Almost half, or 48 per cent, of all GCC chief financial officers expect a return to pre-crisis or near-normal levels of operations by the second quarter of next year or later, according to a survey by Deloitte.
Sentiment varied significantly across industries, with finance executives in manufacturing, technology, media and telecommunications being most optimistic, according to the survey which polled 100 chief financial officers from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in July.
“Regional CFOs have been very busy in recent months assisting their businesses to recover from significant reductions in revenue and cash flow,” said Declan Hayes, partner and CFO programme leader at Deloitte Middle East.
The stay-at-home conditions imposed to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, international travel restrictions and the enforced closure of businesses resulted in a decline in economic activity globally.
The biggest step taken by CFOs in the region to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 was cost-cutting initiatives by companies, with 30 per cent adopting this strategy. Other key actions taken included revenue growth initiatives and working capital optimisation. Almost four out of 10 CFOs surveyed did not seek to make any salary reductions, the Deloitte report found.
In response to the pandemic, 41 per cent of CFOs in the Middle East are focused on ensuring financial viability, 36 per cent are adapting their business to maximise performance, while 23 per cent are focusing their time on evolving business models and strategising for the post-Covid era, the survey found.
“All CFOs in the travel, hospitality and leisure and 62.5 per cent of CFOs in consumer business industries were most focused on responding to the crisis, with those operating in construction, manufacturing, technology, media and telecommunications concentrated their efforts on recovery,” the Deloitte report added.
A majority of CFOs also said improving cash flow, cost management and digitalisation are the highest priorities for the next 12 months. Despite the growth in remote work and an increased need to access data securely from third-party locations, cyber security remained the lowest-ranking priority for CFOs in 2020, the Deloitte report noted.
Most CFOs surveyed by Deloitte also said they expect remote working in their companies to remain at the current levels or increase, with 43 per cent planning on investing and expanding remote working capabilities across the next 12 months. Meanwhile, 45 per cent of CFOs expect more of their finance team to be working remotely.
“Though mostly cautious as to when the impact of Covid-19 begins to recede, CFOs are adapting their businesses through a combination of changes to remote working while actively seeking strategic opportunities to reposition, including the potential for mergers and acquisitions,” Mr Hayes said.
The Deloitte report added that 34 per cent of CFOs are actively seeking M&A opportunities and 42 per cent are willing to execute any M&A activity should the right opportunity arise.
A Covid-19 CFO Pulse survey conducted by PwC in June found nearly 72 per cent of finance executives in the Middle East believe it will take at least three months or more for the economy to recover from the pandemic.