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Strategy, sustainability, and external risks—what mattered to CFOs this week

September 24, 2021, 10:13 AM UTC

Good morning,

Here’s what happened this week:

When it comes to optimism, finance chiefs are faltering a bit, according to Deloitte’s Q3 2021 CFO Signals survey released on September 16. Only 54% of respondents said they expect economic conditions to have improved a year from now. That’s a decline from 62% in Q2. The dip in optimism may reflect the delay in planned re-openings due to the spread of COVID-19’s Delta variant in locations where vaccination rates are lower, Steve Gallucci, Deloitte’s U.S. national managing partner and head of its CFO program, told me. Compared to the prior quarter, CFOs lowered expectations for year-over-year growth for capital spending, revenue, dividends, and earnings. For example, revenue growth expectations decreased from 9.6% to 8.5%. Finance chiefs are facing significant internal and external risks simultaneously. “I would say that CFOs are spending more and more of their time understanding and unpacking the external risks because they’re changing rapidly,” Gallucci said. They’ll then “be able to pivot internally in terms of putting in systems, practices, and teams to be able to meet those risks,” he said.

As the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly takes place this week, a group of CFOs from companies including AB InBevBASF, H&M, PIMCO, and Verizon have used the occasion to pledge their commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), my colleague Rey Mashayekhi reported. The 17 SDGs (which include items such as the attainment of gender equality and access to affordable and clean energy), are meant to be achieved by 2030. On Monday, the CFOs—who represent 60 companies worth a combined $1.7 trillion in market capitalization—announced a commitment to collectively invest more than $500 billion over the next five years toward reaching the SDGs.

Rey also reported on PricewaterhouseCoopers’ inaugural Trust in US Business Survey. The findings serve to identify and profile the nature of the trust between companies, employees, and consumers. While the survey found plenty of areas in which varying stakeholders differed greatly in their view of trust, there were some concrete takeaways. PwC identified four key “foundational elements of trust”: data protection and cybersecurity; treating employees well; ethical business practices; and admitting mistakes. All parties agreed that the buck stops at the top: 73% of all respondents identified the CEO as most responsible or accountable for trust, while 65% said the same for the CFO.

I sat down with Tracey T. Travis, EVP and CFO at The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. Travis discussed her career journey and how the company that turned 75 has found ways to grow while the pandemic raged. The New York-based multinational cosmetics giant, led by president and CEO Fabrizio Freda, reported in August net sales of $16.22 billion for its fiscal year ending June 30, an increase of 13% from the prior-year. Net sales grew 11% when excluding the impact of currency translation. Skin care net sales in Estée Lauder’s portfolio grew across every region, led by Estée Lauder, La Mer, and Clinique, the company reported. Estée Lauder’s customers pivoted to online shopping. “Our online business sales grew 34% in fiscal ‘21,” Travis said. She joined Estée Lauder in 2012 and has vast financial leadership experience, including her role as SVP and CFO at Ralph Lauren for seven years. But her career actually began at General Motors Co. as an engineer and then as a senior financial analyst. “It’s been a very non-traditional career path for sure,” Travis said. 


Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

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Join Fortune on September 28 for its Global Sustainability Forum. The one-day virtual conference will include top-level executives, investors, and decision-makers from across the globe. Best practices in engaging in sustainability transformation and moving “from pledge to practice” will be among the topics. Featured speakers include Michele Buck, chair, president and CEO of The Hershey Company; Jim Fitterling, chairman and CEO of Dow; Jesper Brodin, CEO of Ingka Group; Rich Lesser, CEO of Boston Consulting Group; and Mike Roman, chairman and CEO of 3M. You can apply for the event here.

Big deal

Corestream, a voluntary benefits platform, released the results of a survey on September 20 that found many employers are listening to employees when it comes to desired benefits. About 83% of HR professionals surveyed said offering more voluntary benefits will retain employees and attract new talent (72%), the report found. And 76% of employees surveyed said voluntary benefits would impact their company's ability to retain them. That is an increase from 68% in 2020, according to Corestream. About 48% of respondents said mental health and wellness was the top voluntary benefit offered in the past year. The survey data is based on an independent third-party panel of 215 employees and 207 HR professionals in the U.S. The participants work at organizations with at least 5,000 people.

Going deeper

Here are a few Fortune reads for the weekend:

What investors should worry about more than a government shutdown by Anne Sraders

Germany’s answer to AirBnB hopes to spark a SPAC boom in Europe by Christiaan Hetzner

Where home prices are going next, according to forecast models by Lance Lambert

Thanks to SPACs and VCs, the world’s biggest ad agency is growing again by Sophie Mellor 

Leaderboard

Some notable moves from this past week:

David Charron was named CFO at WeCommerce, an e-commerce holding company, effective November 1. He succeeds Alex Persson, WeCommerce’s president and interim CFO, in the role. Charron most recently served as CFO of TeraGo, and previously served as CFO of Optiva.

Stephen Coughlin was named EVP and CFO at The AES Corporation, effective October 15. Coughlin succeeds Gustavo Pimenta, who will be joining Vale S.A., a Brazilian mining company, as CFO. Most recently, Coughlin led AES’ corporate strategy and financial planning groups. Previously, he served as the CEO of Fluence, AES’ energy storage joint venture with Siemens. Coughlin joined AES in 2007 and served in a variety of leadership roles.

Christine Janofsky was named senior vice president and CFO at eHealth, an online health insurance marketplace, effective September 20. She succeeds eHealth’s interim principal financial officer, John Pierantoni, who will continue with the company as chief accounting officer. Janofsky most recently served as senior vice president and chief accounting officer at Lincoln Financial Group.

Tatiana Kresling was named Interim CFO at AcuityAds Holdings Inc., a digital advertising company. Kresling succeeds Jonathan Pollack, who is retiring. She has served as EVP of finance at AcuityAds for the past three years. Previously, Kresling held senior-level finance positions at several private companies. Kresling has over 20 years of professional experience.

Steven Penn was named CFO and COO at Care Angel, a health care tech company. Penn most recently served as senior vice president of finance, technology, and operations at U.S. Bank, and previously served as senior vice president of operations for innovative research and development at UnitedHealth Group.

Helen Wang was named CFO at Ironclad, a digital contracting startup. Wang brings to her role more than 16 years of finance leadership experience. She most recently served as CFO for eBay Global Payments where she helped scale eBay's Managed Payments platform. Wang also led corporate development teams at both eBay and Rothschild & Co., where she was a vice president.

Overheard

“Our long-term vision is to be the New York Stock Exchange for event contracts.”

—Tarek Mansour, cofounder of the financial exchange Kalshi, which allows users to trade directly on the outcome of events, told Fortune.

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