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150 Chief financial officers spoke about the impact of the pandemic at CFO Congress 2021

One of the first conferences organized after a long pause with present audience was focused on agenda of financial officers. The participants of CFO Congress 2021 filled the allowed capacity of the Czech National Bank hall on June 22 completely. Topics of people in companies, digitalization of the processes and sustainability dominated the program. The pandemic experience was frequently mentioned. However, the speakers focused mostly on future.

The presentation of David Marek, Chief Economist of Deloitte opened the program with focus on economic forecast in post-covid time. He identified correction of fiscal problems and variety of unnecessary expenses as one of the greatest challenges. According to Marek, the correction requires great political courage and expertise. “This year we can reach up to 44 % VAT, in 2024 the Czech Republic may face to dept brake (55 % VAT),” he mentioned. He also stressed the inexorable reality of demography and need of finding of new sources for financing of pension scheme. According to Marek, the path towards the productivity is determined by higher investments into research and development, and in general, into education.

Common presentation of CFO Martin Pisklák and cacique Jannis Samaras from Kofola was about complex business model change towards sustainability. Responsible attitude towards oneself and nature newly joined the criteria as price, quality, and rapidity. Due to the pandemic the company had to start to earn money. The power of the brand permitted cuts on marketing expenses. The experience of Pisklák is that in case of environmentally based projects (as bottles made by 100 % rPET material) it might be hard to calculate the return. “You may have data for something, but in some cases you just have to feel it and believe that you are doing right what you do.” However, he pointed out that the sustainable attitude has to be able to make money.

When is the right time to invest into employees?

“When people do not like each other, they create problems, when they like each other, they search for solutions,” General Director of Mondi Štětí Roman Senecký thinks. To support a positive and healthy environment in Mondi, they strengthen both their physical and mental health by biohacking and mindfulness programs. He admitted that it requires expensive costs. However, the numbers about employee satisfaction and increase of production and EBITDA speak clearly. People at work was key issue in following presentation too. Aleš Kuda, psychologist with expertise in addictology from NeoCentrum shared, that during the pandemic crisis, the number of people with mental problems increased up to 30% of the population. In terms of addiction, 1, 5 million people belong to category of harmful and high-risk alcohol use. According to Kuda, employers should create environment of trust where to ask for help does not mean weakness.

Pavlína Kouřilová, member of the board and CFO at Pražská plynárenská Distribuce, presented how the pandemic forced this traditional company to make a mental shift. In practice, company had good experience with passing the competences and responsibility to individuals.

Digitalize, but safely

The second part of the conference day was dominated by topics of digitalization and cybersecurity. Both were discussed in the presentation of Milan Kníže from Vodafone. According to him, financial department should not serve as a fortress of numbers. It should be able to provide them in demanded quality for commercial purposes. He encouraged colleagues to join project management, which has synergic effect on whole finance team. This idea was supported by Pavel Frnoch, CFO and COO Deloitte. Together with his colleague, consultant, Dominika Štěrbáková, presented advantages of agile transition method From Excel hell to cloud heaven. New application enables to plan in real time. “There is only one truth, there are no worries that one can work with outdated data,” Štěrbákova concluded.

Štěpán Bouda, CIO in Sabris thinks that digitalization is an instrument which requires change of processes and remodulation of the environment to be functional. The support of people who believe in this process and keep moving in it forward is needed. Bouda shared best practices from HR and manufacture projects, where digitalization helps.

Digitalization brings profit and, at the same time, the cybersecurity gains more importance. This was a key message of common presentation of Ivan Svoboda from ANECT and Miloslav Lujka from Check point. „The most of the threats are unknown. The ones which are reported by media are only a tip of an iceberg,” Lujka stressed. Within last year, the phishing emails and social engineering methods have dominated to the attacks. There is a chaos and diverse individual solutions in security area. Lujka finds solution in the consolidation of the instruments and the flexibility in its usage, according to the needs of the company. In the following presentation, Radek Beneš, expert witness for IT and cyber criminality, claimed the absolute security to be an illusion. He mentioned the case of false CFO, who was present at video conferences. His message to financial directors was: take a part at the IT projects.

Panel discussion, a highlight of the program

The vivid discussion of finance directors was a high point of the conference. Lada Šmolková from Hornbach, Petr Daňhel from Prefa Brno, Pavel Holan form Nano Energies, Petr Kohout from APS Holding, accompanied by Martin Pisklák and Pavlína Kouřilová met there to discuss the key topics of the program. As Martin Pisklák said, Kofola has been living in “excel heaven”, Pavel Holan added that the digitalization is needed, but it is important to define exactly where. According to Holan pandemic accelerated digitalization process. In Prefa Brno the pandemic brought new perspective for risk management, which includes scoring of partners, invoice limits and the due date. Pavlína Kouřilová stressed the support of mental health of the employees during difficult times. She finds the sense of belonging to the company more important than salary, she proved this by the experience of three family generations working in Pražská teplárenská Distribuce. On the other hand, Lada Šmolková mentioned that the maintaining of newly recruited employees is the highest challenge she faces to, moreover, as CFO temporarily at the position of HR director too. All the companies deal with the topic of sustainability, no matter if their business model is based on its principals, as it is in case of Nano Energies, or it is a condition for its investment decision, as it counts for APS Holding.

The anniversary of 10th edition of the conference will be remembered by its unique atmosphere since that the participants had the opportunity to meet in person, get the inspiration, find new contact and shake the hands after a long. The conference was organized by Blue Evets with collaboration of many partners and expert guarantor Deloitte company, with moderation of Daniel Stach from Czech Television.

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