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CFOs see tech, strategic hires key to business growth

Fred O'Connor | March 25, 2011
CFOs hold a positive view on potential business growth for the second quarter.

BOSTON, 25 MARCH 2011 - An improving economy should be spurring CFOs to hire workers to handle the increased business that their companies are experiencing lately. But a survey conducted in conjunction with the latest Robert Half Financial Hiring Index finds that finance executives are being extremely cautious about how they increase headcount.

Indeed, staffing moves in accounting and finance are flat -- with additions coming especially in IT, or tied to particular needs for product improvement, increased revenue, or new business opportunities. That's true despite the sanguine view they hold about prospects for the quarter -- with 89 percent of respondents saying they are confident about business growth.

The conclusions flow definitively from the survey, which found 7 percent of about 1,400 CFOs polled planning to increase staff levels in their accounting and finance departments during the second quarter, and another 7 percent saying they would likely reduce headcount in those divisions.

But both that zero net percentage gain in accounting staffing levels, and the drive to add people in strategic areas, are borne out in interviews with CFOs in a range of industries.

"We've been hiring flight attendants and pilots at a good clip," says US Airways executive vice president and CFO Derek Kerr. "This is partly due to attrition, partly due to growth in the airline. The consumer is flying. Business travel is coming back. We're seeing the economy is a lot better. There is still that risk of what happens going forward."

Part of the risk, for an airline, is that the rising cost of fuel -- a factor that has caused many carriers to recently raise fares -- will undercut efforts to do all but the most essential hiring.

"With fuel where it is, we're staying pretty cost conscious," he said. "We're not adding any heads where we don't have to. We've been able to pass on costs with our increases. But the risk for us is when you're not able to pass that on from a financial perspective."

Although the carrier is not growing its accounting and finance departments, IT head count will increase in the second quarter. The airline's IT staff will work on a project that allows US Airways to expand selling premium aisle and exit row seats from its website to the entire ticket distribution system. The company is focused on hiring for areas that will pay back, Kerr said.

CFO reluctance to hire accounting and finance staff is typical in such economic circumstances, according to Brett Good, senior district president for staffing firm Robert Half International, which conducted the poll.


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