finding, three-quarters of surveyed finance execs said inflation would benefit their businesses and that higher operating costs could be mitigated through measures like increased efficiency, hiring changes, and embracing automation technologies.

In fact, themes around technology and talent retention first unearthed in last quarter’s survey gained momentum: Leaders expect growth despite increasing costs and difficulty hiring and retaining talent.

How? Four in five, 82%, stated that their companies are adopting technology with the goal of reducing the number of employees needed, and 42% of executives cited increasing tech adoption as their main strategy, up from 34% last quarter. That’s up nearly ten percentage points last quarter.

In their search for efficiency — and perhaps in response to the hype around the launch of ChatGPT — executives were keen to increase their use of AI, with 69% of organizations expecting more help from this technology. Specifically, respondents plan to use AI for tactical and strategic insights (56%), machine learning (52%), and speech recognition (50%) over the next year.

It’s likely no surprise then that, in a notable shift from the previous quarter, CFOs ranked data analysis and leadership as the most important skills when recruiting for the finance team, jumping from fourth and sixth position last quarter. Accounting, industry knowledge, and project management dropped to third, fourth, and fifth position, respectively.

Not that technology is seen as a panacea — talent is still a worry. Hiring, retention issues, and labor costs were cited by CFOs as the top challenges they would face in 2023, and our survey shows there’s reason for concern.

Last quarter, 85% of managers said they remained motivated in their jobs, even as 50% were actively looking for new positions. This quarter was even more striking: 99% of managers and directors remained motivated in their jobs, but half are still looking to hop to a new company.  This latest survey probed a little deeper and discovered that 61% of managers and directors felt that they were held back from innovating by their executive leadership, which could be a factor in the retention conundrum.

CFOs can fight back against that perceived — or real — lack of freedom to innovate by adopting an agile approach that combines advanced technology, culture, ways of working, and organizational setup to empower the people closest to vital information to quickly provide data to decision-makers. Agile finance is enabled by advanced technology, including robotic process automation (RPA), AI, machine learning and cloud computing. Learn how to get started.

To dig deeper into our latest survey, read the full report on

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