PwC is currently tracking sentiment and priorities on the COVID-19 outbreak among finance leaders through the CFO Pulse Survey. This is the second time that Malaysia has participated in the global survey - see the Malaysia results from our first survey (12 May 2020).
26 Malaysian respondents were among the 989 CFOs who participated in wave 6 (week of 1 June 2020) of the CFO Pulse survey. 22 other territories participated: Central and Southern Africa, Brazil, Caribbean, China/Hong Kong, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Lithuania, Mexico, Middle East, Netherlands, Portugal, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, US and Vietnam.
While we were able to publish a local cut for the previous wave, we did not reach the minimum responses required for a local cut this time. We are instead sharing some key findings from the overall global findings, focusing on sentiments around ‘returning to work’ and providing local context.
Globally, slightly over half (53%) of CFOs now expect a decrease in revenue of up to 25% as a result of COVID-19. And when asked to estimate how long they would take to get back to “business as usual”, there is a clear shift of CFOs favouring a longer timeline, since the start of the survey. At the start of the global survey in March 2020, 75% of respondents estimated that it would take less than three months for their business to return to normal, but now, 62% of them believe it would take more than 3 months.
We see a correlation between these findings: Territories that are less optimistic in their assessment of the financial impact from the crisis tend to expect it will take longer to recover.
Globally, slightly over half (53%) of CFOs now expect a decrease in revenue of up to 25% as a result of COVID-19.
In Malaysia, the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), which marks Malaysia’s entry into the ‘exit strategy’ phase from the Movement Control Order, will last up to almost 3 months. Coupled with reduced consumer spending and a cloudy business outlook, this suggests that Malaysian organisations are expecting to continue operating in a challenging environment for a while.
Such sentiments are to be expected as the stabilisation wave of companies’ COVID-19 response is likely to be long. Even as restrictions slowly continue to lift in some countries and territories, the economic fallout of the crisis is still widespread.
When asked about financial actions their companies are considering as a result of COVID-19, implementing cost containment remains the top financial action of choice (81%), followed by deferring or cancelling planned investments (56%). Facilities/general CapEx remains the investment type where organisations would most likely cut back on (82%).
Health and safety concerns remain top of mind. CFOs continue to favour protective measures when transitioning to on-site work, including changing workplace safety measures and requirements such as wearing masks and offering testing to employees (75%) and promoting physical distancing through reconfiguration of worksites (72%).
Similarly, as Malaysian organisations continue to operate under the RMCO, the onus has been placed on them to ensure that employees comply with the new Standard Operating Procedures at their workplace.
This is in line with the global survey finding that CFOs are most confident in tactical measures to ensure the safety of customers and employees, compared to other 'return to work' activities.
However, it’s promising that organisations are also warming up to remote work.
75% of CFOs globally think work flexibility (in terms of hours, location) will make their company better in the long run. 52% of global respondents say they are planning to improve the remote working experience, and another 52% say they are planning to make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow it.
This could meet the increasing appetite for work-from-home or flexible working arrangements in line with the growing trend of agility in these unique times.
Reduction in productivity used to be among global CFOs’ top 3 concerns at the start of the Pulse survey in March 2020. Now, they are more likely to be worried about the impact of the economic downturn (60%) and a potential new wave of COVID-19 infections (58%), with only 13% of CFOs worried about productivity.
In Malaysia, several economic and financial stimulus plans have been announced to support people and businesses through this challenging time, including the recently announced RM35 billion Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan (PENJANA).
And given the shift from globalisation to regionalisation and localisation, there is a need to look towards building stronger ASEAN integration. As a nation whose economy relies heavily on exports, businesses and the government can play a part in stimulating the recovery of supply chains and ramp up trade flow as highlighted in our recent publication, ‘Restart Malaysia’.
While a vaccine remains to be found, a new wave of infections is an inescapable possibility of the new normal. Contact tracing is one of the conditions of resuming daily life.
The government is encouraging downloads of the MySejahtera app for contact tracing, for example, offering RM50 e-wallet credits to Malaysians that download the app. Organisations can also play their role by encouraging employees and visitors to participate in contact tracing.
CFOs globally are still least likely to be confident about their organisations’ abilities to identify new revenue opportunities (only 27% say they are very confident). They’re also primarily looking at changes in their products/services, for instance, offering new, enhanced, repurposed, or pared-down solutions (63%) and pricing strategies such as increasing/decreasing price of solutions and offering different payment terms (48%).
While these will address the short- to medium-term impact of the crisis on their revenues, concerns around the economic downturn and new waves of infection don’t only impact organisations - they weigh heavily on the minds of their consumers and customers as well.
This is an opportunity for businesses to demonstrate that they are able to develop agile plans to re-engage customers and pursue new revenue streams through product innovation. Those that are able to deliver new customer experiences that fit into expectations of the new normal will be able to enhance their competitiveness in this uncertain market.
It’s clear that global finance leaders are shifting their focus to a more prolonged recovery period. Ensuring a safe workplace is taking precedence as economies reopen, but as organisations get back into the rhythm of working in the ‘new normal’, they will likely shift their focus to identifying new revenue opportunities and develop plans to rebuild revenues.