Leading through COVID-19 upheaval in NigeriaAn African finance executive explains how the pandemic is forcing the profession to be more flexible and to develop evergreen accounting strategies.
Editor’s note: This article is part of A Year of Evolution: CFOs on 2021 series featuring insights from finance leaders across industries, and their COVID-19 lessons and 2021 plans. To receive weekly updates on this series, sign up for our CGMA Advantage newsletter.
Oluseyi Olanrewaju, FCMA, CGMA, is the country CFO of Mixta Africa, a real estate development company headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria. Previous to this role, Olanrewaju was the acting managing director and finance director of Vodacom Business Africa. He has held various senior finance roles at multinational organisations including General Electric, MTN Nigeria, Internet Solutions, PwC, and Zenith Bank.
FM magazine interviewed Olanrewaju to gain insight into the financial and leadership challenges presented by COVID-19, as well as how the pandemic is shifting his approach to accounting and finance.
As a finance leader, what has been the most challenging aspect of the coronavirus pandemic?
Olanrewaju: The most challenging aspect of COVID-19 has been the negative impact on business performance — resulting in the need to keep the [financial] plans and budget up to date, by way of constant revision. Another challenging aspect has been employee engagement and keeping team morale high during the pandemic.
What are some challenges unique to Nigeria during this period?
Olanrewaju: The major challenges in Nigeria include high unemployment, with many people having lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Following the Russia–Saudi Arabia oil price war triggered in March and the scarcity of foreign exchange, Nigeria couldn’t raise enough foreign exchange inflow (and oil is still our major source of revenue as a country).
Additionally, the Nigerian government couldn’t fund palliatives during the national lockdown, and because of the import delays from China and elsewhere, production and manufacturing slowed down significantly, thereby having a negative impact on GDP.
What have been some of your most significant learnings since the crisis began, and how have you applied these in your work?
Olanrewaju: It is clear that the “new normal” is here, with working from home introduced here and virtual meetings now the order of the day. This has changed certain functions, with more use of electronic banking transactions and widespread adoption of electronic signatures on purchase orders and other business agreements and contracts.
What is your most important priority now?
Olanrewaju: My top priority is to maintain revenue and cash flow at all costs, with the aim of achieving a positive bottom line. Our strategy is to remain very visible and be in close touch with our customers, while providing incentives for their continued business and/or retention of our services.
What are the biggest threats to your business now, and how are you managing the threats? What indicators are you tracking?
Olanrewaju: A major threat is declining revenue, as the purchasing power of many customers has been eroded. We are closely tracking churn rate, service downtime, gross profit percentage, revenue per employee, and liquidity ratios.
What approach are you taking to budgeting and forecasting for 2021? How is that different from past years?
Olanrewaju: In previous years, I have used an incremental budgeting approach. Looking ahead, I think a zero-based budgeting approach may be necessary to remove unrealistic assumptions — and ultimately focus on realistic targets using the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely) logic.
What has the crisis revealed about the changing role of finance professionals?
Olanrewaju: The crisis has shown that the future is VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), and it cannot be predicted with 100% certainty. Finance professionals are now expected to make their strategy evergreen and allow for greater flexibility because the landscape is changing more quickly than anyone could really imagine.
What has been the most (unexpectedly) useful technology during the crisis?
Olanrewaju: Social media. I was able to monitor and lead teams remotely using social media and collaborative tools such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Slack, etc. We have also begun conducting online interview sessions and using more online selling platforms and digital advertisements. Apart from that, ERP platforms in the cloud have enabled teams to work from home efficiently.
How will the pandemic impact your finance function's digital transformation journey?
Olanrewaju: It is certainly going to fast-track whatever we have planned for digital transformation. The future is here!
Describe the “ownership mindset” and how this approach has shaped your career.
Olanrewaju: I have always heard my bosses and colleagues saying, “I run our business as if it’s my father’s business.” For me, having an ownership mindset means that you work as if you’re running your own business. In other words, running the business conscientiously and with utmost good faith. This mindset has enabled me to excel in my career. I believe that if I run my own business tomorrow, it will be successful. I always see myself as an intrapreneur.
— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.