Africa findings — 21 May 2020
PwC is tracking sentiment and priorities about the COVID-19 outbreak among finance leaders. We surveyed 867 CFOs from 40 countries during the week of 4 May, including 55 CFOs from nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This survey is our fourth look across the globe and the first to include a report on findings in Africa. We will continue to add territories and companies to offer a robust view of how the crisis is affecting people and businesses worldwide.
Since the World Health Organisation recognised the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic on 11 March, this complex and rapidly evolving upheaval has progressed to every corner of Africa. The first case recorded in Africa was in Egypt on 14 February and the last nation on the continent to confirm an infection was Lesotho on 13 May — a full three months later.
Global COVID-19 CFO Pulse reports:
As companies in many countries begin to move beyond the emergency response and crisis management phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders across the world are balancing immediate concerns with organising and planning to steady their operations in ‘the new normal’.
The pandemic only took hold in some African countries as late as May, while others were already in lockdown by late March. Whichever phase they find themselves in, the economic fallout of the pandemic is still widespread and the stabilisation wave of companies’ responses is likely to be long. The IMF projects that economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa will decrease by 1.6% this year, with oil-exporting countries in the region expected to contract by an average of 2.8%.
Despite the challenges, governments realise that their economies must reopen. They will do so at a varied pace, with some territories providing a blueprint for success and others serving as cautionary tales. But it’s clear in every corner of the world that navigating the way forward will increasingly fall on companies. It is companies that will ultimately need to determine when to bring their people back to worksites and how to keep them safe, and it is companies that will need to develop innovative solutions to ensure this safety can be sustained throughout the crisis and recovery.
As they manage this process, business leaders — including the CFOs we’ve surveyed — will be faced with a series of decisions that will have a wide-reaching impact: on their own financial future; on the wellbeing of their employees, customers and other stakeholders; and on society at large.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of African CFOs predict a decline of at least 10% in their company revenue and/or profit this year.
62% of African CFOs estimate it will take more than three months to restore ‘business as usual’.
76% of respondents are very confident about meeting customers’ safety expectations and providing a safe working environment for their employees at their places of business.
The vast majority (85%) are implementing cost containment measures or deferring or cancelling planned investments (60%).
Developing alternate sourcing options (64%) and changing contractual terms (56%) are the main priorities in supply chain strategy.
60% say remote work is here to stay for some roles, as companies plan to alternate crews and reconfigure worksites.
Times are tough and few envisage the coming months will be much easier, with all African CFOs expecting the pandemic to impact their revenue/profits and most (85%) anticipating a reduction in revenue this year. Some expect to be impacted more severely than others, with nearly two-thirds (65%) expecting their companies’ revenue and/or profits to decrease by at least 10% and only 9% expecting them to increase.
Businesses are actively dealing with the effects of a sharp decline in economic activity and even temporary closure of their operations. In this environment it’s no surprise that African CFOs are taking decisive action to safeguard their financial positions, with 85% implementing cost containment measures and 60% either deferring or cancelling planned investments. Of the 33 African respondents who said their company is pursuing this course of action, the majority are focusing on facilities and general capital expenditure (82%) followed by investments in the workforce (52%) and operations (36%). Other cost alleviation actions such as changing financing plans (49%), adjusting guidance and changing M&A strategy remain on the table for a minority of respondents.
CFOs’ approach to supply chains reflect their realisation that the stabilisation phase will be long and sometimes difficult. Developing alternate sourcing options and changing contractual terms are the main priorities for changes in supply chain strategy for African CFOs compared to their global counterparts who place more focus on understanding the financial and operational health of suppliers.
CFOs know that operationalising the ‘new normal’ will come with challenges that result from the crisis, as well as from pre-crisis factors. For example, even prior to COVID-19, PwC’s Connected and autonomous supply chain ecosystems 2025 report found that only 28% of supply chain decision-makers surveyed had implemented solutions to increase supply chain transparency to achieve visibility across the entire supply chain, from materials to customers and back. More than 1 600 participants in 33 countries took part in the research.
The use of automation and other tools skews slightly lower among supply chain approaches overall, which may also reflect the fact that many businesses are still stabilising, rather than looking for ways to upgrade or increase efficiencies.
The majority of CFOs, and particularly in Africa, are making plans focused on tactical measures to protect staff, followed by strategic measures around remote work and automation. For example, 91% of African CFOs are considering workplace safety measures and requirements such as masks and testing, and 65% say they’ll reconfigure work sites to promote physical distancing.
Significantly more African CFOs (62% vs 48%) say they will be accelerating automation and new ways of working once they transition back to ‘normal’. Given the need to limit the number of people in close contact, 60% are considering making remote work a permanent option where feasible. This corresponds to another finding: 78% of African CFOs say that the work flexibility they have created in response to the crisis will benefit their company in the long run.
While businesses in the developed world take it as given, the success of remote work in the African context will depend on the availability, stability and cost of the required communications network and power supply.
Along with decisions about cutting investments, African CFOs are evaluating the other changes they’ve made to help manage the crisis. Many cite work flexibility (78%), technology investment (76%) and better resiliency and agility (73%) as crisis-driven developments that will improve their companies in the long run.
We discussed workplace flexibility in a previous section, but technology and resilience are also important considerations. Around the world the pandemic has underscored the need for new skills, including empathetic leadership, resilience and agility, collaboration and digital skills, and technical and trade skills such as design, manufacturing, and cyber and supply chain management.
However, many companies will find there is much work still to be done. In PwC’s 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey (conducted before the coronavirus crisis in September and October 2019), only 20% of global CEOs felt their programmes were very effective at reducing skills gaps and mismatches. Among African CEOs, that figure was 15%. Many leaders will clearly need to ramp up efforts in this area when possible, to ensure that their technology investments continue to benefit the company and that the resilience they created is built to last.
Given the need to limit the number of people in close contact, more than half (60%) of African CFOs are considering making remote work a permanent option where feasible, which corresponds with the finding that 78% believe the work flexibility they have created in response to the crisis will benefit their company in the long run. Of course, the success of remote work will be driven by the opportunities that businesses can create for employees to interact, learn and be part of a community.
As finance leaders begin to come to terms with the challenges brought on by COVID-19, they are adapting to a new world and facing the challenges of the post-pandemic landscape. They are beginning to shift their focus to a more prolonged recovery period. Ensuring a safe workplace is taking precedence as economies reopen, and stabilising the supply chain remains critical to ongoing business continuity. As new recovery milestones are reached, we’ll continue to monitor how CFOs react and respond.
To help identify the business and economic impact of COVID-19, PwC is conducting a biweekly series of global surveys of finance leaders. Of the 867 surveyed for the global report during the week of 4 May 2020, were respondents from 40 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.
Africa Territory Senior Partner, 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