Third Quarter 2021 Values driving value


CFOs spotlight ESG as a growing concern




According to Grant Thornton’s Q3 2021 CFO survey, 57% of CFOs have made it a priority to invest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts since the start of 2020, with 23% saying that ESG investments are much more important for their organizations than they were prior to 2020.

“It was transformational when, two years ago, the Business Roundtable changed its statement on the purpose of a corporation from existing principally to serve shareholders to one that benefits all stakeholders, including consumers, employees and communities,” says Jim Burton, partner and leader of ESG & Sustainability services for Grant Thornton. “Today, CFOs and other business leaders increasingly see ESG as a key value driver that’s central to their mission and success.”

When asked about the biggest challenges facing their business, respondents’ concerns about ESG reporting and disclosures jumped from 13% in the second quarter to 27% in the third. When polled about the desired end state of their ESG program, almost half (49%) of senior finance executives say they aim to be consistent with peers and stakeholder expectations, while 42% aspire to be known as market leaders and innovators. Perhaps most telling, nearly 8 out of 10 (78%) CFOs report their companies are integrating ESG expectations into both performance evaluations and compensation.

According to the survey, ESG is also adding a new layer of complexity to an already challenging employment landscape. When CFOs were asked which stakeholders are pushing their organization to enhance maturity of their ESG programs, employees (42%) were the most commonly cited group, followed by organizational leadership (39%). When ranking the top ESG issues for their organizations, employee retention and development (35%) was at the top of the list. Diversity, equity and inclusion (30%) followed close behind, while employee health and safety (27%) took third place.

But ESG is hardly the only concern for CFOs. A strong majority (70%) of respondents are now worried talent shortages jeopardize their ability to meet short-term strategies — up from 64% in Grant Thornton’s second quarter survey. Concern about controlling overall employee benefits costs also increased to 70%, up from 68% in Q2. Meanwhile, plans to return to a full-time in-office culture dropped to 28% from 33%, while plans for a hybrid employment model jumped to 59% from 50%.

When polled about the current state of the U.S. economy over the next six months, a majority (69%) of CFOs say they are optimistic. When asked about issues that could imperil their business, CFOs were most concerned about the continuing pandemic (52%), workforce shortages (51%) and supply chain disruptions (48%). On the positive side, another 48% of CFOs anticipate that infrastructure legislation could aid their business.


Grant Thornton’s Q3 CFO Survey also found that CFOs are expecting expenses to rise across the board. In fact, 59% expect cybersecurity expenses to increase, while 55% expect IT and digital transformation expenses to rise. Not surprising, just 34% of CFOs expect real estate expenses to go up.

Download our 2021 CFO survey Q3 Executive Summary full survey report to learn more.




Enzo Santilli

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

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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