The coronavirus pandemic continues its spread across the globe, and the United States is taking enormous hits. Mass layoffs and bankruptcies are following in suit as the economy sputters to a halt and unemployment numbers hit record highs.
While a recent Gartner survey confirmed that the vast majority of CFOs are taking their obligations to their employees seriously, the responsibilities CFOs have to their workers and to their boards are far from straightforward.
Alok Ajmera, president and COO of financial management software company Prophix, has been with his company for 15 years. In that time, he’s spent his career working to unite his team of senior executives and providing functional leadership for the fast-growing company, based in Ontario, Canada.
Ajmera spoke to CFO Dive Wednesday about how CFOs can best prepare their teams, and themselves, for an uncertain and rocky coming few months.
Breaking it down
Ajmera divides CFO responsibilities into two groups: preparing their team, and supporting the organization.
"The team is most relevant at Prophix," Ajmera said. "Oftentimes, we find CFOs using old tech, lagging behind in various aspects of tech innovation. This pandemic shows how deploying modern tech would be dramatically helpful in enabling continuity on a business level."
If an organization had already adopted cloud-based digital conferencing tech, prior to the widespread move to remote work, you’d already be eliminating the need to be in a particular place, Ajmera said.
But how can the office of finance really prepare for this type of pandemic? Ajmera thinks it’s tough to say now, because we’re still somewhere in the life cycle, and many are panicking.
"It’s a cultural thing," he said. "Culturally, organizations rely heavily on ad hoc communications. They think 'I’ll just walk over and chat.' But now it’s disparate, and we can’t have random bump-ins. The informality of communication is no longer reliable."
Parameters of the CFO realm
On an individual, employee-by-employee basis, coronavirus may be more of an HR issue, Ajmera said. But when you take it up a level, the employee base is the biggest expense line, deeply connected to productivity and success.
"And those things are very much in the CFO realm," Ajmera said. "Workforce planning is very important at a time like this. CFOs are charged with helping organizations navigate the uncertainties of coronavirus and the impending recession that’s probably going to follow."
The CFO also must ask what’s going on with regards to general health of the business? "It’s not just letting people go," Ajmera said. "It’s managing cash flow and keeping the employee base active."
Answering to the c-suite
This feeds into the question of the CFO’s responsibility to the C-suite. CFOs, Ajmera said, may know what to do with a recession, but because we don’t know whether the pandemic will last weeks, months or years, decision-making becomes much more difficult.
"Things are changing at a ridiculously fast pace," Ajmera said. "The CFO’s responsibility to the organization, at a time with such rapid changes, is constantly reforecasting, running scenarios, and informing the rest of the team of what to say if this or that happens. How do we cope with them? Do we need to move production? Change our go-to market?"
In a time of crisis like this, Ajmera thinks companies with massive balance sheets will probably be okay. "But most companies have tight balance sheets," he said. "And that’s 100% the realm of the CFO."
Forging a path forward
To really do a real-time forecast and scenario analysis, CFOs need to weave the whole organization together across company lines, on a frequent basis, he said, noting that Prophix is currently doing daily forecasting.
"Collectively, CFOs are pretty resilient," Ajmera said. "They’ll get through this crisis. I’d love for CFOs to take the potential opportunity to revisit how they’re operating, and see how prepared they were, or what they can change."
Ajmera note that the world is enormously volatile right now due to the pandemic. But, he said, it’s not going to return to normal stability as we know it once it’s over. He hopes CFOs know that.