CFOs look at the silver lining in the Covid-19 storm cloud in CFO Community Conversation

CFOs believe the move to online, and improved healthcare and education are amongst silver linings.

On Wednesday evening, 17 June, South Africa’s leading finance professionals gathered online for the 12th edition of CFO South Africa’s CFO Community Conversations, where they discussed the “silver lining in the Covid-19 storm cloud” with Herotel chairman Alan Knott-Craig

Alan shared what he believed to be the silver linings of the pandemic, citing: 

  • Carbon emissions are down,
  • No load shedding, because there’s less stress on the Eskom grid,
  • Children are getting quality education online,
  • Good doctors can diagnose and treat people across the country over the internet,
  • Economically, oil prices are low and gold price has gone up, 
  • Retail prices have dropped because e-commerce has taken out the middle-man,
  • The closing of many businesses is creating a space for entrepreneurs, and
  • The way government, especially President Cyril Ramaphosa, has stepped up in this time of crisis

“In times like these, it’s not necessarily about winning, but about surviving,” he added. “And surviving, in this case, can mean winning.” 

CFOs then broke away into two breakout rooms and had the opportunity to discuss what they considered to be the silver lining in their respective industries.

Santam CFO Hennie Nel said that, for him, the silver lining is the move to online. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last couple of months with getting people to use digital a lot more. That is going to have a lasting effect and make businesses more efficient.”

Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA) CFO Pardon Mutasa said it’s good to see that during lockdown, statistics reflect a rapid decline in carbon emissions, and an improvement in the air quality in some of the most polluted countries in the world, like India and China. 

“It’s a good thing for us and from GBCSA, the time is right for us to encourage these low levels of emissions, and make sure that people understand effects of carbon emissions – make it business as usual going forward,” he added. “We’re very happy with the conversations going on, I just hope it sticks in our hearts and minds.”

University of Cape Town (UCT) CFO Ashley Francis said he has been impressed with how the UCT leadership has shaped the new normal over the past number of weeks for education. “However, as part of the broader higher education sector, it is paramount that all 26 universities within the sector pull together in adapting to the new normal and innovate at a similar momentum to others.”

Spar CFO Mark Godfrey, who comes out of a sector which has largely been unaffected by Covid-19 disruption, believes that the silver lining is quite difficult to establish at this time. “It’s like fighting a war and trying to think of the peace thereafter. You need to finish fighting the war first – but that’s not to say opportunities aren’t identified.” 

He added that:

“We’ve all grown in these tough times, despite the fact that we might not appreciate it today. But we will look back one day and recognise how much we’ve grown in these last couple of months.”

Hatch Africa CFO Craig Sumption said that you can’t work in South Africa if you don’t have an optimistic outlook. “We’re always facing challenges. I think there are various opportunities and they will start emerging as we move forward.” 

When it comes to times like this, he said that the CFO role is an important one when you are considering the silver lining. “People want to hear the point of view from more than just one person and they often look to the CFO for news, but you have to be realistic about how it’s going.”

Hennie echoed this statement, saying that “realism is important, but instead of telling the negative story, you can tell the story in a way where the glass is half full instead of half empty”. 

Netcare CFO Keith Gibson said the impact of Covid-19 has been widespread and severe and, at the moment, it’s a case of just facing it, but doing it in a way that we don’t lose hope and ensure that we survive and come out on the other side. 

iOCO group CFO Jo-Ann Pohl concluded that, when sharing some of these silver lining, you start to think differently about the crisis and look for new ideas and opportunities instead of challenges. “In this current environment we’re so interconnected, we need to make sure as an ecosystem that we get through this… As a collective, we can survive and thrive again.”