Modest optimism among larger companies in Belgium

Modest optimism among larger companies in Belgium

PwC CFO Survey Series

  • 70% are maintaining investment plans; just 4% is cancelling them;
  • CFOs are focusing on rebuilding revenues by focusing on innovating their products and services (39%);
  • Biggest risks for 2021 are an economic downturn (26%), continued COVID-19 infections (22%) and regulatory changes (13%).

Brussels, 8 September 2020 - The economic downturn and growing recognition that there will be no “back to normal” underscore the tremendous challenges companies in Belgium will face. Still, one third of larger companies in Belgium are not changing their budget plans and 70% is maintaining their investment plans, according to the third edition of the PwC CFO Survey. Most CFOs are also gearing towards securing growth through innovation of their products and services (39%). Looking at 2021, their focus next year will be on increasing digitisation, operational improvements and improving productivity.

Regaining their footing

Some businesses emerge stronger out of crisis situations, with 70% of CFOs of larger companies in Belgium saying they’re maintaining or increasing their planned investments. Over a third (35%) of them are not changing their budget plans for next year. Beyond this apparent optimism, one fifth of them (22%) experienced a deteriorated willingness of banks to provide credit. 30% of the respondents somewhat disagreed that the government measures to support businesses are effective. As they consider the future, companies are eager to rebuild or enhance revenue streams. Most CFOs (39%) cite offering new or enhanced products or services as most important to this pursuit - underscoring the fact that innovation will be a driving factor during the recovery period.

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Peter Vermeire, Partner at PwC Belgium, comments: “The disruptions brought on by the pandemic are accelerating existing trends and have been a strong catalyst for change. It’s no longer a standalone issue, but instead it’s forcing companies to rethink the way they operated in the past. Organisations  are now having to look for ways to rebuild the top line in an uncertain COVID-19 environment. Driving revenue growth again and being agile enough to confront this second wave of COVID-19 will require a multifaceted approach. Companies that adapt their business models, listen to their customers, adjust their offerings and innovate to drive a strong top line will be the ones that succeed”.

2021 perspectives

Looking ahead, 22% of CFOs indicated that the primary threat for their company in 2021 is further disruption from a potential next wave of infections. Other risks on their immediate horizon are a potential recession or economic downturn (26%), regulatory changes (13%) and a decrease in consumer confidence (9%). Finance leaders do see a silver lining in the current situation: respondents indicated that the talent they have in-house (30%) and the technology investments they’ve made to handle the crisis (26%) will ultimately make their company better in the long run. Looking at opportunities ahead, most companies expect to tap into digitalisation opportunities (65%), while others are making use of improving their operations (61%) or productivity (52%).

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“A crisis like COVID-19 is showing its potential to spin off additional risks, each of which can create its own feedback loop of consequences. While the COVID-19 crisis might in itself be an uncommon event, disruption isn’t. Other risks are hiding in plain sight. The cumulative “chain reaction” of this crisis is revealing stress fractures and gaps, but it’s also a good starting point for strengthened defences and interesting opportunities”, says Rudy Hoskens, Risk Consulting and Forensics Partner at PwC Belgium.

 Nancy De Beule, Partner at PwC Belgium: “Although many companies have been able to overcome the initial shocks of the crisis, we will not be able to fully assess the economic picture until a good year from now. In fact, in the medium term, companies will also have to deal with indirect effects of this crisis, such as a reduction in consumer spending and the snowball effect of some of their customers being unable to pay outstanding debts. Businesses which have had recourse to deferral of payments ( as part of the COVID-19 government measures) as well as to the full extension of their credit lines will also have to meet their payment obligations at some point, which may be complicated if the period of uncertainty increases even further. Moreover, we also see that banks are somewhat more risk-averse to grant additional credit, especially for the financing of acquisitions. The economic impact is therefore also expected to be felt for a longer period of time. However, the survey results show that the situation also gives rise to opportunities for companies, both in terms of acquisitions and in gearing up their product offering, their way of working and even adapting their entire business model to the new reality in which we find ourselves today.”

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 About the PwC CFO Survey Series

 PwC Belgium is closely tracking sentiment and priorities for finance leaders, as businesses respond to unprecedented disruptions brought on by COVID-19. This survey reflects the views of 23 finance leaders of large companies in Belgium in a cross-section of industries in August 2020. They weigh in on the effects of the crisis on their organisations, their coping strategies and their plans and predictions for a post-COVID-19 world.

 

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