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How businesses can leverage technology to survive uncertain times

The following measures should be adopted by organizations seeking to not just survive, but turn around their business for growth in times like this.

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Nigeria slipped into its second recession in 5 years, as the GDP in real terms declined by -3.62% in Q3 2020, leaving business leaders on the edge.

The uncertainty in both economic, political, as well as global outlook due to the impact of the pandemic will have a far-reaching effect on companies in 2021. However, business leaders are expected to begin the process of implementing innovative ways of protecting shareholder value and meeting their needs.

READ: Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa secures $100m investment in Nigeria data center

It is expected that months from now, the impact of the recession will take its full toll on the revenues of companies, credit availability and debt recovery. Leaders will begin to make shrewd decisions to ensure survival and one key feature will be cost-cutting.

While survival strategy will defer from one company to the other, experience has shown cost-cutting strategy that blindly seeks to reduce expense without a clear path to growth often lead to negative impacts.

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READ: Export of our products in West African sub-region now less competitive – MAN

There is a need to analyze which cost is clearly avoidable and which, though avoidable, should be considered an investment.

Before now, the type of costs that often fall casualty of economic downturn are employee cost, research and project costs, including technology initiatives.

However, the current digitalization trends and unintended dependence on technology due to the Covid-19 pandemic should signal that the cost-cutting strategy of the past will require a rethink.

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The justification to prioritize technology projects in an uncertain time like this requires CIOs and IT Managers to convince the business to invest in technology. To achieve this, the benefits of implementing the right technology should be presented in a simple, understandable and measurable manner.

The following measures should be adopted by organizations seeking to not just survive, but turn around their business for growth in times like this.

READ: COVID-19: Lufthansa resumes flights to Nigeria after 8 months suspension

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Clarity on the impact of technology on the business

How does the technology project address real business problems, including projected problems the business is likely to have in the future?

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For example, a technology project focused on automation of receivables and customer relationship providing solutions like payment reminders, escalation notification, risk assessments, may be considered a problem-solving project for a business with high volume credits sales or cash flow issues.

A business environment with high growth in bad debt and slow receivable collection should easily be able to justify a technology aimed at solving these real business problems.

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READ: Transactional Sales job demand ranks top in Nigeria, 2 others during Covid-19

Ability to measure impact

Before investing in a technology project in a recession, technology managers need to be able to measure the benefits the organizations will derive from such investments.

There needs to be a simple and clear business justification that is trackable and measurable. Will the project increase our revenue? Will it reduce our cost or will it make us run more efficiently? Will it save us overhead time and cost on the long run? Using Receivable automation project as an example, the business needs to able to measure and monitor performance indicators that validates the success of the project.

READ: Governor Oyetola seeks Aviation Minister’s support for State’s airport

By investing in receivable automation, by creating automated due receivable reminder, by setting risk and limits to credit availability based on past behaviors and automating these processes, what percentage reduction are we expecting on overdue receivable? What is the target number of customers we hope to be able to convert with these payment methods? What is the time saving due to the ease of receivable reconciliation and reporting?

All these should be well documented as part of the business case. Value gatekeepers need to be assigned to ensure those value delivery can be monitored and realized before project closure.

READ: NNPC GMD says AKK pipeline, Nigeria’s biggest gas project is 15% complete

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Does technology foster innovation for future opportunities?

Implementing a technology project that has been in the plan for the last 2 years will not lead to innovation if not re-planned to meet its future needs.

A business technology project in 2020 should consider new innovations that will shape business in future, using receivable process as an example, Automation of Account receivable and collection process should consider solutions such as robotic process automation where customer can make basic enquiry and the application has bots capability to respond based on artificial intelligence, making it easy for customers to get basic information like customer balance, amount due this month and amount paid for the year.

READ: Hyundai record biggest daily gains in 33 years, on partnership with Apple

This should be possible without a need to wait endlessly on customer service lines. Data analytics solutions with predictive technology and machine learning should be considered. Can the technology predict the consistency in a customer payment compared to due date, to determine the future behaviours and likely cashflow of the organization. These are initiatives that will be critical for future growth.

While this is the time for businesses to be prudent in their expenses, smart organizations should also consider investing in technology-driven innovative solutions in order to address real business needs.

The CIO must have the courage to articulate these gains as well as work with business people in ensuring the benefits of technology projects are understood and are seen as investments not an expense, in relation to shareholder value.


About author

Olawale A. Kolapo (OAK) is a technology consultant with a finance background, for over a decade implementing technology solution that has helped various private and public sector organizations integrate and automate their business process. He is interested in building a digital approach to solve Africa’s business challenges.

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Nairametrics frequently publishes articles from experts such as financial analysts, economists, researchers and investors. We also feature articles from guest writers and bloggers who wish to push their views and opinions through our platform.To get your articles on Nairametrics, kindly send an email to [email protected] and we will publish it within 24 hours of approval by our editorial team.

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Will the world of business change for good?

Since the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, here are four ways the world of business has changed.

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This pandemic has rewritten the future of business and from the looks of things, this sector will never be the same again.

There have been vast changes from the adoption of new technologies to the redefining of business strategies to keep companies operational. If you are still in doubt about these changes, here are four ways of how the world of business looks like now:

1. Virtual meetings

Though bad, the pandemic has served as an equalizer. How has it succeeded in doing this? Before, large companies had an advantage over small companies because they have more staff, particularly salespeople who meet with customers in person. With the health authorities discouraging close contact, both business dimensions (big or small) have been forced to leverage virtual sales meetings to market their products. Virtual meetings have now become the new normal and are bound to here to stay for a while. The advantage of virtual meetings is that they are economical hence they will keep your sales budget at a lower threshold. While sales still require a certain level of expertise, smaller firms can now also afford to make use of virtual platforms to make their marketing pitch to their audience. Given how technology is growing, virtual meetings continue to evolve, sales approaches may just change for good.

2. Working remotely rise

While previously people still worked remotely, at the moment, there is a rise in pandemic-induced remote workers and this number will continue to go up. However, it is going to be in the form of hybrid models where the staff is going to split their time between billing hours in the office and at home. Working remotely will have an impact on urban economies in that as more people work remotely, there is going to be less demand for restaurants, shops, bars, or other services that cater to the needs of commuting workers. Even then employees and companies will save a lot more on personal expenses and office space respectively. There is also going to be a reversal of patterns as more skilled and educated professionals will move to rural settings as opposed to before. Such a shift will be possible because of the availability of clear communication channels among people. At the moment, staff can share large files in zip formats that enable everyone to receive the same file folder. Sharing single files containing multiple documents will enable the compression of large files into small documents.

3. Improved customer management

The pandemic has forced people to reinvest ways of interacting with customers. While other sectors in business such as strategy, differentiation, delegation, communication, training, and execution will remain the same, customer relationship management has been changed forever. Businesses are now more dependent and reliant on their digital presence. At the moment, if you lack presence on any of the available social media accounts, you are losing big bucks. Social media also reinvented itself such that it can link users with your website and blogs. It can also help your site rank high on search engines enabling customers to find you with ease. The usage of social media will continue to go up given that some business has been born from these platforms. You will need an effective customer relationship management plan in case you didn’t have one previously to handle your newly identified customers.

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4. Business radicalization

COVID 19 provides a chance for rapid business changes to occur. In 2008 when the world experienced a financial crash, it was predicted to the end of capitalism. Over a decade later, most of the capitalistic financial institutions are still in place. So, while there are elements that cannot be changed in business, after the pandemic, most organizations will need to embrace radicalism in ways that were not inconceivable two decades ago. This means that schools of business have a vital role to play in incorporating the new business strategies learned during this pandemic in their curricula. Apart from teaching strategy, finance, and marketing, business schools will have to incorporate radical measures such as cultural, ethical, and societal issues in their curricula.

Conclusion

Given that the pandemic is still here with us, it will continue to shape the business world in ways that have never been seen before. If you are in business, the ideal thing to do is keep an open lest you will be forced to shut your business operations!


About author

Rachel Eleza, Growth Marketing Director at UpSuite and a part-time writer.

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A summer of higher food prices, limited room for monetary policy

Nigeria is facing a more fundamental supply shock, which alongside the rising transport costs is likely to drive higher food prices.

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Despite billions on agriculture, food inflation up by 108% since 2015.

Headline Inflation has assumed a new pattern over the last three months, primarily driven by pressures in the food basket, reflecting a shock to crop cultivation from covid-19 restrictions and border closures.

In addition, more recent developments in currency markets, where the Naira has weakened, as well as the increases in petrol prices following the removal of blanket subsidies have underpinned inflationary expectations.

Looking ahead, sizable increases in electricity tariffs which came into effect in September as well as continuing fuel price pressures could see inflation head towards 14% levels in Q4 2020. Given the supply-side driven nature of the inflationary bout as well as the recent pivot to unorthodox monetary policies (which include liquidity tightening measures via CRR debits), it is likely that the CBN will ignore these numbers and persist with its current stance.

Nigeria’s inflation surged in August with the CPI rising 13.22% y/y (July: 12.8% y/y), the highest level since April 2018, largely driven by pressures in the food basket, where prices climbed 16% y/y (July: 15.48% y/y) while the core index (which includes energy prices) decelerated to 10.5% (July: 10.1% y/y). On a monthly basis, the inflation climbed by 1.34% over August (July: 1.25%) — the highest monthly number since June 2017.

Pressures in Food, Utilities and Transport are driving the rising inflation numbers

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Disaggregating the inflation numbers, three segments stand out (Food, utilities aka Housing, Water, Electricity and Gas and Other Fuels, HWEGF and Transportation) as central to the pick-up in inflation, as they accounted for ~80% of the variation in the monthly CPI print.

Food was central and I shall set out my thoughts on the drivers later in this report, but on the latter two, pressures are linked to pick-up in fuel prices following the removal of subsidies in March which has seen fuel prices rise by 15% over the last two months.

Figure 1: Component analysis of monthly inflation

Aug2020CPISource: NBS, Authors Calculation

A combination of weaker farming activity, Naira weakness and covid-19 lockdowns are behind the uptrend in food inflation

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Looking at food inflation, the big pressures came from the farm produce component which accounts for over 90% of food inflation. August usually marks the start of the main crop harvest season in Nigeria which peaks in September-October and as such in normal years, monthly inflation peaks in July and decelerates thereafter.

However, in 2020, monthly farm produce and food inflation readings over the last three months are at levels not seen since 2017 which would suggest factors hurting the supply side. Indeed, most grain and tuber crop prices are moving towards five-year trend levels.

Figure 2: Component Analysis of Monthly Food Inflation

MonthlyFoodAug2020Source: NBS, Authors Calculation

In 2017, my thesis then was that a sharp Naira depreciation drove heightened exports of Nigerian farm produce into the wider sub-region, forcing an upward adjustment in domestic prices.

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In 2020, in addition to the sharp shift in the FX rate as well, the sense from reading on-ground sources like FEWSNET is that Covid-19 movement restrictions hurt the flow of labourers from neighbouring countries during planting season.

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Accordingly, field surveys are indicating that the area under cultivation for most grain and tuber crops is lower than levels in prior years which is pointing towards a subpar crop harvest for 2020. As such, Nigeria is facing a more fundamental supply shock, which alongside the rising transport costs is likely to drive higher food prices.

The price pressures are likely to be steep in urban centres as is evident in the spreads between rural and urban inflation which have widened since the border closures. Thus, in a departure from prior years, when regional supplies from neighbouring countries moved through the border to temper these pressures, existing blockades imply that limited relief is forthcoming.

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Solving the price runaway for food items clearly involves a combination of allowing targeted food imports or at least re-opening the borders to allow regional food trade flows to resume. However, Nigeria’s economic managers appear to be on the other side of this fence.

Figure 3: Rural and Urban Inflation

UrbRurCPIAug2020Source: NBS, Authors Calculation

But money supply growth has been restrained by CRR debits in the banking sector

The textbook monetary policy response to accelerating inflation is to raise interest rates to induce a shift away from consumption towards savings in a bid to force inflation to within a target level. This pre-supposed inflation was driven by an expansion in money supply often through credit growth. A look at developments on this front would rule this out.

As at the end of July 2020, annualized growth in monetary aggregates was mixed with strong growth in M1 (+33%) and M2 (+27%) relative to M3 (+10%)[1]. The muted growth in M3 relative to the narrower measurers of M1 and M2 reflect declines in OMO bills (- 72%) after the CBN elected to proscribe non-bank domestic investors from its sterilization securities sales.

This resulted in a drop in OMO bills from NGN8trillion at its peak in November 2019 to NGN3.5trillion in July 2020. As these monies flowed unhindered into the banking system, they spurred an expansion in Demand Deposits (+42% and Quasi-Money (+24%). Although these should ordinarily stoke concerns, a look at the monetary base (M0)[2] throws up evidence of how the CBN has still managed to sterilize liquidity: via the cash reserve requirements.

Specifically, bank reserves have expanded at an annualized pace of 132% to NGN11trillion at the end of July or by some NGN4.8trillion – which is more than double the quantum of growth in Naira terms in M3 (NGN2trillion). Effectively, as many have argued, the entire move to outlaw access for non-bank (and tacitly banks) was essentially targeted at zero cost liquidity sterilization. Thus, while there has been growth in money supply from maturing OMO bills, the concurrent expansion in monetary base via CRR debits has effectively drained the financial system of excess liquidity.

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From a more structural perspective, money supply growth is often driven by two sub-parts: net domestic assets (NDA) and net foreign assets (NFA). The CBN’s use of CRR debits has ensured that NDA growth over the first seven months of 2020 has been subdued (+1.3% annualized) relative to a faster expansion in net foreign assets (+54%) following the surge in FX borrowings with the IMF loan. In simple terms, the liquidity deluge from OMO bill maturities have been managed away.

Figure 4: Growth in Money Supply

MoneySSJuly2020Source: CBN

So what gives?

In the near term, my suspicions are that the CBN is set to follow the global trend of ignoring the inflation numbers, which suits its ‘home-grown’ philosophy, that has underpinned a spate of interventions across a host of sectors.

These interventions have resulted in the CBN directing credit towards certain sectors (manufacturing, renewable energy, gas-to-power, housing, agriculture etc) at single-digit interest rates in a bid to stimulate activity. In combination with the Loan-Deposit Ratio (LDR) policy as well as the arbitrary nature of the CRR debits, which are well above the 27.5% target number, the CBN has been able to force banks to boost loan volumes as a coping mechanism in the face of collapse in net interest margins from lower rates on government securities.

Though sceptics remain over the efficacy of supply-side policies on stimulating production among other unorthodox policies such as offering better rates for offshore investors relative to onshore investors, the CBN’s recent policy of lowering minimum savings rate has provided a strong signal of its direction: there will be no reward for risk-free anymore.

Will this work or not? We will have to wait to find out. But interest rates are likely to remain lower for sometime.

And 3 more things…

  • Changing the definition of core inflation: Presently, Nigeria defines core inflation as headline inflation less farm produce, which reflected historic stability in fuel prices due to the existence of subsidized regime. With the removal of subsidies and 30-day averaging period, fuel prices now move from month-to-month implying higher volatility. Now is the time to change the definition of core inflation to exclude farm produce and fuel in line with the theoretical meaning. Looking back, the spread between headline and the true core definition which the NBS publishes suggests maybe we should not have tightened policy as aggressive as we did in 2016-17 by focusing communication on the true core number. Economic policies should focus on more lasting structural drivers than transient one-off shocks like fuel & electricity price hikes which tend to have disinflationary base effects afterwards.
  • Adopting a more meaningful inflation target: In Nigeria, that target level for inflation is defined as 6-9% for the headline number. Given the weight of food inflation (55%) in the CPI numbers as well as elements without recourse to monetary policy (like fuel and electricity prices), some (including myself) have argued that the 6-9% target for headline is meaningless. In countries which pursue inflation targeting, the target is more refined with preference for demand-side inflation metrics like core inflation, wage inflation or personal consumption expenditures. Nigeria needs to adopt something similar.
  • Explicitly incorporating FX into Nigeria’s monetary policy reaction function: In theory, the core mandate of central banks is price stability, but this does not preclude the pursuit of other objectives. In the US, the Fed has a dual mandate that explicitly includes unemployment. I believe a proper explicit mandate for the CBN is one that requires that it optimize a reaction function of price stability and an export competitive exchange rate. The price stability mandate should entail lowering some measure(s) of inflation (preferably ‘core’ demand side measures) towards a target band defined as conducive for consumption and welfare in Nigeria over a medium-term period set as 2-3 years. This allows to evaluate the efficacy of monetary policy and provides a good feedback loop. On the other factor, given the importance to policymakers we need to include that the CBN target a competitive exchange rate. The idea in mind is a variant of what obtains in Singapore, wherein the nominal exchange rate must coincide with a REER level that ensures that Nigeria’s non-oil manufacturing exports are competitive. This way, we resolve this obsession for nominal exchange rate stability. Balancing both items and ensuring better communication are the ultimate goals for monetary policy.

Figure 5: Trends in headline and core inflation

HeadCorspreadAug2020Source: NBS, Authors calculation

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Nigeria’s high recurrent costs, low revenue and escalating debt numbers

Nigeria continues to face issues of poor revenue generation and a lack of will to efficiently manage its expenditure.

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Debt, Fitch downgradesS&P downgrades Nigeria, Nigeria’s credit rating faces downgrade by Fitch, Oil price crash, Coronavirus: The trouble that lies ahead for Nigeria, Avoiding 2016: What Nigeria should do to fight the coming economic storm, Fitch downgrades, federal government (FG)

In the recently released Q3 2020 debt report by the National Bureau of Statistics, the total public debt was N32.22trn as of 30 September 2020, with local debt making up 62.18% of the total public debt in the period while external debt made up 37.82%.

This is similar to the country’s debt structure in the same period of 2019 when domestic debt made up 68.45% of total public debt and external debt made up 31.55%. Whilst debt to GDP ratio remains within the acceptable threshold, we are increasingly concerned about the nation’s ballooning debt service to revenue ratio.

READ: U.S. budget suffers a deficit of $3.1 trillion in 2020, as pandemic slams the economy

Recall that the Federal Government of Nigeria following a series of revisions to the 2020 appropriation bill arrived at a fiscal deficit of N4.98trn. Based on the finance ministry data, an aggregation of debt monetization (N2.86trn) and New borrowings (N3.28trn) was used to finance the deficit.

READ: Heads of defaulting revenue generating agencies will be severely sanctioned – Buhari

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The 2021 appropriation bill forecasts a budget deficit of N5.60tn which would be financed mainly by borrowings of N4.69tn, privatization proceeds of N205.15bn and project linked bilateral & multilateral loans of N709.69bn. The country’s financing structure is of concern when one considers that the budget is tilted more towards recurrent expenditure than capital expenditure and raises questions on the sustainability of the current fiscal practices.

READ: FG directs the suspension of NIMC staff involved in extortion of NIN applicants

The significantly higher recurrent component of the budget continues to drag the country’s economic growth, resulting in poor infrastructural development. Spending more on capital projects can promote industrialization, improve local purchasing power and help the federal government’s diversification drive.

READ: NEM Insurance CEO/MD purchases 4 million additional shares worth N9.2 million

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Nigeria continues to face issues of poor revenue generation and lack of will to efficiently manage its expenditure. No significant cuts have been made to its overheads and statutory spending has continued to rise. Nigeria’s growing debt stock with little to show for it in terms of capital expenditure remains a major concern.

READ: Nigeria’s total public debt stock increased by N2.381 trillion in 3 months


CSL Stockbrokers Limited, Lagos (CSLS) is a wholly owned subsidiary of FCMB Group Plc and is regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria. CSLS is a member of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

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