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Canadian business leaders remain uncertain about economy: survey

CPA Canada Business Monitor reveals roughly three in 10 respondents are pessimistic about the national economy’s prospects over the next 12 months

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Canadian flag with corporate office in backgroundThe top two challenges to growth of the Canadian economy were protectionist trade sentiments in the United States and uncertainty surrounding the Canadian economy, according to the survey (Getty Images/ssuni)

After a brief uptick in Q2 and Q3 of 2019, the number of professional accountants in leadership positions who are optimistic about the Canadian economy has fallen back to 26 per cent—the same number as in Q4 of 2018, according to CPA Canada’s latest Business Monitor (Q4 2019).

Of those surveyed, 45 per cent say they are neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the economy. Half of respondents are optimistic about their own businesses (compared to 48 per cent in Q3 2019) and 21 per cent pessimistic (versus 18 per cent in Q3 2019). This leaves optimism/pessimism levels unchanged from Q4 2018.

“I think those shifts in the results are largely consistent with a Canadian economy that continues to soldier on in the face of elevated global uncertainty,” says Francis Fong, CPA Canada’s chief economist. “Business leaders are wary of the impact that political uncertainty will have in the coming year—continued pressures on global trade, how Brexit unfolds, the upcoming U.S. presidential election, continued instability in places like Hong Kong, Chile and Lebanon, and now this new situation in Iran.

“Geopolitical risks continue to crop up and weigh on the optimism of business leaders here in Canada due to the uncertainty with how each of these developments will impact our national economy,” he says. “And all this at a time when growth is expected to slow even relative to the middling pace of GDP growth Canada recorded last year.”

The top two challenges to growth of the Canadian economy were unchanged from last year, although they switched places: Protectionist trade sentiments in the United States (18 per cent in 2018, 13 per cent in 2019), and uncertainty surrounding the Canadian economy (15 per cent in 2018, 19 per cent in 2019). Seventeen per cent cited concerns over the states of the U.S. and the rest of the global economy, up from 13 per cent in Q4 2018.

“It’s clear that Canadian business leaders are concerned about the economic challenges that Canada faces at home and abroad,” says Joy Thomas, president and CEO of CPA Canada. “In particular, the fourth quarter of 2019 was a tumultuous time, dominated by the escalating trade war between the U.S. and China, elections in both Canada and Britain, as well as continued economic difficulties faced by the Prairie provinces. Even with election outcomes decided in Canada and Britain and signs of easing of international trade tensions, uncertainty remains."

The top business priorities for 2020 echoed those from last year: increasing sales within Canada (23 per cent), improving productivity (16 per cent), attracting/retaining employees (10 per cent), reducing costs (nine per cent) and retaining customers (nine per cent).

Respondents acknowledged the importance of the analysis and use of data, with 49 per cent saying it is a high priority, and eight per cent listing it as number one. Only 14 per cent said it is unimportant (12 per cent said it is a low priority, while two per cent said it’s not a priority at all). Yet despite this, only 11 per cent have one person in charge of data governancea key area of focus in CPA Canada Foresight: Reimagining the Professionwith a further 42 per cent saying it’s a shared role. A whopping 44 per cent said they have no organizational role focused on data governance, and three per cent didn’t know.

This is rather disturbing to Amanda Holden, solution executive, fraud and security intelligence at analytics firm SAS Canada, who sees a role in governance for financial professionals.

“Data is the lifeblood of an organization today and governing that data is a shared organizational process that is critical in the consistent and secure understanding and use of data,” she says. “Ensuring accounting professionals and practices are supporting and aligned to corporate data governance is an important pre-requisite for the integrity of procurement, accounts payable, financial statements and other essential business processes.”

READ THE LATEST BUSINESS MONITOR

For the CPA Canada Business Monitor (Q4 2019) study, emailed surveys were completed by 365 of 4,070 people identified by CPA Canada as holding senior positions in industry (CFOs, CEOs, COOs and other leadership roles). The survey was conducted from December 6 to December 20, 2019.