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Re-thinking the role of finance

With the world changing at a rapid rate, the scope of a Chief Financial Officer is widening and there is a need to embrace the paradigm shift with newer business models. Finance is a proactive solutions enabler, creating value and supporting purpose-driven initiatives to translate a company’s vision into reality. Rolf Hoffmann - CFO, Bayer South Asia & Member of the Board of Directors, Bayer CropScience Ltd. Shares his perspectives on ‘Re-thinking the role of Finance in a new normal’.

During these challenging times, we’ve all had our many firsts. For me, first time we spend the entire summer break at home as family, did a lot of baking or taking up a new study since university times. On September 10, I had another first with the opportunity to participate in a virtual ‘CFO Strategy Summit 2020’. As I sat through some of the sessions, it became more and more apparent that across the industry, the CFO is no longer just a Chief Financial Officer and, instead performs the role of a Chief Value Creator or Architect co-piloting the business along with the CEO.

 

With the world changing at a rapid rate, the CFO’s scope is widening and there is a need to embrace the paradigm shift with newer business models. Finance is a proactive solutions enabler, creating value and supporting purpose-driven initiatives to translate a company’s vision into reality. Christian Mertin, EY Global Consulting Solutions Leader – Global Business Services and I spoke on a wide array of topics from the importance of financial prudence and cash management in times of increased volatility to the role of finance in driving sustainability and supporting employees.

 

Re-thinking the role of finance in a new normal

There is currently no industry which has not been impacted by covid-19. At Bayer, we are fortunate to be present at a very powerful intersection of two socially relevant businesses in healthcare and agriculture with the vision of “Health for all, hunger for none”. Sustainability efforts are a central component and value lever within the group’s strategy and it has changed the way Bayer conducts its business operations.

 

The “Better Life Farming” (BLF) initiative is a key example of the value provided to farmer communities. It supports agricultural micro-entrepreneurs from the farming community to provide smallholder farmers with access to agri-inputs, crop advisories, irrigation best practices and new technologies to support aggregation of agricultural produce for improved market linkages. During the times of this pandemic, Bayer also took the initiative to arrange cash withdrawal facility for villagers from their postal accounts in coordination with India Post at the BLF centers. Moreover, partnering with Axis Bank has enabled Bayer to provide crop loans and term loans to farmers at a subsidized rate of interest. By 2025, our aim is to serve more than 2.5 million farmers across India through 5000-plus BLF centers.

 

Profit is an opinion, cash is a fact

As CFO or ‘Business Custodian,’ there is a need for clear financial prudence in these times of increased volatility, with cash moving to center stage. Such prudence provides a sound foundation for all other business operations and plays a critical role in business continuity and risk management. Cash preservation during the crisis also helped ensure Bayer’s ‘Employee first’ approach was put into practice. Simple yet critical aspects such as receiving their complete salaries and scheduled merit increases, planned promotions and short-term incentives on time helped ensure financial security. We also enhanced the health insurance coverage for employees and their family members to support them during these special circumstances. Our employees didn’t have to worry about these aspects and were able to focus on business and excel.

 

CFO - a value architect

At the end of the day, as CFOs, we all play a role in creating value for the organization, not only as custodians for the business but also as solution enablers when it comes to building and sustaining new business models. To be a value creator, we have to change the way we lead teams. We are not only investing in people development through classroom and online training, but also by building a culture change towards a more agile and ‘fit for purpose’ organization where employees feel more empowered. Our emphasis has also been on enhancing a culture of trust and feedback.

 

As Chief Value Creator, taking care of our license to operate is essential but we have to be more outward focused to help drive solutions and not just give advice, optimize and create value for market, stay focused and be prepared to take over as co-pilot. And while the world is changing, we at Bayer are changing and evolving with it, with increased opportunities to re imagine the role of finance in empowering people and enabling solutions.

 

This article was published in September 2020 on LinkedIn

Author

Rolf Hoffmann
Rolf Hoffmann
CFO - Bayer South Asia