If only CFOs could fully get back to doing their day jobs of helping set and execute on company strategies and overseeing financial reporting activities. Instead, they’re stuck spending way more time than they’d prefer on keeping criminals at bay.

Concern about data security is at an all-time high among finance chiefs, according to the latest quarterly Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook.

Finance chiefs at nearly one in five companies that participated in the outlook survey admitted that hackers have breached their computer systems. And “there are probably many more who don’t know that their company’s systems have been breached,” says Cam Harvey, a founding director of the survey who teaches a technology innovation course at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

“Companies are defending themselves from near-continuous denial-of-service attacks and critical data breaches,” Harvey says.

Most U.S. companies are taking steps to reduce data security risks. In the survey, 71% of those represented have installed anti-penetration features like two-factor authentication or more stringent password protection. Also, 54% of the companies have upgraded employee training, while almost half have hired outside data security experts.

In other survey findings, U.S. companies expected their cost of borrowing to increase over the next year. The typical firm expected its long-term borrowing rate to increase to 5.8% from the current 5.2%. Higher interest rates would lead a typical firm to reduce capital spending growth from about 8.3% this year to about 7.1% next year.

“Rising interest rates dampen companies’ incentive to borrow and spend, slowing economic growth,” noted John Graham, a finance professor at Fuqua and director of the survey.

On the other hand, the level of optimism among U.S. CFOs remained at an all-time-high — the survey has been performed for 89 consecutive quarters — of 71 on a 100-point scale. However, CFO optimism fell everywhere else in the world except in Europe, where it inched up to 68, from 67 in the previous two quarters.

The survey’s CFO Optimism Index has proven to be an accurate predictor of future hiring and overall GDP growth.

Also remaining close to a two-decade high was the proportion of companies indicating they were having difficulty hiring and retaining qualified workers. More than 4 in 10 surveyed finance chiefs (41%) listed the matter as a top concern.

U.S. companies plan to boost employment by a median 3% in 2018 and hike wages an average of 4%, according to the survey. Wage inflation, now a top-five concern for U.S. CFOs, is expected to be strongest in the technology, transportation, and service/consulting industries.

Perhaps concomitantly, U.S. companies expected the prices of their products to increase by more than 3% over the next year.

The second-quarter Duke/CFO survey was conducted in early June. It generated responses from nearly 600 CFOs worldwide, including nearly 250 from North America.

Detailed survey results, including tabular summaries of the numbers and results from previous surveys, are available from gregory.phillips@duke.edu. Downloadable results are also available here.

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