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The Next normal: CFO Challenges & Strategies for Recovery - CFOs leverage technology to maintain efficiency in the New Normal

The road ahead is new for companies. They may not see overnight success but with a willingness to grow, change and adapt, businesses will be able to conquer this current scenario, and insulate themselves even better for the upcoming new normal, so that they can not only survive, but truly thrive.

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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed how the market will function in all facets for the foreseeable future. Some see it with a slippery slope yet some view it with a potential to emerge as a game changer. With everyone adapting to what is being described as the “new normal”, the future presents an uncertain road for businesses and companies as we adjust to the pandemic and attempt to resume moving forward. 

To get a better understanding of how companies are planning to acclimatize to these new conditions, BW Businessworld organized a roundtable discussion with CFOs from some of India’s most reputed companies. The discussion posed some pertinent questions for the panellists regarding the road ahead, and their answers were enlightening:

Mr. Kedar Upadhye, President & Global CFO, Cipla shared his strategy for increasing business resilience in the post pandemic phase and his strategic vision for channelizing funds for innovation in Cipla. "In these times, no single business forecast will play out. The best way to management is 'Scenario Planning'. CFOs have to create a scenario planning discipline in the organization. It helps to bring sanity into the organization. CFOs have to create optimism & positivity for future. Scaling up the digital infrastructure helps organizations step up business resilience. At Cipla, our strategic vision is to channelize funds to enable innovation to bring affordability of medicines for all patients."

COVID-19 has disrupted business, requiring many CFOs to make tough and often painful decisions to preserve and protect their organizations. Mr. Gopal Mahadevan, Director & CFO, Ashok Leyland Ltd. discussed how are top CFO’s striving to be better leaders in the Next Normal. “Transformation and information is the key. We need to communicate and engage with our employees. We brought a ‘communication plan’ in place to ensure continuity as well as health of our employees during these difficult times. Safety, liquidity, resilience and innovation are very vital for business. Cash is no longer the king, it is the oxygen for businesses in the ‘New Normal’. 

The need of the hour is to improve visibility into corporate spend to enable data led decision making. Ms. Mankiran Chowhan, Managing Director, India, SAP Concur, talked about the key areas that finance leaders should focus on to implement rigors around spend management. “Cash flow and liquidly is ruling all the decisions that businesses are taking today, however, managing cash on hand requires visibility into what’s going out the door. Keeping an eye on spending is more of a challenge than ever before since employees have more ways to spend and with the current remote working environment, issues like data-entry errors, processing mishaps, late or incorrect payments, and employees’ mistakes and fraud can have a significant impact on the bottom line Visibility into costs and control over how money is spent is imperative to create the operational agility. We need the right integrated spend management tools to act, so that we know where to best direct funds to stabilize and thrive in these new circumstances.”

During this current crisis, both finance and business operations will have to adjust and step up to address changes in demand. Mr. Yogesh Patel, CFO, Mahindra Logistics, explained how winning CFOs are working to reduce enterprise costs, improve pricing discipline, and the like. “What is pertinent is – ensuring the function & business collaboration to be absolutely total. There is common agenda at both ends. As finance function, we are enabling the business teams and in turn business teams are congruent of their own deliverables despite the constraints of remote work from home, et al. We heavily leveraged technology. We went live with multiple systems and functionalities including new system launches in the last three quarters. This enhanced Mahindra Logistics’ ability to manage the important areas more efficiently.”

CFO’s are virtualizing talent and preparing for talent disruption in a post COVID world. Ms. Sonam Donkar, CFO - Aluminium & Power Business, Vedanta Resources Ltd discussed how are they supporting a virtual Finance Office. “Employees have worked timelessly keeping our plants running uninterrupted during this entire covid-19 induced disruption. This has been a great example of business resilience during the phase of one of the worst pandemic the world has seen. It is in Vedanta's DNA that whenever there are challenges and opportunities, the management has taken strict calls related to disrupted supply chains, building infrastructure and providing support to community. It has been our focus to build calm working environment for all our employees specially during these work from home mode with e-meetings townhalls and workshops. We have our SWOT team, manufacturing team and logistics logistics team really working hard in shortening that the whole decision-making process.”

Adding to the discussion Mr. Aditya Sarogi, Group CFO, Birla Corporation Limited added his insights on the virtual talent acquisition followed at Birla Corporation Ltd. “We could shift to absolute 100% remote working without any disruption in our critical obligations. For virtual talent acquisition, we did profiling of executives across all are functions and units and based on their strengths and weaknesses, we formed separate teams to work on during this pandemic and gave them new responsibilities to keep them motivated. We involved them in the decision-making process.”

The road ahead is new for companies. They may not see overnight success but with a willingness to grow, change and adapt, businesses will be able to conquer this current scenario, and insulate themselves even better for the upcoming new normal, so that they can not only survive, but truly thrive.

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