By Nilly Essaides, Sherri Liao and Gilles Bonelli, The Hackett Group
The economic consequences of the coronavirus outbreak vary by country and company, but one common factor is that most financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams have had to go back to the drawing board to revise their forecasting process and update scenario plans. The unprecedented level of disruption in business conditions compels FP&A to abandon their traditional, tedious, bottom-up forecasting processes to produce forward-looking insights faster and more frequently. To accomplish this, FP&A should deploy high-level, cross-functional teams that, by working with a small number of KPIs, can assess how different scenarios are playing out in the market and recalibrate the business outlook.
Forecasting at the speed of change
The human and economic devastation caused by the rapid spread of Covid-19 upended budgets and rendered performance targets obsolete. At most companies, even worst-case scenarios did not account for an event of this magnitude – and for some, their very survival is on the line.
Under normal conditions, forecasting and scenario planning are distinct activities. Forecasting is about understanding where the business is landing compared to expectations (monthly, quarterly or on a rolling basis); scenario planning considers what could happen to the organization given one or more material changes in the business environment. At present, the line between the two is blurring as circumstances can change so fast that it is no longer possible to create a forecast based on past data. In addition, scenario plans must be reviewed frequently to ascertain which are becoming more likely.
Consequently, FP&A teams must exchange their traditional bottom-up, granular approach with a top-down, high-level methodology and conduct the forecast more frequently – but few are set up to accommodate this new process. More often, forecasting involves an all-consuming effort to collect data from business units and functions. To enable a more rapid response, FP&A should assemble a senior-level, cross-functional “SWAT” team with the mandate to review a limited number of KPIs (five to six, at most) in order to build a forecast that can be altered quickly as trigger events validate or disprove scenario plans.
This small team of experts can triage activities effectively while assigning specific areas of responsibility to more junior staff, such as forecasting working capital or discretionary spending. These specialists should work with a set of more granular KPIs. So, while the SWAT team may use a single cash metric, the working-capital team would dive deeper into DSO, DPO and inventory levels.
The first step is to alter the forecasting process, and the next is to adjust the feedback loop created through the management review meeting. Typically, these meetings focus mostly on BU-by-BU, actual-to-forecast and actual-to-budget variance analysis, using historical data. However, for many organizations – particularly those that have experienced a major reset of market demand and ongoing operations – spending time looking back at low-level comparative narratives is unproductive.
Instead, management should spend the bulk of its time reviewing the company’s best-case, minimum-viability and worst-case scenarios to determine which one seems to be playing out. To make sure planners target the right activities, management must ask the right questions: not how the company performed versus budget, but how conditions have changed and how that affects the forecast for emerging supply and demand scenarios.
A revised approach to identifying scenarios
For planning purposes, most companies develop three scenarios: base, best and worst. Given the nature of the Covid-19 crisis, a revised set of scenarios is needed:
- Best-case scenario: The best-case scenario should be anchored within tested hypotheses and initially focus on an assessment of demand conditions and capacity constraints. Current data may be mostly qualitative, but it should include insights gleaned from other countries and regions, particularly those exhibiting early signs of recovery.
- Minimum-viability scenario: This is the “new” base for companies hard-hit by the crisis or the scenario with minimum acceptable results to key stakeholders while remaining in business. This scenario must include a set of potential cost-reduction options in case conditions deteriorate rapidly. For instance, a minimum-viability scenario may include an X% reduction in workforce based on demand and supply projections.
- Worst-case scenario: The coronavirus pandemic may pose an existential risk to some organizations, so FP&A teams must also develop a scenario based on the worst possible conditions, including circumstances that may put the company out of business. In this case, FP&A should identify and monitor indicators that pose the greatest threat to the company’s status as a going concern.
Digging deeper into each scenario
Each key market or country or region should be categorized according to a variety of possible GDP growth scenarios.
A U-shaped recovery assumes the fastest rebound in key countries where GDP quickly reaches or nears pre-Covid-19 levels. These will be geographies where evidence of fast, effective control of the virus’s spread is combined with a strong policy response to prevent structural damage to the area’s economy.
A W-shaped recovery assumes a quick, partial recovery followed by a second wave decline in GDP in key countries or regions. These will be cases where evidence of fast, effective control of the virus’s spread is not accompanied by a strong policy response to prevent structural damage to the national economy.
An L-shaped recovery assumes that there will be no rebound in GDP. These will be countries or regions where there is no evidence of effective control of the virus’s spread.
The team should identify specific actions to be taken under each scenario so that management can act as economic conditions unfold. Additionally, FP&A must determine how changes in the environment may affect the company’s commercial and SG&A functions. Further, the trajectory of GDP will vary, driven by the public health and economic response of each country or region. Both inputs will be critical as companies determine how to proceed.
Due to the interdependence of different markets, it is important to consider elements of each in the entire strategic portfolio’s value chain. If a component of the value chain in any strategic portfolio is reliant on activities taking place in countries where a U-shape recovery is expected, then this component should attract more investment compared to those in countries where a slower recovery is likely.
If a component of the value chain in any strategic portfolio is reliant on activities taking place in countries where a W-shape recovery is expected, then investment in this component should be maintained. Accordingly, if a component of the value chain is directed to markets in countries where an L-shape recovery is expected, consider gradually divesting from the portfolio and phasing out related activities.
A catalyst for change
Covid-19 has underscored the discrepancy in planning and analytics capability between top-performing and typical peer-group FP&A organizations. The Hackett Group’s 2018 EPM Performance Study revealed that top-performing FP&A organizations have invested more in technology, which has enabled them to run more analysis and deliver reporting faster and more efficiently. Of top performers, 67% have implemented a primary financial planning and forecasting system to consolidate corporate and country, region or BU information.
Consequently, top-performing teams complete the forecast 3.5 times faster than the peer group and are twice as accurate. These capabilities are essential, as FP&A must provide information more quickly to help make operational decisions. Further, top performers have automated more of their data collection processes and use a standard set of data definitions across categories 92% of the time. This means their staff spend 44% more time analyzing data than collecting it, meaning that the team can redirect capacity to focus on Covid-19-driven demands for information and analysis.
While adoption of rolling forecasts remains generally low, top performers are 55% more likely to have done so than the peer group. Consequently, they can transition more easily from a fixed budget to planning based on a dynamic forecast. Additionally, one-third of forecasts among this group already rely on cross-functional collaboration, almost double the rate of the peer group.
Planning in the age of Covid-19
The coronavirus pandemic’s immediate and long-term repercussions will have a lasting effect on the way organizations plan and forecast, as well as how they approach scenario analysis. Early in the crisis, most FP&A teams had to scramble to adjust forecasting cadence, redraw scenarios, identify new KPIs and establish cross-functional emergency action teams. In contrast, FP&A top performers were able to adjust their existing processes relatively easily.
As companies start to shift from crisis mode to operationalizing changes required by the pandemic, post-crisis scenarios are starting to take shape. Expectations are for a prolonged period of uncertainty and a second wave of infections this fall, however, which makes it imperative that FP&A organizations update their approach to scenario planning immediately.
Adoption of tech in private markets lags behind industry trends
- Nine out of ten financial institutions have accelerated their digitisation strategy as a result of Covid-19.
- Yet just 26% of financial institutions say that technology currently plays a core role in delivering private markets services.
- Firms say that private markets technology will have the greatest impact on operational efficiency, regulatory governance and client experience.
Wealth managers must urgently increase their use of technology in offering private market investments or they risk being left behind by their competitors in less than five years.
The latest research report, ‘Digitising Private Markets’, from leading fintech firm Delio, shows that financial institutions’ adoption of digital tools across their operations has increased substantially as a result of Covid-19 this year. But many firms have been slow to accelerate their use of technology to deliver private markets services, despite recognising the improvements it could make to back-office organisation and regulatory compliance, not to mention enhancing client services. Delaying adoption of a digital strategy could leave firms trailing behind competitors within five years, according to Delio CEO and co-founder Gareth Lewis.
Gareth Lewis said: “Any firm that is serious about providing a complete wealth management service to their clients, needs to deliver a holistic private markets solution. Technology will be fundamental to the delivery of these services and needs to be implemented across the board sooner rather than later. Firms that fail to act quickly face losing ground and potential new clients to more tech-savvy competitors.
“While I understand that client relationships are still vital in this area, companies can’t become complacent. We live in a more instantly-connected world and customers – especially new clients who are more likely to have been entrepreneurial as they generated their wealth – want more digital access to their finances than ever before. It’s time to take an omnichannel approach that combines the best elements of technology and personal advice; this will deliver a market-leading approach.”
Providing clients with access to private markets has been a challenge for many financial institutions, due to the difficulties in scaling a part of their business that is operationally complex to deliver, requires strict regulatory governance and has traditionally been driven by personal relationships between client and adviser. It is one of the reasons many institutions only started to develop a private markets solution in the last 12-18 months.
However, better use of technology can help firms to deal with each of these hurdles more efficiently, providing access to a market that has consistently outperformed publicly listed investments over the last decade. McKinsey’s most recent Private Markets Review highlighted that the value of private assets under management had grown by $4tn or 170% in the last ten years, compared to 100% growth in global public assets over the same period.
The difficulties presented by the international lockdowns associated with Covid-19 has meant that 86% of firms report that they have accelerated their digital adoption this year, with 70% making quicker decisions on technology projects specifically.
Yet, a significant minority of organisations believe that digitisation will not necessarily play a prominent role as we begin to adapt to the ‘next normal’. More than a third of firms (35%) believe that they will still rely on traditional client engagement strategies in the short to medium term.
Having developed private markets solutions for more than 70 international institutions over the last five years, Delio firmly believes that technology can add significant value at both an organisational and client level.
Gareth Lewis added: “Client relationships will still be at the forefront of any wealth management proposition, there is no question about that. However, I also believe that technology can enhance how advisers build relationships with their clients. If I had an investment opportunity that I wanted to pitch to 50 clients, why wouldn’t I want to share that information digitally beforehand to gauge their appetite? Failing to accept that busy clients want to be able to access data at any time, no matter where they are, is a potentially damaging mistake that could cost slow-moving companies dearly.”
Covid-19 disruption drives five new retail supply chain trends
The business disruption caused by COVID-19 has resulted in four out of five (82%) retailers changing their approach to stock management and is driving five retail supply chain trends.
This is according to a new report from logistics company Advanced Supply Chain Group (ASCG), which shows how the pandemic has caused stock management issues for 92% of retailers. The impact of this is leading to an evolution of the long-practiced lean management process Just in Time (JIT) and 42% of retailers planning to grow sales by selling through more channels.
The report, Retail Supply Chains in the ‘New Normal’, is based on the findings from interviews with 200 senior retail professionals involved in buying, stock inventory management and supply chain management. It reveals five retail supply chain trends including:
1) Time for Change
To address delays caused by COVID-19, retailers have adapted timings at the beginning and end of their supply chains. Of the retailers which have made changes to supply chain strategies, 41% have allowed longer leads times on stock ordered, while four in ten (40%) have extended delivery times provided to customers.
2) Localising Stock
COVID-19 disruption led to two thirds (66%) of retailers receiving stock late, whilst a similar number (63%) experienced shortages in the availability of goods. This is seeing retailers prioritise investment in stock availability (57%), which includes building more localised levels of stock to minimise the risk of out of stock scenarios.
This shift in behaviour has the potential to completely change Just in Time (JIT). Only a quarter (25%) of retailers believe JIT has some form of feasibility while the pandemic remains ongoing.
Claire Webb, managing director at ASCG, has more than 13 years’ experience working in retail leadership roles. She comments: “Just in Time will have to change because it’s less able to cope with increasing unpredictability – it quickly becomes ‘just out of time’. Supply chains will evolve as retailers aim to better mobilise stock, keeping it more agile to sweat its value across multiple routes to market.”
3) Real Time Visibility
The research shows retailers rank balancing stock flow versus stock piling as the biggest supply chain challenge following the pandemic. They want to avoid not being able to satisfy customer demand because of unavailable stock, but equally don’t want to tie-up too much capital in stock at risk of depreciation.
To address this challenge, 40% of retailers are investing in improving the accuracy of inventory management, whilst a third (33%) pinpointed smart, connected technology that improves the accuracy and visibility of stock as the most effective method of strengthening supply chain resilience. Changing stock inventory management to make stock movement and levels more visible was also a high-ranking priority for 37% of retailers.
4) Stock Optimisation
The ongoing economic uncertainty and unpredictable customer demand caused by COVID-19 are seeing retailers hone-in on the performance of the goods they’re selling. 41% of retailers are investing in auditing their stock to improve profitability. These pandemic-driven stock reviews have also resulted in a third (33%) of retailers diversifying the stock they sell, with the same amount also changing strategies to better focus on stocking and selling their highest margin goods.
5) Diligence Against Disruption
In response to the impact of COVID-19, a third (33%) of retailers are developing contingencies to protect against supply chain disruption. This involves tactics such as increasing the number of suppliers they source goods from, working with a larger number of logistics providers to spread risk and also increasing overall stock levels.
Claire Webb concludes: “Each of the trends emerging from the impacts of COVID-19 share a common theme of tackling margin dilution. Retailers and logistics partners have spent years optimising supply chains to remove unnecessary costs that cannibalise margins. This is now being turbo-charged as retailers aim to extract maximum value from each hard-fought sale and to build loyalty in increasingly uncertain and price-sensitive markets.
“Smart, connected technologies and bespoke supply chain software systems will be critical for retailers adapting to COVID-19. This can prove the difference in effectively managing stock movement and levels to avoid availability issues and costly stock depreciation and obsolescence.”
Click here to read more about the five trends and download the full report ‘Retail Supply Chains in the ‘New Normal’; Evolving from Disruption to Delivering Excellence’.
Full link to the report; https://www.advancedsupplychain.com/latest/white-paper-retail-supply-chains-in-the-new-normal/
Remote leadership anxieties
It’s a difficult time to be navigating the complex world of business. Whilst adapting to new ways of working remotely, a practice which looks to become the new norm, professionals at all levels of business are experiencing new challenges.
Whether workers are going for a promotion, trying to keeping up team morale or fire-fighting a never-ending to do list, times are hard and without being able to interact with colleagues face to face, simple tasks can suddenly become complex. Even those in more senior positions are needing to find new ways of working, to effectively manage and nurture not only their teams but also themselves.
A recent report by RADA Business, Beating Workplace Performance Anxiety, revealed that, contrary to what many may believe, anxiety is actually most prominent amongst those at senior director level, with 94% of professionals struggling with anxiety around communicating. This group were also found to suffer feelings of anxiety the most – 10 times per month – which is twice the national average.
However, the world-renowned performance coaches at RADA Business, the commercial subsidiary of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, build upon actor training techniques, centred around body, breath and voice, to help business professionals develop the necessary skills to improve their performance in the workplace.
To help senior business professionals navigate the anxiety-inducing world of remote leadership, Kate Montague, RADA Business tutor shares her answers to some of the more common questions, which have been put to the RADA Business team since the lockdown began, by senior leaders.
I’m finding remote working stressful, how can I manage this stress more effectively?
As leaders, we have to accept that there will be times when things become stressful and Covid-19 certainly hasn’t been an exception to this. Acknowledging that we are out of alignment with our working habits currently and seeking the tools and techniques to help is the first step.
At RADA Business we look at where stress is manifesting itself and it often extends beyond the psychological and takes a physical form in the spine and showing up in our posture. Taking a stretch, rolling out the shoulders and releasing the neck is a healthful activity between calls.
Conscious breathing also helps to make us more comfortable physically, and also calms the nervous system. Take a moment to sit or stand tall, then become aware of your breath and breathe deeply and fully a few times a day. This is a useful tool for reducing stress and helps to clear the mind. Deep breathing in this way releases dopamine, the body’s ‘happy’ hormone, which helps to make us feel better, more emotionally responsive and less emotionally reactive. If you’re stressed focus on lengthening the out-breath, or if you’re tired and need recharging, focus on taking a few fuller in-breaths.
I’m struggling to land my messages through virtual mediums, how can I show up effectively online?
There is definitely a knack to presenting effectively via virtual mediums, and getting it right will certainly help you convey both confidence and professionalism.
Firstly, consider your posture: make sure you’re sitting tall, lengthening through the spine. Think of your pelvis as a foundation stone to your spine, let it relax into the base of the chair.
Ground yourself with your feet flat on the floor – this will help you to connect your breath to your speech so you’re able to communicate with depth of tone and clarity.
When using visual platforms, consider your framing to ensure your head is nicely centred, balanced on your shoulders, and neither too close nor too far from the camera. Lighting is also hugely important on video calls – we need to be well lit from the front so those we’re presenting to are able to read those all-important expressions, which are key to communication. If you have a tendency to rush, remember to take moments to pause and breathe. Using eye contact to connect with your listeners will help slow down your communication so others have more time to process and absorb what you have to say.
Temperamental video conferencing software and poor Wi-Fi connections can cause some technical problems through online mediums. Be sure to check in with your audience and have them feedback by asking some simple probing questions such as “Is everything clear up to this point?”, or field any questions they may have. This will ensure your message has been received and has landed as you intended.
How can I reassure my team while I’m struggling with my own anxieties?
Firstly, acknowledge your own challenges. Bosses often face burnout when they refuse to admit they’re struggling, however when you are willing to look after yourself first you’re in a far better position to help and reassure others. Take time each day to tune in and listen to yourself as you would a friend and provide your own coaching. Ask yourself: “How am I doing?”, consider the answer and apply to yourself the response you might give a friend if they were to say: “I’m feeling anxious, stressed, burnt out…”. Give space to connect with your kindness and empathy. Acknowledge where you’re doing a good job, and make space for your inner guidance to show you where to go next in terms of a difficult decision or action. We all feel anxious at times, so let those feelings come forward, remember to breathe, and address them in the moment so they are processed, which will help you to reconnect with your innate clarity and intuition.
When reassuring your team, whether they’re feeling angry, anxious or upset let them bring their own feelings forward too, rather than suppress them – they’ll respond to this. In body-led psychotherapy we say all feelings are welcome: it’s a non-shaming, non-judging atmosphere. Schedule in 10 minutes each week to check in with the team and ask them how they are coping, what they need, or how things could be better. Inclusion has never been so important so allow your team to vent, or share what is current for them, and show that you see them.
My progression feels stinted, how can I impress my superiors when they can’t see and hear me at work?
Make yourself visible by being proactive. It’s easy to feel as though we’re doing lots of work and not getting noticed, especially when working remotely, but having clear intentions and going out of your way to make them visible will help you to be seen. Don’t let the boss do homework, instead offer them what you have to share – send them something to watch or read; offer to lead a meeting; offer to head up a new project – serve it to them on a plate. Be sure to ask for guidance and feedback too, as this will help to keep the conversation going and ensure you are front of their mind. Put yourself out there and let yourself be visible.
How do I keep up team morale while we are short staffed?
Being short staffed is never easy but the relationship you have with your team is everything. Rapport and intimacy become even more important when a team is downsized, so regular check-ins are essential. It’s important to ensure that your team’s workload is relatively balanced in order to prevent exhaustion and burnout. Schedule regular catch-ups with the team to oversee their work but be careful not to micro-manage – teams are more responsive when they’re able to work to their own deadlines, whilst still meeting your needs of course. Also bear in mind that the warmth of giving praise helps to re-engage teams who may be under pressure or missing colleagues who are no longer around. We thrive on celebrating the wins, so be sure to factor in time to thank the team, perhaps at the start of an update meeting or why not setup a quick ‘digital round table’ with the pure intention of praising the team? Be sure to take your time when delivering praise and make eye contact with your team – this will give your message a clear sense of genuineness.
I’m trying to move into a new role but now isn’t a good time and I feel stuck, how can I get noticed?
If it really isn’t the time then focus your energies on a new temporary goal that you’re able to get passionate about in the interim and that will allow you to grow in other ways. You may find that taking time to acquire new skills in other areas will have an impact on your routine performance and there are plenty of ways to skill up. Make time for a short-term course, undertake a side project, engage in continued professional development (CPD) – anything to keep your mind active and to keep you growing whilst your usual routine is feeling static. Developing a new project or hobby that you can talk passionately about often comes with a new sense of confidence and enthusiasm, two traits that are bound to help get you noticed by the people at the top.
During these challenging past few months, business leaders have seen just how resilient they can be. In the face of adversity, there’s now potentially a deeper awareness of how performance at work is impacted by how well we nurture the holistic self – the spirit, mindset, physical and emotional well-being all play a part in how we deliver. There has been an acknowledgement of strengths while simultaneously more willingness to acknowledge vulnerability. This really is key as it leads to deeper human connections, which is the bottom line of any business. Regardless of what trade we’re in, it’s all about human endeavour and although stressful for many, the recent months have helped us to learn about balance and to become more attuned to what we as individuals need, as well as how to be more responsive to our colleagues and clients.
Adoption of tech in private markets lags behind industry trends
Nine out of ten financial institutions have accelerated their digitisation strategy as a result of Covid-19. Yet just 26% of...
Covid-19 disruption drives five new retail supply chain trends
The business disruption caused by COVID-19 has resulted in four out of five (82%) retailers changing their approach to stock...
Remote leadership anxieties
It’s a difficult time to be navigating the complex world of business. Whilst adapting to new ways of working remotely,...
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