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As work sites start to reopen, CFOs are concerned about the global economy and a potential new COVID-19 wave

30 June 2020 PwC

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift in some countries while others remain in lockdown, PwC’s latest COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey reveals that CFOs are most concerned about the effects of a global economic downturn (Africa: 51%; Global: 60%), the possibility of a new wave of infection (Africa: 39%; Global: 58%), and the financial impact on their businesses (Africa: 59%; Global: 47%).

However, they are very confident that they would be able to respond effectively to a new wave of infections.

Since March 2020, PwC has been tracking sentiment and priorities among finance leaders about the COVID-19 outbreak. For our fifth look across the globe, we surveyed 989 CFOs from 41 countries, including 41 CFOs from nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), during the weeks of 1 June and 8 June.

Dion Shango CEO of PwC Africa says:

“Since we first surveyed CFOs about their perceptions of and responses to COVID-19, we’ve observed how they’ve focused on safety, managed health, and economic and societal crisis, and adapted their business models to rapidly shifting circumstances.

“The findings of our latest survey suggest that companies are increasingly getting to grips with conducting business in this uncertain environment. Concerns over a loss of productivity due to remote working conditions have declined — from 45% in May to 27% in June among African CFOs. At the same time, opportunities to innovate are rising, with about half of respondents (Africa: 49%; Global: 50%) saying they’re finding new ways to serve customers.”

There are several other themes emerging from CFOs in the countries we surveyed. Some of them are the safety of employees and clients, the need for agile plans to navigate the current global economic downturn and re-engage customers, as well as the pursuit of new revenue streams through innovation.

It’s now been several weeks since many countries began to embark on phased reopening, slowly permitting more commerce and other economic activities. As these steps unfold, CFOs are implementing return-to-work plans, determining when and how – and to what extent – to bring employees back. It is positive to note that confidence levels among CFOs are high regarding plans to provide a safe working environment for their employees and clients.

African CFOs continue to expect a decline in revenue this year. CFOs’ expectations of revenue decreases align with their concerns about the impact of the global downturn and with key economic indicators. The World Bank predicts that the global economy will experience the deepest recession since the end of World War II, with a 5.2% contraction in global GDP in 2020. Nigeria’s economy is expected to contract by 3.2% due to the collapse of the oil price, while South Africa’s output is expected by the World Bank to contract by 7.1%, the deepest decline in a century. Across SSA economic activity is forecast to contract by 2.8% as a result of the pandemic.

Shirley Machaba, CEO for PwC Southern Africa comments:

“As they continue to find ways to coexist with, and thrive in spite of the ongoing threat of COVID-19 in the months and possibly years to come, companies and their leaders will need to prioritise agility and adapt as they navigate the repair process, rethink how their industry will look in this emerging landscape and reconfigure accordingly to remain relevant in future.”

Key findings in Africa

· Workplace safety: The majority of African CFOs are feeling very confident (Africa: 83%; Global: 74%) about their companies’ ability to provide a safe working environment for their employees and to provide a clear response and shut-down protocol in response to an increase in infections (Africa: 80; Global; 71%). Business leaders are equally confident about their companies’ ability to provide a safe environment for customers (Africa: 78%; Global: 79%).

· Revenue: 95% of African CFOs expect a decrease in revenue, of which more than a third expect that decrease to be more than 25%. Similarly, more than half (53%) of CFOs globally expect a decrease in revenues of up to 25%.

· Restoring business as usual: In May, 63% of CFOs surveyed in Africa said they would be able to get their businesses back to normal within six months if the pandemic were to end today. A month later, this level of optimism has dropped by a third to 41% (Global: 58%) with more than half of African CFOs (59%) now saying it will take more than six months to restore their businesses. It is also notable that almost a quarter (24%) expect it will take them more than a year, compared to just 11% who thought that a month ago.

· Staffing: 32% of African CFOs surveyed anticipate making layoffs in the next month.

· Remote working: More than two-thirds of African respondents (68%) say they will take steps to improve the remote work experience (Global: 52%) and to make remote work a permanent option (Africa: 63%; Global: 52%). More than two-thirds in Africa (68%) also plan to accelerate automation and new ways of working, compared to 50% globally.

· Better resilience and agility: 80% of African CFOs believe the current situation will make their companies better in the long run. 78% (compared to 75% global) stated that they have achieved flexibility in the workplace.

· Rebuilding revenue streams: Companies are eager to rebuild or enhance revenue streams. Most CFOs (Africa: 61%; Global: 63%) cite offering new or enhanced products or services as most important to this pursuit. Another area of importance identified by CFOs is changing price strategies by increasing or decreasing prices or offering different payment terms (Africa: 49%; Global: 48%) and exploring alternative distribution strategies, such as changing from in-person to virtual sales or delivery (Africa: 44%; Global: 36%).

· Cost containment: As companies settle into stabilisation, cost containment remains a favoured strategy among CFOs, with 90% of African CFOs (compared to 81% globally) saying they will consider it in response to the crisis. Almost two-thirds of respondents (Africa: 66%; Global: 56%) are considering deferring or cancelling planned investments. On the positive side, only 26% of African CFOs (Global: 14%) say they will consider cancelling or deferring planned investments in R&D.

· Investing in technology: Nearly two-thirds of CFOs (Africa: 63%; Global: 62%) expect their technology-related spend in the next 12 months to be focused on growth, cost reduction and compliance. For the 27% of African CFOs (Global: 28%) investing for growth, this includes investment in ecommerce, and new products and services.

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QUESTION

Brokers are frequently credited with ‘going to war’ for their clients at claims stage. Brokers will push the insurer to get an equitable and fair outcome. Is this still the case today, or do you find that insurers are pushing back too?

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