CFOs, in times of crisis, stop, drop and collaborate

CFOs discuss the importance of collaborating in order to survive during CFO Community Conversation.

On Wednesday evening, 29 July, CFO South Africa hosted a webinar with the theme “Stop, drop and collaborate” that was suggested by community member, CFO Awards nominee, and UCT executive director of finance Ashley Francis.

The topic of the evening looked into how companies and individuals should be collaborating during this time to ensure their companies survive the Covid-19 crisis. 

“With collaboration, there’s always a win-win solution,” Ashley said. 

What we have decided to do, is to digitalise our finance department by bringing in new processes, skills and job descriptions, and changing the way we do finance with innovations like AI> We embarked on the process a long time ago, but when I introduced the concept, it was difficult for people to accept it. What dawned on me, was collaboration.

He explained that UCT had gone on a journey of digitalising its finance department some time ago, but when he introduced the concept it was difficult for people to buy into the idea. He wanted to introduce new processes, skills and job descriptions to change the way UCT handled their finances. He realised that he needed to collaborate with someone who had gone through a similar process in the same industry. So instead of asking a big international firm to share its story about digitalisation, he opted to collaborate with a university in the Netherlands that had already completed their journey and was able to show UCT results that they could relate to. 

CFO Charlotte Mbewu said that collaboration has always been front and centre for Discovery Health Medical Scheme, be it with members, service providers like hospitals, or regulators. 

In fact, on Wednesday morning they were in a meeting with other healthcare funders in which they discussed the mental health aspect of the impact of Covid-19. “We discussed how healthcare funders can build systems and tools to assist people who require mental healthcare that can’t necessarily tap into it from a face to face perspective.”

The Competition Tribunal of South Africa has collaborated within the organisation, pairing together different processes to get the best out of all their operations. The different public sector entities are also sharing their knowledge on responding to the crisis. “We’re finding solutions that work for us based on this collaboration,” said head of finance Devrani Moonsamy. “Because of this collaboration, possibilities of merging similar entities are also emerging.” 

In the aviation sector, there is a lot of collaboration with the intention of remaining relevant, especially because there are no government financial relief packages available. “With the challenges we are facing in terms of cash flows, we’ve had to consistently engage with customers and suppliers,” said Lanseria CFO Mpolaheng Kekana

She explained that collaboration has also helped her understand Lanseria’s clients and the industry better. 

The CFOs agreed that collaborating with technology has proved very beneficial during this time when people are forced to work from home. 

“Had we not collaborated using technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, we also wouldn’t have been able to communicate so efficiently with each other,” Ashley said. 

EQSTRA CFO Lauren Odell finds that she can now easily bring people in on Zoom calls that she normally wouldn’t have gone out of her way to include.  "I've become a lot more collaborative."

The CFOs also agreed that collaboration doesn’t come naturally and that it's a skill you have to acquire. “It is assumed that, in these times, we will be able to collaborate and pull together easily, but I think it’s up to leadership to drive this effectively and efficiently,” said Coronation Fund CFO Mary-Anne Musekiwa. “You need to be open and engaging, be able to demonstrate trust, and be tolerant of others.”