Insights from African finance leaders on the crisis and response — 30 June 2020
Since March 2020, PwC has been tracking sentiment and priorities among finance leaders about the COVID-19 outbreak. For our fifth look across the globe, we surveyed 989 CFOs from 42 countries, including 41 CFOs from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, during the weeks of 1 June and 8 June.
Global COVID-19 CFO Pulse reports:
When we surveyed CFOs in sub-Saharan Africa about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their business a month ago, less than a fifth (18%) expected to lay off staff in the next month. At that time, many companies were still in the throes of crisis response and equipping their businesses to continue functioning.
Today, as lockdowns are beginning to be progressively eased across the continent, the economic reality of the pandemic and measures taken to contain it are starting to bite hard. This time, 32% of African CFOs surveyed anticipate making lay-offs in the next month.
Meanwhile, leaders of nations and companies accept that economies will reopen and function alongside a virus that remains a constant threat. Many companies have weathered the immediate crisis — they’ve implemented safety measures, transitioned to remote work and other new ways of working, and are now thinking about what they need to survive and thrive moving forward.
95% of African CFOs expect a decrease in revenue, of which more than a third expect that decrease to be more than 25%.
59% of African CFOs say it would take more than six months for their business to get back to normal if the virus ended today.
51% of African CFOs are concerned about the impact of the global economic downturn on their businesses
32% of African CFOs surveyed anticipate making lay offs in the next month.
83% of African CFOs are very confident in their company’s ability to provide a safe working environment.
80% of African CFOs believe the current situation will make their companies better in the long run.
It’s now been a few weeks since many countries began to embark on phased reopenings, slowly permitting more commerce and other activities. Among African respondents, the top concern as they implement their plans is the financial impact on their business, including effects on results of operations, future periods, liquidity and capital resources (59%). This is followed by concern about the impact of a global economic downturn (51%), and worries about a new wave of infections (39%).
Our findings reveal CFOs in Africa are significantly more concerned than their global peers about issues such as increased costs of doing business, supply chain and cybersecurity risks. This may be attributable to the challenging risk environment in which many businesses in Africa operate.
In May, 63% of CFOs we surveyed in Africa said they would be able to get their businesses back to normal within six months if the pandemic were to end today. A month later, this level of optimism has dropped by a third to 41% (Global: 58%) with more than a half of African CFOs (59%) now saying it will take more than six months to restore their businesses. In fact, nearly a quarter (24%) expect it will take them more than a year, compared to just 11% who thought that a month ago.
There is a significant overlap in the African CFOs who participated in both the pulse surveys conducted in May and June, so why such a big change in sentiment? Every day, the realities of the pandemic sink in a little deeper and the scope of its impacts stretch a little wider. For many people, and the companies they run, this is leading to greater caution and an acceptance that there are many things they do not know.
CFOs’ expectations of revenue decreases align with their concerns about the impact of the global downturn and with key economic indicators.
Approximately one-third (34%) of African CFOs expect a decrease in revenue and/or profits of more than 25%, which is seven percentage points more than in May and significantly higher than the global average of 21%. The proportion anticipating a decline of less than 25% has remained consistent at 56% (Global: 53%).
While managing their financial challenges, the majority of CFOs in our survey are also focused on safety. CFOs in Africa are prioritising new workplace safety measures (76%) and reconfiguring work sites to promote distancing (76%). Not everyone will be coming back to physical work sites and we see African respondents being noticeably more proactive in this regard.
More than two-thirds of African respondents (68%) say they will take steps to improve the remote work experience (Global: 52%) and to make remote work a permanent option (Africa: 63%; Global: 52%), More than two-thirds in Africa (68%) plan to accelerate automation and new ways of working, to 50% globally.
These findings correspond with the 80% of CFOs in African (Global: 65%) who say better resiliency and agility developed during the crisis will make their organisation stronger over the long term, and the 78% (Global: 75%) who cited the work flexibility they have achieved.
Given their focus on the more tactical responses to bringing people back, it is to be expected that CFOs report feeling very confident about their companies’ ability to provide a safe working environment for their employees and customers, and to provide a clear response and shut-down protocol in response to an increase in infections (Africa: 80%, Global: 71%).
But, when it comes to more forward-looking measures, confidence starts to wane. Fewer CFOs say they are very confident about building skills for the future, balancing the needs of all stakeholders and identifying new revenue opportunities. Given the crisis currently being negotiated, this is likely the result of their prioritising other areas right now.
As they consider the future, companies are eager to rebuild or enhance revenue streams. Most CFOs believe offering new or enhanced products or services will be most important to this pursuit, underscoring the fact that innovation will be a driving factor during the recovery period.
Another area of importance identified by CFOs is changing pricing strategies by increasing or decreasing prices or offering different payment terms, as well as exploring alternative distribution strategies, such as changing from in-person to virtual sales or delivery.
Cost containment remains the top financial action CFOs are considering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly two-thirds of respondents (Africa: 66%, Global: 56%) considering deferring or cancelling planned investments.
Among those planning to halt investments, the most common area for potential cuts remains (as it has been in all of our CFO Pulse surveys) facilities and general capital expenditure, operations and workforce investment.
On the positive side, only 26% of African CFOs say they will consider cancelling or deferring planned investments in R&D (Global: 14%). This is good news, given respondents’ belief in the importance of developing new products and services.
CFOs are also not as likely to cut from their planned digital transformation investment, which corresponds to findings about their plans to accelerate automation and improve the remote work experience.
As companies adjust and adapt to the new business environment, many finance leaders are looking at what it will take to get their businesses back onto a sound footing. Nearly two-thirds of CFOs expect their technology-related spend in the next 12 months to be focused on growth, cost reduction and compliance. Almost one in five say they will be looking to cut costs through investments in technology such as automation.
Four out of five African CFOs believe their companies will be more resilient and agile in the long run as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. A similar proportion say the work flexibility they have introduced into their businesses will benefit them in the future. Finance leaders’ commitment to technology investment is reflected in the advantage they believe it will deliver to their companies.
Overall, African CEOs are more positive than their global peers about how the interventions they’ve made in response to the pandemic will benefit them in the long run. They’re also more positive in June than they were in our May survey, suggesting that the many potential benefits may still be in the process of being recognised.
Since we first surveyed CFOs about their perceptions of and responses to COVID-19, we’ve observed how they’ve focused on safety, managed health, economic and societal crises and adapted their business models to rapidly shifting circumstances.
As they continue to find ways to coexist with, and thrive in spite of the ongoing threat of COVID-19 in the months and possibly years to come, companies and their leaders will need to prioritise agility and adapt as they navigate the repair process, rethink how their industry will look in this emerging landscape and reconfigure accordingly to remain relevant in future.
To help identify the business and economic impact of COVID-19, PwC has been conducting a series of global surveys of finance leaders. Of the 989 surveyed for the global report during the weeks of 1 June and 8 June 2020, were respondents from 42 countries, including from nine sub-Saharan African countries:
• Bahamas • Bahrain • Bermuda • Brazil • China/Hong Kong • Cyprus • Czech Republic • Denmark • Egypt • France • Germany • Ghana • Greece • Jamaica • Jordan • Kazakhstan • Kenya • Kuwait • Lebanon • Malta • Mauritius • Namibia • Netherlands • Nigeria • Oman • Portugal • Qatar • Saudi Arabia • Singapore • Slovakia • South Africa • Sweden • Switzerland • Togo • Turkey • Uganda • United Arab Emirates • United States • Vietnam • Zimbabwe.
PwC Africa CEO, PwC South Africa
Tel: +27 (0) 11 797 4166
Regional Senior Partner South Market Area, PwC South Africa
Tel: +27 (0) 11 797 5851
Regional Senior Partner East Market Area, PwC Kenya
Tel: +254 (0) 20 285 5090