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Agility key to pandemic recovery, say APAC CFOs

Chief financial officers in the Asia-Pacific region call for financial transformation to bring about the agility that their organisations need to tide over the pandemic

For chief financial officers (CFOs) in Asia, 2020 has delivered sharp lessons demanding new levels of adaptability and agility.

Speaking during a panel discussion at a virtual event organised by SAP Concur, Richard McLean, regional CFO of SAP Asia-Pacific and Japan, said it was only during the ongoing pandemic that his peers truly understood the importance of agility.

“It has become a challenge, particularly for CFOs, to think about this concept and make sure that we learn from this time,” he said, stressing the need to build an agile mindset and adopt new ways of working.

He noted that Asia has done relatively rather well compared to other regions in responding to the pandemic, with governments mobilising resources quickly to protect their citizens while rolling out stimulus measures at the same time to boost their economies.

“While the economy has slowed down for sure – we’re predicting -2.2% growth across the region – there’s a broad range on that,” he said. “You have countries like India which potentially would have -10% GDP growth this year, and then you have China which is predicting 2% GDP growth.

“Every recession is followed by a recovery, and we all have to start preparing ourselves for what that would look like,” he added. “And as CFOs, we have different time horizons to think about.”

Survival stage

Noting that many organisations are still in the immediate survival stage, McLean said CFOs have had to manage their balance sheets, deliver core services to customers and look after the welfare of employees, with an eye on long-term growth. “But we do have this interesting middle ground called the ‘mid-term recovery’,” he added.

“There is a risk that a lot of the changes we’ve experienced – different ways of working, the move to digital – won’t be retained and we’ll quickly go back to the way it was before. We need to look at which areas we should invest in to make sure those learnings are sustained.”

McLean argued that financial transformation is key, with flexible, agile, robust and automated financial processes underpinning the changes in the way businesses connect with customers and supply chain partners.

Financial transformation, McLean said, starts with shared services delivery, before moving on to centralisation and process standardisation, and later the adoption of emerging technologies such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

McLean’s views on the importance of agility in finance, beyond IT, were shared by fellow panellist, Ong Kok Chye, head of investments at Keppel Data Centres.

“In my mind, agility is about resilience, adaptability and the willingness to handle uncertain situations,” Ong said. “The first thing that CFOs can do is to move to a cloud-ready infrastructure.”

“Given that 40% of CFOs still have analogue processes, it’s a great opportunity to start adopting the cloud, which gives organisations the ability to scale up massively through the use of virtualisation and harness all of these [emerging] technologies,” he added.

Meanwhile, Krishnan Ramachandran, senior vice-president and India CFO of Hinduja Global Solutions, pointed to “an unprecedented level of finance efficiency” enabled by technology.

“The way organisations are deploying scalable global applications has to be in the cloud,” he said, adding that advanced analytics and AI will help to reduce fraud while blockchain will help secure near-instantaneous transactional processing.

Read more about IT in APAC

  • Modernising its infrastructure and putting digital at its core has given Singapore’s Government Technology Agency the agility it needs to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Malaysia’s AmBank Group is tapping open source, DevOps and data science to improve customer service and develop bespoke services for a broader market.
  • Indonesia’s Bank Mandiri has built a big data platform to track transactions and monitor the health of its workforce, among other big data analytics initiatives.
  • Australia’s ANZ Bank now runs 30% of its internet banking services on Red Hat OpenShift in a move that has energised developers and paved the way for more automation.

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