Pramod Bagri is a Chartered Accountant and Data analytics professional with nearly two decades of experience in working with some of the world’s most renowned organisations across different facets of Finance. As part of his role, he has been working with multiple CFO’s to carve out and implement their Digital Finance Agenda powered by automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence. He has been engaged with finance students extensively and through this book would like to bring them lessons that he has been fortunate enough to learn directly from leading CFOs. A stock market enthusiast and a movie buff, Pramod spends his free time playing with his two sons and watching movies with his wife.
Sandeep Kumar is the Founder and CEO of a leading Singapore based Fintech startup. Sandeep earlier spent over a dozen years in Strategy and Digital Consulting with McKinsey & Co and Accenture Consulting. Sandeep has advanced degrees from the Indian Institute of Management, Indore, and Hindu College, Delhi University. A self-professed workaholic, in his free time you can mostly find him poring over technical charts, giving expert opinions on topics he barely understands or playing Badminton with his daughter.
When we started our journey on our book CFO Niti to chronicle the life journey and life lessons of six of India’s finest Chief Financial Officers (CFOs), little did we realize the transformational journey we were about to witness. We had the unique opportunity to spend 200+ hours with these CFOs to understand their career journey, insights into the inner workings of the CFO office, their personal value systems including the ‘why’ of their values, and many fascinating anecdotes to make it all real. What is also interesting is that we started the book in 2018 before the New normal and released it in 2021 post witnessing the New normal.
In what follows, we talk about how senior Finance leaders have adapted to the new normal, how has the finance function evolved to the never-before-seen challenges the pandemic poses, and how their value systems helped them not only navigate but thrive in the face of these challenges.
As per Wikipedia – “A New Normal is a state to which an economy, society, etc. settles following a crisis when this differs from the situation that prevailed before start of the crisis”. Crisis is the keyword here. In Chinese, the word crisis is composed of 2 characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.
Let us start with a key tenet – “Never waste a crisis”. Crisis, if we look at it differently, forces us to review our traditional beliefs, and that is exactly what Indian businesses have done. They have come out stronger from this crisis.
The Indian businesses which were used to work from the office overnight adapted to the 100% virtual office, and adapted well. The 3 D’s – Digitalization, Data, and Deep learning – have helped turbocharge the transformation. Digital is now integral to all parts of the business – Sales, Marketing, Customer, Production, Finance, HR, Supply chain, Procurement, and everything else. New unicorns have emerged in these areas as the adoption increased multifold. The data explosion underwent another round of explosive growth and access to quality digital data has generated new opportunities for Deep learning. The Finance function in particular has used analytics to create actionable insights to improve business outcomes. The current crisis has pushed corporates to fast-track their digital agenda.
Another aspect that has come to the fore during the last year is the humane aspect of the businesses. Workforce well-being, Vendor sustainability, ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance) have taken center stage as businesses work towards balancing short-term profit objectives with long-term survival. Businesses prioritized well-being over profits.
Another aspect that businesses have adopted is the “Digital War room” to enable quick decision-making. The emphasizes on close connection between business and finance to work as partners rather than as discrete functions also became more important than never before. Businesses aced the fly-on-the-wall test to ascertain if business and finance are working in tandem. In essence, it means that a fly on the wall listening to the conversation should not be able to identify who is the finance partner and who is the business partner.
All businesses have had to try new things and prepare intensively to implement multiple pilots to find out what works, and then quickly effect organization-wide adoption activities to maintain a common goal despite employees sitting in various locations. All of us who have witnessed these changes in some form or the other cannot deny that this was not easy and has required a fair bit of experimentation to determine what works and what does not. Enterprises took the leap with actions and adapt based on results rather than plan years in advance. Business leaders have had to prepare intensely on both personal and professional fronts in the past 18 months. While there were many complexities, businesses have evolved by following the principle of prosperity through simplicity.
Indian business organizations in general, and finance functions and CFOs who lead them have shown an enormous amount of resilience, malleability, and humanity in dealing with the current crisis. The lessons are common and clear – adapt to digital tools quickly and effectively, use technology to automate repetitive tasks so that you can then use analytics and deep learning to focus on right decision making, reorient resource allocation and supply chains to work with a low-touch model, and do all this keeping in mind that life preservation and safety remains paramount.
We also believe that the post-pandemic normal is not going to be the same as pre-2020 business-as-usual. Businesses have realized the importance and utility of new levers, and are going to continue using them effectively to deliver better and safer and create organizations that look markedly different from what we are used to seeing. As black swan events become more frequent, businesses that aren’t agile enough will find it difficult to survive. In the first instance, it looks like corporate India has come out on top.