Financial Director, CFO: How do you manage the fallout from Brexit?

By Bruno Leblanc, EMEA Managing Director Planning, Sigma Conso

Everyone knew that Brexit was a possibility, but few companies anticipated it. The first obvious consequences, outside of companies in the United Kingdom, are for European companies that have subsidiaries or significant trade with the United Kingdom. In both instances, the first impact has been on currencies: the pound sterling plunged against the Euro the day after 23 June. What happens to dividends, payments in pounds, etc.? Products may also become less attractive or less competitive as a result of exchange effects. Regardless if your business is in direct contact with the United Kingdom or not, a fairly long period of uncertainty has begun for all European companies.

How do you anticipate the impact on results? According to the experts at Deloitte, Brexit swept away the optimism of British CFOs: according to a survey conducted by Deloitte in 2016, only 8% voiced confidence about the future and 63% were anticipating a drop in their company’s turnover (2) over the coming years as a result of the risk of recession, a drop in purchasing power, revised community exchanges, revised interest rates, etc.

A study dated June 2019 reveals that only 4% of CFOs consider that the time is right to take risks while 96% of them think the opposite (3). Also, for 83% of CFOs, Brexit should result in the deterioration of the economic environment in the long term.

This uncertain climate is confirmed by an article in The Independent of 2 October 2019 (4) citing a PWC study showing that optimism is still lower than at the time of the crisis of September 2008, with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

Given this environment, how can a CFO provide information about future projects and realities? The 2020 budgeting and forecasting exercise is difficult with, in addition, global economic uncertainty, in Germany, the United States or China, in addition to the supposed effects of Brexit.

The consequences will impact all companies in the United Kingdom and Europe, and potentially worldwide. Initial analyses vary significantly and new uncertainties are now replacing some that our companies had begun to overcome.

How can CFOs manage uncertainty and provide more visibility to executive management, shareholders, analysts and all other parties and stakeholders in an ecosystem which has now become very unstable?

Provide good financial communication

Reliable financial communication is more indispensable than ever for both internal audiences, such as executive management, and external ones like analysts and road shows given that we are in a period of such uncertainty.

Being first to announce results or prospects can provide a significant competitive advantage. However, you have to be sure of your data’s reliability and have enough information to ensure that you won’t trip up on a relevant question, or worse, see all of your work destroyed by contradictory information on your company’s website. The modern CFO, or at least their teams, can reap the benefits of collaborative technologies that link performance management system data to presentation tools without disrupting the chain and ensure overall information consistency and significant time savings and productivity gains.

Provide information on the prospects for several years

Providing visibility about the consequences of decisions taken today and the direction taken by your company is key to reassuring the markets and the various stakeholders. Depending on your business, this can range from a three-year strategic plan to a 10-year period in the case of industries which require heavy investment, debt and have a slow return on investment. Your planning tool must be agile and quick to implement to be able to provide major trends in-house to define the key aspects of the 2020 budget. The information must be consistent with all of the information disclosed, notably to the markets.

Anticipate potential risks and model them

The risks of these events are difficult to anticipate and the consequences of Brexit will also depend to a large extent on how and when the United Kingdom finally leaves the European community. Using tools that integrate and model risk can be a major asset for your business, financing, management and shareholders and will provide reassurance and legitimise your forecasts. Only a few technologies enable easy and exhaustive integration of risk in your assumptions, enabling measurement of its true impact on your business and on financial aspects.

Create detailed forecasts with several alternative operational and financial schedules

It’s difficult to anticipate events; however, it’s essential to be able to provide a detailed forecast of future changes in sales, human resources, marketing, production, etc. to achieve your objectives and execute plans that have been maturing for a long time. The challenge is also to motivate staff with accurate forecasts so that they carry out their duties with the satisfaction of meeting their goals.

What are or will be the human resources required to achieve your goals? Will you have to reassign part of your workforce or let people go? Or, on the contrary, will you need to hire more people for other businesses or geographical areas? Everything must be put in perspective and aligned with the other financial and non-financial elements we’ve already touched on.

Get the benefit of the best technology now

In addition to a tool for strategic, financial and operational planning or an easy modelling tool, notably for risks, current technology should enable you to become autonomous quickly and easily. Technology has evolved significantly over the past few years. It allows companies to get the immediate benefits of an application that creates quick alternative scenarios with the agility of the latest technology available, notably, the power of in-memory computing. In addition, you can take advantage of Cloud technology. It enables you to become operational immediately without having to acquire the technology or in-house skills. You will easily remain within your IT budget.
Planning solutions provide the best technology to prepare forecasts and budget needs as accurately as possible with alternative scenarios and including the slightest details. In addition, the possibility of using such powerful applications that are easy to implement in the Cloud enables groups to be operational in a very short time

(1) Article in Les Echos dated October 7th, 2019
(2) Deloitte survey: “Brexit blow to business confidence”, Deloitte survey finds, in Accounting Age, July 16th, 2016
(3) Deloitte : The Deloitte CFO survey – Q2 2019; https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/finance/articles/deloitte-cfo-survey.html
(4) Journal « The Independent » dated October, 2nd 2019 https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/uk-financial-services-brexit-no-deal-latest-cbi-pwc-survey-economy-a9126581.html

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