The pressure is on for boards to hold onto chief financial officers as firms face the prospect of an economic slowdown and intense competition for talent.
Demand for finance chiefs continues to be high in U.S. businesses, according to a July 4 report from The Wall Street Journal. Data from Russell Reynolds Associates indicates that CFO turnover at companies in the S&P 500 rose to 18 percent in 2021, compared to 15 percent in 2020 and 14 percent in 2019.
Some new strategies call for broadening CFO responsibilities or elevating their positions altogether to retain top executives, according to Joel von Ranson, head of recruitment firm Spencer Stuart’s global functional practices.
“Companies create these broader roles and titles to engage and recognize and motivate the very best of the best,” Mr. von Ranson said.
CFOs at companies in the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 average about five years in their job, according to executive search firm Crist Kolder Associates. Expanding the CFO role allows organizations to create opportunities to retain key talent past the five-year mark.
In 2021, just under 8 percent of chief executive officers at companies in the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 came from the CFO seat.
There’s been some speculation in the news lately that wage growth in the United States might be topping out. This could be the case for some employers, especially smaller companies that don’t have much more give in their current staffing budget. However, don’t think for a moment that compensation is suddenly losing its power as a tool to help secure top talent in a market where unemployment is low, the quits rate is high, and there are nearly twice as many open jobs as there are available workers.
The suggestion that employers are becoming more conservative in their salary offers also might be hopeful thinking for those trying to control rising inflation. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, for example, recently referred to the labor market as “unsustainably hot.”
While some big companies may be considering cooling down on hiring, some are paying higher wages to median-salaried employees than they did before the pandemic. (Significantly so, in some cases — think six figures.) And although the U.S. economy has seen some job-shedding in recent months, layoffs overall are at their lowest level on record.
The takeaway for chief financial officers (CFOs) is that you can’t afford to sit back and wait on wages. You can never really be sure when or if it will “top out,” especially in this unusual economy and candidate-driven hiring market. Your business needs to be prepared to provide standout compensation packages to hire stellar candidates — and keep your best people, too.
Compensation remains the not-so-secret weapon for besting competitors targeting the same talent, including the high performers who are already part of your organization. The trick is to use compensation as an offensive strategy that gives you more control. Following are three ways to help your organization make that pivot:
1. Review Current Employees’ Compensation Levels Now
While its name has been overexposed in the media, the Great Resignation is real and still in motion. Some are even referring to the phenomenon now as the “Forever Resignation”— a cycle of voluntary turnover that may never end. Buzzy labels aside, the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people look at work, and what it means to them. They aren’t as willing to put up with things they don’t like about their job — like a low rate of pay. They know they have options, and they will seek them out.
Nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers who left their jobs in 2021 cited insufficient compensation as a reason for quitting, according to a Pew Research Center survey. To avoid turning your company’s valued staff into part of the “Class of 2022,” don’t wait for them to ask for a raise. Make sure to review their current compensation and if needed, bump it up, or extend another financial perk, like a spot bonus or paid time off.
And, if you find that employees are beating you to the punch, encourage an open discussion about pay. For example, if this person’s job responsibilities recently expanded or they’ve gained new skills, an immediate raise (or the promise of one soon) may be in order. If the employee is just feeling the crunch from inflation, offering a flexible work arrangement to reduce the burden of a costly commute might be an alternative solution for in-office workers.
2. Designate an Expert to Oversee the Compensation Process
In addition to taking stock of staff compensation levels as soon as possible, consider putting a formal process in place to ensure these levels will be monitored and adjusted proactively.
Compensation analysis will require, among other things, keeping tabs on the latest salary research and market trends, analyzing and updating job descriptions, and setting pay ranges and communicating them to staff. Look for someone in your human resources organization who could take the lead on managing this critical process. Because the market has changed so fast, it’s critical to keep continual tabs on what’s happening with pay rates and hiring dynamics for your company’s most mission-critical roles.
3. Watch Out for Pay Compression
The need to pay higher salaries to top candidates is in many cases resulting in new hires earning more than existing staff. Even small differences in pay between employees who are performing the same job, regardless of their skills or experience, can turn into big staffing headaches — namely, turnover. Feelings of resentment and disengagement can especially rise in the workforce when new hires with less experience are paid the same as, or more than, tenured employees in the same positions, or when individual contributors are paid more than their managers.
Inflation, competition for in-demand talent and the company’s failure to keep up with current market rates for compensation can all lead to pay compression. Conducting regular pay audits as described above and quickly bringing up the base salary of underpaid employees are solutions for resolving and, ideally, preventing, pay compression.
When raises aren’t an option, consider offering compelling non-monetary perks such as upskilling opportunities, better benefits, health and wellness programs, a more welcoming corporate culture, or all of the above.
That said, you can be sure that, no matter what, leading employers will continue to pay salaries that will attract the top talent they need to drive innovation and stay competitive.
Welcome to the second installment of Pulse on Healthcare. This month’s issue takes a look at the issues causing financial distress for healthcare organizations, and how CFOs can take action to relieve it.
According to the 2022 BDO Healthcare CFO Outlook Survey, 63% of healthcare organizations are thriving, but 34% are just surviving. And while healthcare CFOs have an optimistic outlook—82% expect to be thriving in one year—they’ll need to make changes this year if they’re going to reach their revenue goals. To prevent and solve for financial distress, CFOs need to review and address the underlying causes. Otherwise, they might find themselves falling short of expectations in the year ahead.
Here are six ways for CFOs to address financial distress:
1. Staffing shortages: 40% of healthcare CFOs say retaining key talent will be a top workforce challenge in 2022.
How can you avoid a labor shortage? Think about increasing wages for your frontline staff, especially your nurses. You could also reconsider the benefits you’re offering and ask yourself what offerings would be attractive for your frontline staff. For example, whether you offer free childcare could mean the difference between your staff staying and walking out for another employment opportunity. Additionally, consider enhancing or simplifying processes through technology to relieve some strain from day-to-day tasks.
2. Budget forecasting: Almost half (45%) of healthcare organizations will undergo a strategic cost reduction exercise in 2022 to meet their profitability goals.
How else can you cut costs? One option is to adopt a zero-based approach to budgeting this year. This allows you to build your budget from the ground up and find new areas to adjust costs to free up resources. Consider some non-traditional cost reduction areas, like telecommunication or select janitorial expenses, which are overlooked year after year. Cost savings in these areas can be substantial and quick to implement.
3. Bond covenant violations: 42% of healthcare CFOs have defaulted on their bond or loan covenants in the past 12 months. Interestingly, 25% say they have not defaulted but are concerned they will default in the next year.
How can you avoid violations? The first step to take is to meet with your financial advisors, especially if you are worried you’re going to default on your bond or loan covenants. You want to get their counsel before you default so you can prepare your organization and mitigate the damage. Ideally, they can help you avoid a default altogether.
4. Supply chain strains: 84% of healthcare CFOs say supply chain disruption is a risk in 2022.
How can you mitigate these risks? Supply chain shortages are a ubiquitous problem across industries right now, but not all of the issues are within your control. Focus on what is, including assessing your supply chain costs and seeing where you can find the same or similar products for lower prices. Identifying alternative suppliers may end up saving you a lot of frustration, especially if your regular suppliers run into disruptions.
5. Increased cost of resources: 39% of healthcare CFOs are concerned about rising material costs and expect it will pose a significant threat to their supply chain.
How can you alleviate these concerns? Price increases for the resources you purchase — including medical supplies, drugs, technology and more — could deplete your financial reserves and strain your liquidity, exacerbating your financial difficulties. You may be able to switch from physician-preferred products to other, most cost-effective products for the time being. Switching medical suppliers may even save you money in the long run. Involving clinical leadership in the process can keep physicians informed of the choices you are making and the motivation behind them.
6. Patient volume: 39% of healthcare CFOs are making investments to improve the patient experience.
How can you satisfy your patient stakeholders? As hospitals and physician practices get closer to the new normal of care, patients are returning to procedures and check-ins they put off at the height of the pandemic. Patients want a comfortable experience that will keep them coming back, including a safe and clean atmosphere at in-person offices.
They also want access to frictionless telehealth and patient portals for those who don’t want to or can’t travel to receive care. Revisit your “Digital Front Door Strategy” and consider ways to improve and streamline it. These investments can also go toward improving health equity strategies to ensure everyone across communities is receiving the same level of care.
The former CFO of Pacific Hospital’s physician management arm was sentenced to 15 months in prison June 24 for a tax offense related to a kickback scheme, according to the Justice Department.
The sentencing came about four years after George Hammer was charged. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to one count of filing a false tax return.
Mr. Hammer allegedly supported a kickback scheme that resulted in the submission of more than $500 million in bills for kickbacks for surgeries. He allegedly supported the kickback scheme by facilitating payments to people receiving kickbacks and bribes pursuant to sham contracts that were used to conceal illicit payments, according to the Justice Department.
The Department of Justice notes that Mr. Hammer was a salaried employee and did not profit directly from the kickbacks and bribes.
Twenty-two defendants, including the owner of Pacific Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., have been convicted for participating in the scheme.
Although CFOs often hold the key to resources, acting as gatekeepers, they can also be critical allies in innovation, enabling programs and initiatives, according to an April 12 McKinsey report.
While innovation is often thought of in a traditional sense, with new offerings and services coming to mind, innovation can also mean disruption and change in business models, productivity improvements and new ways to service consumers. The CFO has the perspective to see where fresh ideas are needed in the business from a financial perspective, and the power to make them happen.
Innovation also requires resources and capital, of which the CFO has control and say as to how it gets used. The CFO is an important part of determining which innovations will go ahead and is akin to a venture capitalist, deciding whether to invest in a start-up.
As members of the C-suite, CFOs also have an important role in encouraging a culture of openness and innovation where staff members feel comfortable coming to company leaders with new ideas. By creating an atmosphere of innovation, the company can build a pipeline of innovative talent and concepts, which the CFO can help bring to fruition.
- CFOs rank the challenge of attracting and retaining employees far above other internal risks for 2022, citing labor shortages and the difficulty of crafting a balance between remote and in-office work, Deloitte found in a quarterly survey.
- “The number of times CFOs cited talent/labor and related issues heavily outweighed other priorities for 2022,” Deloitte said Thursday in a report on the survey of Fortune 500 CFOs. “‘Retention, retention, retention’ was a resounding refrain, including through wages and incentives.”
- Eighty-eight percent of the 130 respondents said they will use a hybrid work model next year, 92% will increase automation and 41% expect to shrink their companies’ real estate footprint, Deloitte said.
The slow return of workers from coronavirus lockdowns has led to labor shortages, competition for hires and an increase in wages.
Employees are switching jobs for higher pay at a near-record pace. The quits rate, or the number of workers who left their jobs as a percent of total employment, rose from 2.3% in January to 2.8% in October, the second-highest level in data going back to 2000, the U.S. Labor Department said. The quits rate hit a high of 3% in September.
Attracting and retaining employees vaulted to the No. 2 ranking of business risks for 2022 and the next decade, from No. 8 a year ago, according to a global survey of 1,453 C-suite executives and board members by Protiviti and NC State University. (Leading the list of risks for 2022 is the impact on business from pandemic-related government policy).
Companies are trying to hold on to workers, and attract hires, by raising pay. Private sector hourly wages rose 4.8% in November compared with 12 months before, according to the Labor Department.
Tight labor markets and the highest inflation in three decades have prompted companies to budget 3.9% wage increases for 2022 — the biggest jump since 2008, according to a survey by The Conference Board.
The proportion of small businesses that raised pay in October hit a 48-year high, with a net 44% increasing compensation and a net 32% planning to do so in the next three months, the National Federation of Independent Business said last month.
CFO respondents to the Deloitte survey said they plan to push up wages/salaries by 5.2%, a nine percentage point increase from their 4.3% forecast during the prior quarter.
“Talent/labor — and several related issues, including attrition, burnout and wage inflation — has become an even greater concern of CFOs this quarter, and the challenges to attract and retain talent could impinge on their organizations’ ability to execute their strategy on schedule,” Deloitte said.
The proportion of CFOs who feel optimistic about their companies’ financial prospects dropped to just under half from 66% over the same time frame.
“CFOs over the last several quarters have become a little more bearish,” Steve Gallucci, managing partner for Deloitte’s CFO program, said in an interview, citing the coronavirus, competition for talent, inflation and disruptions in supply chains.
CFOs have concluded that the pandemic will persist for some time and that they need to “build that organizational muscle to be more nimble, more agile,” he said.
At the same time, CFOs expect their companies’ year-over-year growth will outpace the increase in wages and salaries, estimating revenue and earnings next year will rise 7.8% and 9.6%, respectively, Deloitte said.
“We are seeing in many cases record earnings, record revenue numbers,” Gallucci said.
Describing their plans for capital in 2022, half of CFOs said that they will repurchase shares, 37% say they will take on new debt and 22% plan to “reduce or pay down a significant proportion of their bonds/debt,” Deloitte said.
CFOs view inflation as the most worrisome external risk, followed by supply chain bottlenecks and changes in government regulation, Deloitte said. The Nov. 8-22 survey was concluded before news of the outbreak of the omicron variant of COVID-19.
Edward Karlovich serves as the executive vice president and CFO for UPMC, a $23 billion provider and insurer based in Pittsburgh.
Since joining UPMC in 1990, Mr. Karlovich has served in several financial leadership roles. Most recently, he was vice president, CFO and chief of staff for UPMC’s Health Services Division. He became CFO of the entire integrated system with 40 hospitals in October 2020, after serving on an interim basis for about a year.
Here, Mr. Karlovich shares with Becker’s the skills he thinks CFOs need to succeed today, some key capital projects in the works at UPMC and his organization’s top financial priorities.
Editor’s note: Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.
Question: What is the most pressing issue facing hospital CFOs due to COVID-19?
Edward Karlovich: I would say the most pressing issue for me is disruption. COVID-19 has done many things to disrupt the way we think about our organization and business. Some disruptions we faced in the last year include staffing and supply chain challenges. UPMC did a great job weathering through the supply disruptions and labor challenges. We always had adequate personal protective equipment for our folks here. We also really made a conscientious decision last year to keep our workforce intact; we didn’t lay off workers, and we took care of people who needed time off because of COVID-19. We also made sure employees knew they had the support of our executive leadership team. In summary, COVID-19 has created a disruption, and we must think about how things are different now coming out of the disruption.
Q: What are some things you are doing to work through the change/disruption?
EK: From an organizational perspective, we embarked on what we call the “UPMC experience” a few years ago. We looked at the way we are doing things to understand the experience of our employees and patients. This prepared us to be more creative in our thinking as to how we address challenges and disruption. We also learned through this the importance of interdependencies. Our business, both provider and insurance side, discussed a need to tackle the disruptions in an integrated way and discussed a need to communicate changes effectively. This year, we provided about 40 news conferences to get the standard message out across all of our regions. We also have a 90,000-plus employee organization which allows you to move around resources to deal with some challenges and disruptions.
Q: What are UPMC’s top financial priorities for 2022?
EK: From a financial perspective, we want to maintain a positive margin to support our capital investments and employees. To do this, we are focused on a few things. First, supporting our operating employees to ensure they can perform to the best of their ability. They are the ones who make the difference each and every day. Second, we want to make sure we, as a finance team, can provide the things that the organization needs to be successful. This includes, but is not limited to, making sure supply chain folks can get all needed supplies and ensuring we have the cash collections needed to fund our organization. Another priority is making sure we provide the advice and guidance needed to invest our dollars effectively so we can prepare for the next challenge.
Q: What are a few key capital projects UPMC has in the works?
EK: UPMC is a premier provider in our community, and we operate a number of specialty hospitals in the area. We are the primary pediatric, psychiatric, women’s health and oncology provider in the region. Over the past couple of years, we’ve embarked on a journey to provide new facilities in western Pennsylvania for these major programs. We are also investing heavily in a vision and rehabilitation institute, which is a $500 million project that will put our clinicians, researchers and other providers together to drive breakthroughs in vision care and rehabilitation.
We also are going to embark on a new tower for UPMC Presbyterian Oakland Campus [in Pittsburgh]. It is going to be the largest capital project we’ve embarked on since I’ve been here. This project will be more than $1 billion and is so important to the community.
The third thing we are looking at is enhancing our oncology services and product at UPMC Shadyside [in Pittsburgh]. What we’ve recognized is that we are the provider and insurer of choice in western Pennsylvania, and we have to invest in this community for the next 50 to 100 years.
Q: What skills are essential for hospital and health system CFOs to thrive in today’s healthcare landscape?
EK: The technical skills are given as CFO. To get in that leadership position, you have to be able to perform the necessary tasks. However, to make your organization better, I could boil it down to four things. First, you have to be a partner to your other senior leaders. Finance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You have to be in the room with those folks, helping them manage and drive the business. The second thing is flexibility. If you think about what we experienced as an industry over the last two years, if you weren’t flexible, you were going to be seriously challenged. Flexibility is such an important attribute because the pace of change is going to accelerate in our industry. Third, I’d say talent recognition is a key skill. It is important to be able to find talent as well as mentor and develop them as employees who can provide a great service to the organization. Fourth, you have to embody integrity. There is no doubt in my mind that integrity is a core value that is essential to everything you do as a finance leader. You have to maintain your integrity at all times. Those are essential skills. If you’re going to be a successful CFO now, you have to have those skills outside of the technical.
Q: What is one piece of advice you would offer to another healthcare CFO, and why?
EK: I’d say, look beyond the challenges of today. It’s not just about what you can actually see and envision in front of you. Try to look at the implications that are not necessarily top of mind. What the future holds is uncertain for all of us in healthcare now. You need to be thinking about what things might be coming down the road that will change our business and commitment to our communities dramatically. Try to brainstorm around that. Trying to think forward and speculate about what might happen is very valuable.