How are CFOs Approaching 2021?

By Nicole Madigan

Technology adoption, agility, cohesive communication, and strategic thinking are key considerations for CFOs in 2021, irrespective of company size or industry.

The rapidly changing environment caused by the 2020 pandemic demonstrated that market predictions and forecasts can no longer be relied upon for financial decision making.

Instead, a transformation mindset is a must, along with strategic nimbleness, and the ability to think on a more human level.

In this exclusive two part series, CFO Magazine sat down with the finance leaders of four diverse organisations, who shared how their 2020 experience has impacted their preparation for the year ahead.

Lorna Raine, CFO | George Weston Foods

For Lorna Raine, managing the fallout from the pandemic has been an exercise in fluidity.

“The issues and the response have changed and evolved throughout the epidemic,” she says.

“Initially, it was very much a crisis response; ensuring the safety of our people and that we had necessary plans in place to deal with customer demand changes.

“Ensuring our cash availability and forecasting processes were in place was also an immediate concern.

“While we are still very much concerned about employee safety, continuation of supply and cash, we’ve pleasingly been able to focus more effort and resources on our strategy and plans, and have even approved multi-million-dollar capital plans that are strategically important to earnings growth.”

As a finance team, Raine says they’ve improved and leveraged analytics with a specific focus on developing multiple scenario‘s for decision making.

“I think the experience we went through last year has really set us up to tackle the turbulence.

“We have improved markedly in areas of cash flow management, risk management (like debt collection), as well as getting tighter on allocation of investment capital.

“In my opinion, we’ve also all developed skills for greater resilience both personally and professionally, which include agility and managing ambiguity.

“Our strategy around data, data analytics, business intelligence, and data visualisation has proven very beneficial and we’ll see that continue into 2021 and beyond, if not accelerated.”

For Raine, the long-term impact of the 2020 financial crisis on the future has been personal, as well as professional.

“I think I’m far more in tune with people humanistically,” she says.

“Everyone in the team has had different challenges personally. Thinking through strategies to help and support people, while still getting the job done has been important.

“We’ve had to be creative with zoom calls and connecting and having fun in different ways.

“I’d like to think we will keep that going.”

Simon Robinson, CFO | Education Perfect

Having obtained an early insight into future possibilities, thanks to the company’s work with Chinese schools, Education Perfect (EP) CFO, Simon Robinson, decided to make the EP platform available for free, in order to provide extra support.

“In March, we extended this offer worldwide until May, and experienced a surge in interest as schools throughout the world began to close.

“The team came together, and we hired over 30 additional support staff, and made several infrastructure upgrades to meet demand.

“There were nervous moments when committing to a much higher cost base with no additional revenue, but we know that customer awareness and engagement is critical, and it felt like a pivotal moment for the business that we had to seize.”

The move paid off, and EP were able to onboard more than 300 new schools as paying customers for the second half of 2020.

“It was such a difficult time for teachers and students, but also a critical time for stress testing digital solutions, and we were able to demonstrate our value in both the classroom and remote setting.”

For Robinson, the events of 2020 cemented the importance of being connected to the business as a whole.

“Understanding the needs of teams, such as engineering and support, and how all these are inter-linked and need to work in harmony to adapt quickly to changes.

“Also, the importance of real time data, for example being able to look at new requests coming through and anticipate platform usage.”

Robinson believes 2020 has accelerated the changes that were already in the pipeline.

“The CFO needs to be highly strategic, working closely with all areas of the business. Less time focused on historic figures, and more time spent looking at data.

“Increased adoption of digital technologies; increased flexibility in the workplace, mixing shared office spaces and home working; an increased focus on culture, employee well-being and socially responsible business practices; and increased automation of processes, meaning more emphasis for finance and other teams to be analysing and interpreting data rather than processing transactions.”

Part Two of this interview series will focus on Jerome Colin, CFO at Red Bull Australia and Penny Votsaris, CFO at Reventon Finance & Investments and how they are approaching the next 12 months.