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Rather than cutting costs, CFOs are upping investment to increase competitive advantage

American Express’ tenth global survey on CFO perceptions took a look at business spending and investment plans companies put in place to make the most of the year ahead. A healthy dose of rivalry is on the cards, it seems, as finance executives look to increase their company's competitive advantage.
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Having surveyed 100 senior finance executives, the report came to the conclusion that as confidence in the economy grows, so too does appetite for spending and investment – and businesses are gearing up to wield those tools for the sake of a competitive advantage.

An alarming 99 per cent of CFOs claimed their company’s spending and investment was set to increase in an effort to remain competitive – cited as the current top business goal.

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Boosting competitive advantage was a key strategy to tackling the uncertain economic climate ahead, CFOs in the report suggested. And they planned to so by enhancing customer service (67 per cent), technology infrastructure (51 per cent) and headcount (48 per cent).

At the same time, CFOs wanted to invest in financial reporting and compliance (37 per cent), production inputs (35 per cent) and advertising, marketing and PR (31 per cent). Some 59 per cent also said exports were going to be vital for growth.

“But what will it take to stay competitive over the next 12 months?” the report queried, claiming afterwards that it was exactly because of this question that spending was soon to rise.

“In a price-pressured environment, companies are taking an expansive view of the value being delivering in order to win and retain customers. Half of respondents, for example, confirm that pressure on their companies to compete on the basis of customer service has increased substantially over the past two years.

“Some 88 per cent of CFOs say service has become key for their companies’ purchasing decisions over the past two years, compared with other factors such as price, product quality and existing business relationships. Companies are prepared to devote resources to respond to this pressure: 81 per cent of all respondents anticipate spending more to improve customer service over the next year.”

What’s more, American Express put emphasis on how finance executives were playing a central role in these decisions, indicating the evolution of the CFO into, as was aptly dubbed by the report, “the Chief Flexibility Officer.” In fact, 81 per cent said they wielded more influence over strategic decisions than the CEO.

Of this, Jose Carvalho, senior VP at American Express, said: “CFOs in 2017 don’t just have to balance the books – they are having to tackle everything from automation to international trade, and plan their investment accordingly. The Chief Flexibility Officer isn’t just the guardian of the purse strings. They are absolutely critical to helping businesses survive and thrive, by investing in the right areas, in the right ways.”

Image: Shutterstock

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About Author

Shané Schutte

Shané Schutte is a senior reporter at Real Business, with a particular specialism in employment and business law, human resources, information technology and sales/marketing.

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