PwC’s COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey

What finance leaders in Switzerland are focused on: 30 April 2020

PwC is tracking the responses of finance leaders to the COVID-19 outbreak. This site presents the results of our third look at changing sentiments and priorities among a small but relevant group of finance leaders in Switzerland. For this round we surveyed CFOs of large, small and medium-sized Swiss companies in diverse industries during 20 and 22 April.

The Swiss findings are part of PwC’s global survey. Thanks to the growing number of CFOs and countries participating, it’s providing an increasingly representative view and the opportunity to cross-compare with greater granularity. The previous round involved 21 countries and 824 CFOs; in the current wave PwC polled 871 CFOs from 24 countries or territories; and we will continue to add companies to offer a robust view of how the crisis is affecting people and businesses − in Switzerland and across the globe.

20–22 April: Finance leaders respond to the latest COVID-19 developments 

The message among CFOs is clear: most companies have moved beyond the short-term, reactive phase of the novel coronavirus pandemic. During that first phase of the crisis, companies mobilised their response plans to address immediate concerns, such as health and well-being. Today, they still need to do what it takes to ensure the safety of their people and the survival of their business, but they’re also thinking about how to stabilise − taking the tactical steps that will prepare them to operate in ‘the new normal’.

The main findings for Switzerland in brief

  • Swiss CFOs are becoming less and less concerned about the impact of COVID-19. In the current wave of the survey, only 47% of respondents expressed great concern, compared with 58% and 75% in the previous two rounds (conducted at two-week intervals).
  • Swiss CFOs (along with their counterparts in Germany and Denmark) still seem less concerned about the COVID-19 crisis than their peers in other parts of the world. Only 47% of respondents in Switzerland now believe the outbreak has the potential to significantly impact their business operations, compared with 70% of their counterparts for all surveyed territories.
  • There’s a clear correlation between CFOs’ level of concern, the expected impact on their revenues and the type of financial actions they’re considering. The number of CFOs in Switzerland considering any of the specified financial actions as a result of COVID-19 is well below the global average, and 13% even say they’re not considering any action at all.
  • In line with their lower levels of overall concern, respondents in Switzerland are more likely than the overall sample to report increasing appetite for M&A activities (17% in Switzerland vs 11% of the global sample). Swiss CFOs also express one of the highest levels of confidence in the long-term stability of their M&A strategy across the sample.
  • Compared with the previous two survey waves, the number of CFOs in Switzerland expecting a recovery within three months has declined considerably, from 90% in the first wave and 72% in the second to only 50% in the latest round. Interestingly, CFOs in Germany have more bullish expectations about business ‘bouncing back’, with over 70% of respondents anticipating recovery within three months.
  • As companies consider when and how to reopen work sites, 53% plan to reconfigure work sites to promote physical distancing and 47% plan to make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow.

To sum up, Swiss CFOs seem less concerned about the impact of COVID-19 than they were. Interestingly, however, as the first phase of the crisis has passed, Swiss CFOs are now more bearish than in waves 1 and 2 of the survey when it comes to expectations of rapid recovery.

The responses in more detail

CFOs in Switzerland are becoming less and less concerned about the impact of COVID-19



Question: What is your company’s current level of concern related to COVID-19?

%
%
%
Potential for significant impact to our business operations, and it is causing us great concern.
Limited to specific regions in our business currently, but we are monitoring closely.
An isolated challenge; not greatly impacting our business currently, but we are monitoring the situation for any change.
Source: PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 22 April 2020
Base: 30

As the country approaches some form of normalisation and the end of the lockdown, CFOs in Switzerland are becoming less and less concerned about the impact of COVID-19. Of those questioned in Switzerland, 47% express concern that COVID-19 has the potential to impact business operations, compared with 58% and 75% in the previous two biweekly rounds of the survey. The level of concern among respondents in Switzerland is also considerably lower than the 70% of counterparts across all surveyed territories who expressed great concern. Levels of concern vary widely across territories, with Denmark, Germany and Switzerland still ‘outliers’ with fewer than 50% greatly concerned.

Interestingly, even more Swiss respondents (40%) currently perceive COVID-19 as being limited to specific regions than in the previous rounds of the survey (31% and 15%).

From an industry perspective, in the global sample retail and consumer CFOs report the highest level of concern. This aligns with the mass closing of retail stores and more consumers staying at home, perhaps with drastically reduced disposable income. The lowest level of concern about potential business impact was reported by CFOs in the energy, utilities and resources sectors.


Swiss CFOs more likely than average overall sample to see a potential global recession as a top concern



Question: What are your top three concerns with respect to COVID-19?

Potential global recession
%
Financial impact, including effects on results of operations, future periods and liquidity and capital resources
%
Decrease in consumer confidence reducing consumption
%
Effects on our workforce/reduction in productivity
%
Impacts on tax, trade or immigration
%
Supply chain issues
%
Not having enough information to make good decisions
%
Cybersecurity risks
%
Difficulties with funding
%
Privacy risks
%
Fraud risks
%
Lack of a comprehensive/tested company emergency preparedness plan
%
PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 22 April 2020
Base: 30

Potential recession and financial impact, including effects on the results of operations, future periods, and liquidity and capital resources, are still the top two concerns across most territories, including Switzerland. Although respondents in Switzerland exhibit lower levels of overall concern, they are even more likely than average to mention global recession as a top concern (83% vs 69% for the overall sample) − signalling that although they may feel confident about their own organisation’s prospects for recovery, they’re still worried about how a global economic downturn could affect them.

Interestingly, while few Swiss respondents mentioned falling consumption as a result of declining consumer confidence in previous waves of the survey, this is now their third-top concern.


An even higher share of respondents expects an adverse impact on business − both in Switzerland and the overall sample



Question: What impact do you expect on your company’s revenue and/or profits this year as a result of COVID-19?

Decreased revenue and/or profits
%
It is difficult to assess at this point
%
We do not expect any impact on revenue and/or profits
%
Increased revenue and/or profits
%
Source: PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 22 April 2020
Base: 30

Although the level of concern across respondents appears to be lower, the percentage of CFOs expecting a decline in revenue has increased since the last wave of the survey: 80% of Swiss respondents expect COVID-19 to have a negative impact on revenues and/or profits, compared with 75% in the previous two waves. Only 10% of respondents have difficulty assessing the impact of COVID-19 on their revenues. These results are almost identical across the overall sample of surveyed territories: 80% of CFOs globally expect a decrease in revenue as a result of COVID-19, while 11% are unsure of the impact.

Among industries in the global sample, the financial services, industrial manufacturing, automotive and retail sectors have the highest share of CFOs who expect a decrease in revenue.


Swiss CFOs are less likely than the sample average to consider financial actions



Question: Which of the following financial actions is your company considering as a result of COVID-19? (Select all that apply)

Implementing cost containment
%
Deferring or cancelling planned investments
%
Adjusting guidance
%
Changing company financing plans
%
We have not taken any financial actions as a result of COVID-19
%
Changing M&A strategy
%
Other
%
Source: PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 22 April 2020
Base: 30

Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between CFOs’ level of concern, the expected impact on their revenues, and the type of financial actions they’re considering. CFOs in Switzerland, who seem to be less concerned about the impact of COVID-19, stand out for the much lower than average percentage considering any of the financial actions listed (except for adjusting guidance); 13% of Swiss respondents even say they’re not considering any action at all. 

Most Swiss CFOs are considering cost containment measures (70%), deferring or cancelling planned investments (57%), and adjusting guidance (47%) as potential financial actions to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus.


M&A strategy is holding steady, and appetite is even increasing



Question: How is COVID-19 affecting your M&A strategy?


57%
No change
17%
Increasing appetite
17%
Decreasing appetite
10%
Difficult to assess currently


Source: PwC, COVID-19 CFO Pulse, 22 April 2020
Base: 30

In line with their lower levels of overall concern, respondents in Switzerland are more likely than average to report increasing appetite for M&A activities (17% vs 11% of the global ) and express one of the highest levels of confidence in the long-term stability of their M&A strategy across the sample: 57% of Swiss CFOs say that they don't expect to change their approach to M&A, with only 10% saying they’re unsure how the crisis will affect M&A activity. 

This is similar to the results for Germany and Denmark, where CFOs are also more optimistic than the overall sample. 


Know your suppliers and your risk



Question: As a result of COVID-19, in which of the following areas are you planning changes to your supply chain strategy?

Improve risk-protection measures (e.g., disaster insurance coverage, more flexible force majeure contract clauses)
%
Understand financial and operational health of suppliers
%
Use automation to improve the speed and accuracy of decision making
%
Developing additional, alternate sourcing options
%
Change contractual terms (e.g., to provide your company added flexibility and downside protection)
%
Extend tools to better understand customer demand (e.g., changes in desired mix of offerings, triggers to place orders)
%
Extend visibility into your suppliers' network (e.g., risk alerts, what-if scenario planning)
%
Diversify product assembly and/or service delivery locations (e.g., to comply with regulations, shorten delivery lead time)
%
Other
%
PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 22 April 2020
Base: 30

Planned changes in the supply chain strategy might be a proxy for where each territory stands in terms of the stages of responding to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Improving risk-protection measures, understanding the financial and operational health of suppliers and using automation to improve the speed and accuracy of decisionmaking top the list of planned changes to the supply chain strategy cited by Swiss CFOs. 

In contrast, developing additional, alternate sourcing options is most often cited by respondents for the overall sample and Germany. 

On a global basis, CFOs across industries align with the territory view on top sentiments, but energy, utilities and resources, and industrial manufacturing and automotive CFOs see their top priority as understanding the health of their suppliers. Health industries and retail and consumer CFOs are more likely than average to be planning to extend tools to better understand demand, given the focus on consumer behaviour in these segments. CFOs in financial services are more inclined than those in other sectors to plan to use automation to improve decisionmaking.


On-site work set to return, but with new policies and protections



Question: Which of the following is your company planning to implement once you start to transition back to on-site work?

Reconfigure work sites to promote physical distancing
%
Make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow
%
Accelerate automation and new ways of working
%
Change workplace safety measures and requirements
%
Change shifts and/or alternate crews to reduce exposure
%
Reduce real-estate footprint (e.g., partial opening of offices, retail locations)
%
Other
%
Evaluate new tools to support workforce location tracking and contact tracing
%
Provide hazard pay for on-site workers in affected areas
%
Offer targeted benefits for on-site workers in affected areas (e.g., childcare, private transportation)
%
PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 22 April 2020
Base: 30

An essential part of stabilising business operations is the reopening of offices, factories and other work sites. Of course, doors can’t simply be flung open, and company leaders are determining how best to protect their employees and customers. The top action being considered by CFOs in Switzerland is a tactical measure to protect staff − reconfiguring work sites to promote physical distancing − followed by more strategic measures around remote work and automation.

The tactical measure most commonly cited by the overall sample (64%) is changing workplace safety measures and requirements; surprisingly, Swiss CFOs are much less likely than average to consider changing workplace safety measures (33%).

On a global basis, CFOs in energy, utilities and resources are most likely to pursue safety measures, while technology, media and telecommunications CFOs are more likely than average to consider reducing their real estate footprint.


The share of Swiss CFOs expecting a quick recovery has declined compared with previous waves and is in line with the overall sample.



Question: If COVID-19 were to end today, how long would you estimate it would take for your company to get back to ‘business as usual’?

%
%
%
%
%
Less than a month
1 to 3 months
3 to 6 months
6 to 12 months
More than 12 months
50%
 
Note: Sums may not total 100 due to rounding.
Source: PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 22 April 2020
Base: 30

If the COVID-19 crisis were to end immediately, half of Swiss CFOs expect a return to ‘business as usual’ within three months, which is comparable to the sentiments shared by the overall sample. The percentage of Swiss CFOs expecting a quick recovery has declined, from 72% and 90% in the previous two rounds of the survey. This might be because almost two months have passed since the beginning of the crisis in Switzerland, meaning that the economic impact of COVID-19 can be more easily assessed now than in the earlier weeks of the crisis.   

Interestingly, CFOs in Germany are currently more optimistic about their organisation’s ability to bounce back, with over 70% of respondents anticipating a recovery within three months. 

Of course, the crisis will not end today. And we’ve seen that even in countries such as Singapore that appear ready to relax restrictions, new waves of infection can emerge. Around the world, governments are struggling to balance protecting the safety of citizens with restarting the economy. Some CFOs may take encouragement from hard-hit countries in the EU that have been able to slowly lift some restrictions and open parts of the economy. Finance leaders may also find grounds for optimism in the growing volume of stimulus funds set to become available: on April 23, EU leaders agreed to an EUR 1 trillion (USD 1.1 trillion) recovery fund to help Europe’s economy, though they will not settle specific details of the package until mid-May, and many individual countries have announced assistance programmes and tax relief.


Monitoring finance leaders’ evolving response

Finance leaders are starting to think about the future of their organisations, both through the intermediate phase of the coronavirus crisis and in the new normal that ultimately emerges. They are planning tactical moves to ensure safe reopening of their physical work sites and a strong, secure supply chain. As new recovery milestones are reached, we’ll continue to monitor how CFOs react and respond.

About the survey

To help identify the business and economic impact of COVID-19, PwC is conducting a biweekly survey of finance leaders in different territories all over the world, including Switzerland. The CFOs surveyed in Switzerland during 20 and 22 April represent large, small and medium-sized Swiss companies in diverse industries. The next set of results will be released in the week of 11 May 2020.

Contact us

Julie Fitzgerald Wieland

Julie Fitzgerald Wieland

Partner and Growth & Markets Leader, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 26 80

Jan-Hendrik Völker-Albert

Jan-Hendrik Völker-Albert

Head of Marketing & Communications, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 1885

Reto Brunner

Reto Brunner

Partner, Advisory, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 14 19

Norbert Kühnis

Norbert Kühnis

Leiter Familienunternehmen und KMU, Mitglied der Geschäftsleitung, PwC Switzerland

Tel: +41 58 792 63 63