First Quarter 2021 CFO survey finds surprising upsides to the pandemic


The first installment in Grant Thornton’s new quarterly CFO survey series, shows that finance leaders found unexpected upsides during the pandemic. More than 60% of CFOs pointed to improved flexible and remote work environments at their companies — and more than 40% reported improved collaboration. Similarly, 40% noted improved business processes and an ability to better focus on strategy.

Racial unrest across the country turned the spotlight on DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion) — while ESG (environmental, social and governance) concerns continue to be a top focus for businesses. More than 75% of respondents reported DE&I and ESG as being “priorities” or being “important” within their organizations, with more than half planning to increase investment in these areas.

The pandemic has also pushed senior finance executives to reprioritize technology investment, with 53% percent of respondents prioritizing long-term foundational technology infrastructure investment, while 43% are focused on technology that addresses immediate business needs.

When Grant Thornton asked about the dramatic expansion of remote work arrangements over the past year, 61% of companies indicated that they expect to increase investment in cyber risk and cybersecurity in the next year to safeguard against breaches attributed to remote work. This investment was followed closely by digital transformation at 60%. When asked to name the three biggest challenges facing their companies, 46% indicated cybersecurity risks, 46% chose technology upgrades and 30% said remote workforce issues.

Stay ready by learning more about what CFOs think today


CFOs appeared to be keeping something of an open mind to policy changes under the Biden administration. They were even largely receptive to potential increases in environmental, labor and financial regulations: Almost half (44%) said the new administration’s plans for environmental regulations would positively impact their businesses. Forty percent were favorable toward the Biden administration’s labor regulations, and 39% thought financial regulations would impact their businesses positively. When asked about Biden’s trade and supply chain policies, 46% of senior finance executives felt they would help their organizations.


Among private company respondents, 84% indicated that SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies) have increased their interest in going public. When asked whether a SPAC or a traditional IPO would be their choice, respondents were almost equally split, with 49% choosing a SPAC and 51% choosing an IPO.




Sean Denham

Sean Denham is the Global Services Industry Leader and Office Managing Partner (OMP) for Grant Thornton’s Philadelphia office.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  • Manufacturing
  • Technology and telecommunications
  • Transportation, logistics, warehousing and distribution
Service Experience
  • Audit
  • Private company audit
  • Public company audit
Enzo Santilli

Enzo Santilli is Grant Thornton’s chief transformation officer and a member of the firm’s Senior Leadership Team.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

  • Healthcare
  • Manufacturing
  • Technology and telecommunications
  • Not-for-profit and higher education
Service Experience
  • Advisory

CFO insights help you be ready


From the workforce to the new workplace, CFOs are challenged yet optimistic. Our insights help CFOs strategize a confident future.