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Research & Commentary

May 15, 2020

Introducing The CFO Survey

A collaboration between Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Federal Reserve Banks of Richmond and Atlanta 

Article by: John Graham, Brent Meyer, Nicholas Parker, and Sonya Ravindranath Waddell

For almost 25 years, the Duke CFO Global Business Outlook has provided policymakers, academics, and the public with an understanding of how financial executives view the economy and prospects for their business. Today, three partners—Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta—announce an enhanced continuation of this survey, now called The CFO Survey. Starting with the second quarter data release on July 8, 2020, The CFO Survey will offer the same critical information on the economic outlook and, through some methodological updates, an enhanced look at how U.S. companies are perceiving and reacting to the current economic environment.

This partnership comes at an opportune time. As the country faces unprecedented economic and political uncertainty, the on-the-ground information policymakers receive from businesses has never been more important. In the longer run, the information collected through The CFO Survey will help economists and researchers to understand how firms reacted amid this extraordinary environment and will therefore provide a key input into our understanding of the role that sentiment and uncertainty play in the corporate decision-making processes.

What will change?

Much of the Duke survey will remain the same. One change is a discontinuation of the international portion; The CFO Survey will initially survey only U.S. firms, in order to fully establish the U.S. panel. After we’ve reached our domestic panel composition goals, we hope to eventually re-engage our global partners. Another change is that the sampling design has moved from a repeated cross-section to a panel data format (meaning the same pool of business leaders will participate each quarter). Finally, the team engaged in a thorough methodological review, and the survey questions will be streamlined and the survey process made more efficient for participants. More details on changes to existing questions will be available over the course of the next few weeks, and the first set of data generated using the updated questionnaire design will be available on July 8 on the new CFO Survey website, www.cfosurvey.org.

What will stay the same?

Although some of the questions will change, the survey will continue to track business sentiment over time and ask questions around business leaders’ most pressing concerns, their expectations for their own firms’ performance, and their expectations for the performance of the U.S. economy over the year ahead. Because Duke has been conducting this survey since 1996, the rich historical data will allow for contextual insights on key indicators, including revenue, capital expenditures, and employment, as well as illuminating trends and shifts in business sentiment. The headline CFO Optimism Index will remain unchanged. The Index measures business leader optimism about the U.S. economy and their own firms’ financial prospects.

The objectives of the survey will not change, nor will the target participant. In addition to chief financial officers, The CFO Survey panel includes treasurers, vice presidents and directors of finance, owner-operators, accountants, controllers, and others with financial decision-making roles in their organizations. To get the broadest view possible, The CFO Survey panel includes firms that range in size from owner-operators to Fortune 500 companies and that cover all major industries. Finally, the survey will remain quarterly, and aggregated survey results and analysis will be publicly available via the new CFO Survey website.

We are excited to continue to provide this unique complement to the array of existing data available to policymakers, business decision‐makers, academic researchers, and the public. For more information and for the new quarterly results, check back on July 8, 2020!


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Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond or the Federal Reserve System.


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