CFO Congress 2020 was organized as a live event showing the effects of the new reality on companies

The new reality, to which companies had to adapt quickly during the coronavirus crisis, will be reflected in their functioning still long after the crisis dies down. This was confirmed by the conclusions of the 9th CFO Congress conference held on September 2, 2020 at the Czech National Bank in Prague. The participation of more than 150 CFOs and other finance and purchasing experts shows that there is nothing to replace the power of face-to-face meetings. Despite the current measures, people want to meet. The contributions were of course influenced by the impact of the Covid crisis and the technological readiness of companies to work from home.

The opening word of the conference traditionally belonged to David Marek, the chief economist of Deloitte. Due to the high degree of uncertainty, in the form of the threat of a second wave of disease and related government measures, the economist avoided the economic forecast for next year. He focused on analyzing the impact of the Covid crisis on the past months and the current situation of the economy. Real GDP growth is at -8% (drop down from 2% last year). He works with a medium scenario, in a pessimistic variant it was estimated even -18%. There have been no significant fluctuations in the CZK exchange rate and David Marek does not expect them. It welcomes the governmental fiscal support until the end of 2020. "This year, the more support there is, the better, it will help more companies survive," says Marek.

Where investments it pay off

The finance director of the Dutch brewery Grolsch, Petra Maričová, continued with her presentation of experience from a sector that has been hit hard by the crisis. The company has proven the sense of investing in the brand in spite the bad times. "The strength of the brand helped us. We had the largest share of TV advertising in The Netherlands during the pandemic period – and it paid off," said Maričová. Flexibility, functional technologies and the ability to use them are the basic pillars that help companies survive challenging times of crisis.

Lenka Neuvirtová, Director of Deloitte's Audit Department, also touched on the topic of efficient use of the technological capacity of companies. She encouraged companies to evaluate the possibilities of the existing ERP system first before purchasing a new one. "I've often seen that finance employees have good systems, but they don't use them the way they could," she added. 

Together with her colleague, Štěpán Vladyka, they refuted the myths associated with finance technologies. For example, they highlighted security concerns about cloud usage. In this case, according to Štěpán Vladyka, this is a trade with trust, similarly as in banking sector. He concluded: "Technology can help you achieve something, nevertheless you still need to build the skill to work with them to be able to choose the app you need most."

Despite the massive introduction of technology into the working processes, the Microsoft CFO Martin Štefík does not lay off people in the company. The specialization of employees is rather changed to bring a higher added value. "We changed the structure of employees, their competencies and roles changed really significantly," he says. He himself cooperates remotely with an international team across continents - he has never met any of them in person. However, a strong technological base, combined with an environment of trust, allows them to work together productively.

Most people will work from home office

During the Covid crisis, technologies in companies passed the test associated with the work of employees from home. Cisco's chief technology officer, Pavel Křižanovský, predicts that even after the crisis is over people will work from two-thirds from home and spend just one third of time in the office. At the conference, he presented technological tools that change the nature of co-workers' meetings. It is possible to tighten the collective by meeting even in non-working matters remotely, but it requires a mental transformation and support of technological tools. One of his recommendations for adapting to the new working reality was to create a hybrid environment that would merge the virtual and physical worlds.

Coach Marian Jelínek offered a counterweight in the form of a shift away from technologies and a path to dialogue with oneself. He identifies well-being as the causative agent of an ever-expanding comfort zone that weakens the resilience of people. According to Jelínek, the key is to build stress homeostasis in a targeted way: "The zone of well-being has spread so much that even if it is just slightly disturbed, we are immediately stressed."

CFO needs to understand business

The panel discussion of CFOs focused mainly on new working conditions during quarantine and support of employees during this difficult period. The positive experience of employees´ loyalty to the company was highlighted by Radim Filák, Managing Director of ELT Management Company for the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This was also acknowledged by Vít Vážan, CEO of the Czech Radiocommunications, who created regular internal videos for employees during quarantine. Luboš Zítka, Citi's Chief Financial Officer for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, pointed out the care of employees at the challenging times: "You have to guard the weakest link in the chain and not assume that everyone will refocus on the change right away."

According to the experience of Pavel Cesnek, CEO of Žďas, it was essential to communicate clearly the conditions people would work in. An engineering company with 1900 employees did not stop its production during quarantine. However, it temporarily proceeded to production at a lower margin. Pavla Munzarová, Vice President of Finance at Mews Systems, gave an example of short morning video calls of management on daily agenda as one of the proven new mechanisms, adapted under quarantine. According to Vít Vážan, the same practice proved effective in Czech radiocommunications, too. The panelists agreed that further challenging periods could be foreseen in the future, and the CFO's position in the company should move more from a strictly financial agenda into business.

The conference was brought by Blue Events in cooperation with Deloitte as an expert guarantor and with a number of other partners. Participants met in a a pleasant and at the same time safe space for meetings. Blue Events chooses halls with a large capacity, such as the Czech National Bank, which provides participants with sufficient personal space. Hand sanitation and a spare face masks are available for everyone. People can eat food comfortably in the big hall. The organizers strictly follow nocovid rules issued by the Czech Event Association.

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