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AFTF 2020

Lessons to learn from the pandemic

The lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic for leaders in both the public and business sectors are clear, according to an expert panel at the ANZ Finance & Treasury Forum 2020 – and those who fail to heed them risk being left behind.

Epidemiologist and Dean of the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, Professor Gabriel Leung says organisations can control their futures if they adopt better business models.

“To businesses, the message is simple – forget about yesterday, forget about pre-COVID. Look forward [and] reimagine your business model to build back better,” he says.

Part of that transition starts with communication, which has undergone a step change through the pandemic, Dr Celine Gounder, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at New York University says – in both business and public circles.

The rising death toll in regions which have mishandled the pandemic should drive home to government and business leaders the importance of strong communication and leadership during future pandemics, she says.

“Unfortunately, we’ve handled communications about as poorly as could have been done,” Dr Gounder says, encouraging leaders to empathise with people who are sick, unable to work or struggling to balance careers and parenting.

She says the temptation in the public sector to seek quick fixes to complex scientific challenges can be strong. Instead, the sector should “lead with the science” and defer to health experts when making pandemic-related health announcements.

“That’s how you get the public to trust some of those messages,” Dr Gounder says.

And ultimately, “… that is what will allow us to reopen the economy.”

Just in case

Jane Halton, Chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and ANZ board member, expects to see a significant readjustment in corporate philosophy as a result of the pandemic.

The shift will be from ‘just in time’ (focusing on reducing costs and inventory) to ‘just in case’ (favouring greater stockpiles of essentials in the event of a crisis), she says. With many businesses experiencing sudden and genuine disruption to their supply chains and consumer demand, they will need to reassess what they do, how they do it and crucial issues such as liquidity management.

Halton says pressure will be on boards, executive teams and even mum-and-dad enterprises to “rebuild, reshape and refocus”.

“[The] pandemic brings with it threat, but it brings with it opportunity,” she says. “So start changing the mindset – don’t just respond in the moment, but build for the future in a way that is more robust and resilient.”

Positive disruption in areas such as telehealth and telemedicine - previously subject to strict regulation - are an example of this, Dr Gounder says.

“The virus has led us to address some of those regulations to liberalise some of the restrictions and make it easier to provide services in that way,” she says.

Such an evolution of digital service provision extends beyond a primary carer doctor’s office to remote monitoring of intensive-care patients.

“That’s really revolutionary and something that’s going to accelerate over time,” she says.

With doubts remaining over the approval and release of effective vaccines, Leung says it is unclear when industries such as aviation and tourism will rebound. However, the better-prepared entities realise they are unlikely to return to a “pre-COVID-19 normal”.

“It will be a new normal – whether that’s going to be a new better normal, or a new not-so-good normal remains to be seen.”


ANZ Finance & Treasury Forum 2020

In 2020, the ANZ Finance and Treasury Forum went virtual, looking ahead to the new decade and the opportunities for senior finance and treasury professionals across Asia Pacific and beyond.

The market-leading event, featuring a host of international thought leaders, picked apart the themes currently dominating markets, analysed the outlook in an uncertain time and provided insights into a truly unprecedented era for doing business.

All of our ANZ Forum 2020 sessions are now available on demand. Please click HERE to register if you did not attend and would like to experience the event in full.


Safety nets

Leung says the countries that have managed COVID-19 best are those which have supported and invested heavily in public-health infrastructure. They also tried to remove financial and other barriers to good healthcare.

“It’s really getting to be very clear how and in what way we should, and in fact must, rethink and reform some of those really key fundamental public health and healthcare infrastructures around the world,” he says.

For Halton, that equality issues remains critical, using the 2009 swine-flu pandemic as an example of the risks of what has been called “vaccine nationalism”.

“Wealthy countries bought up the supply of flu vaccine and that meant that others around the world who had a genuine need, had to wait at the end of the supply chain before they could actually access that vaccine,” she said. “And we know that doesn't get the best outcomes.”

With COVID-19, the stakes are even higher, Halton says. Prioritising the poor, the elderly and others such as first-responders and those who are immuno-compromised for vaccination while production scales up will have wide ramifications.

“If we make any vaccines available to those people first we will prevent about two-thirds of deaths,” she says. “If we vaccinate the developed countries first, we will prevent [just] one-third of deaths.”

Halton says avoiding such vaccine nationalism would not only have humanitarian benefits but economic ones too.

“It means for those in business that you can get back to business because, as I keep saying, while ever any single country has this (virus), we’ve all got it,” she said.

ANZ Chief Economist Richard Yetsenga said for business, COVID-19 will continue to impact the operating environment even after a successful vaccine emerges.

“[COVID is] still a risk,” he said. “But of course, a risk that’s better understood is a risk that can be better managed.”

For Leung, a collective approach is the key to solving all the issues form the pandemic.

“What we need are global answers to these global problems,” he says. “What we need is to rethink and reimagine globalism 2.0.”

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