In our experience, we’ve found that firms with a strongly developed crisis response capability are much better placed to manage incidents efficiently, minimise resulting negative impacts, meet government priorities and ensure the continued delivery of critical services. While many organisations already have these plans in place for their workplace and supply chain, COVID-19’s bringing flaws in some to light.
Given the unknown variables surrounding the outbreak, it’s important to continuously evaluate crisis and business continuity plans, develop additional scenarios and adapt to the fast-changing new reality, whilst at the same time managing and screening (critical and/or new) third-party service providers.
Are your plans up to scratch?
Technology and cybersecurity
By now, COVID-19’s stress tested the teleworking facilities of most, if not all, organisations. In a time of “social distancing”, technology’s key to staying connected, which is vital for business continuity.
How can you use technology to help better eliminate bottlenecks in processes and facilitate communication with customers, business partners and employees? And how can you avoid being exposed to greater cybersecurity risks as your communication opens up and processes are increasingly automated to cope?
Just as with the 2016 terrorist attacks, among other crises, we’re seeing hackers exploit the coronavirus crisis for malevolent purposes. They’re targeting the healthcare sector in particular. We’ve seen a big surge in phishing emails, attempts to compromise business emails and the use of malware to harvest user credentials or demanding payment.
Business continuity teams are working on new scenarios, as plan B’s already been activated. With your workforce at home, productivity may already be suffering. Where are the new single points of failure? What if another major incident occurs?
Security officers are busying themselves with the security of the home workplace and unmanned offices that may fall prey to thieves (of different sorts). They’re also dealing with more cyber incidents than usual. All of this often remotely, as their teams are dispersed. That means security awareness campaigns need to shift into a higher gear and be coordinated with a flood of other communications. We can help you secure your workplace, wherever that may currently be.
As the global response to COVID-19 evolves, organisations start to experience significant operational, financial and liquidity challenges. One of the biggest concerns is how to manage cash pressures to be able to ride out the crisis.
While companies will likely require significantly increased levels of liquidity and working capital to keep their business going, the COVID-19 crisis will probably bring other significant challenges too:
Declining sales leading to cash-flow and covenant issues
Cash balances becoming trapped or unavailable for a prolonged period
Committed facilities and bank overdraft mechanisms becoming unavailable, withdrawn or denied due to covenant breaches or abuses of denial clauses
Disruption in an organisation’s ability to forecast cash flow
How can you navigate cash pressures in this turbulent time?
Install a (financial) crisis team to centralise all actions and take care of internal and external communication
Assess to what extent you can use the (tax and other) measures issued by governments to optimise your cash position - in the short to mid term
Use open and transparent communication to build trust and credibility with stakeholders
Update cash forecasts and perform sensitivity analysis, modelling worst-case scenarios and downsides
Review finance documentation and identify if there’s flexibility on covenants, cures, force majeure, etc.; additional borrowing capacity and unencumbered assets; scope to access government funding initiatives
Assess the position of stakeholders (banks, shareholders and government) and seek partnerships and renegotiate terms based on the scenario planning performed
Identify cost-saving measures
Update financing plans and consider if your capital’s allocated appropriately or you should reprioritise current capital allocation plans in light of your organisation’s response to COVID-19
The Belgian government’s far-reaching COVID-19 countermeasures have resulted in the forced closure of business in certain industries. Other companies, although not subject to the forced closure, are confronted with a reduction of their customer base, production, turnover, etc. as a direct result of the pandemic and can therefore no longer maintain their employees’ normal working schedule. Companies affected can use the system of temporary unemployment for their employees and the Belgian government has already taken steps to simplify and streamline the application procedure in this respect.
The current health crisis also impacts international workforces. COVID-19 countermeasures such as travel bans, quarantines, lockdowns - including the obligation to work from home - and closed airports affect the travel and work patterns of internationally mobile workforces. In these volatile times, it’s not only important to be able to track your mobile workforce in real time, but also examine the immigration, social security and personal income tax consequences of their disrupted travel - and work patterns.
Following the Belgian government’s strengthened countermeasures, all companies that can continue operating - regardless of their size - have been obliged to organise home working for each position where it’s not manifestly impossible. Apart from the technical and operational challenges of mass-teleworking, there are different personal income tax, labour law and social security aspects that must be taken into account as well.
Given the economic impact of the current health crisis, the Belgian government has adopted a number of support measures for businesses that are facing difficulties directly resulting from the coronavirus spread, including on workforce-related topics. These support measures include an automatic deferment of wage-withholding taxes by two months, additional payment arrangements for wage-withholding tax debts and the possibility to request payment by installments for social security contributions of the first and second quarter of 2020.
Questions? Please get in touch with Sandrine Schaumont
Supply chain and operations
In times like these, guaranteeing the continuity of operations is a main concern and challenge for many companies. Whether you’re dealing with disruption in stock levels or distressed clients, we can help you work on different potential scenarios and what they mean for your operations.
Are you agile enough to quickly change your supply chain in function of travel bans, closure of factories, changing government policies, etc.?
Are you prepared for the next potential uprise?
Here are some practical tips to help you minimise the effects of COVID-19 and survive:
Deploy a cross-functional crisis team
Protect your workforce in the operations environment
Identify critical products and suppliers, build in duplication and flexibility
Consider financial and legal implications
Communicate with stakeholders (workforce, suppliers, etc.)
Conduct scenario analysis to determine how to follow demand or build stock, etc.
Questions? Please get in touch with Jochen Vincke
Contracts are generally written to cover all types of foreseeable scenarios. But ‘unforeseeable’ is also a known legal concept. Under the current circumstances, many contract parties will no longer be able to perform all contractual obligations, be it those that can’t supply ordered products, borrowers who breach financial covenants, etc. Both parties will need to assess the impact, risks, remediation and enforcement possibilities, in order to take the right decisions.
Taking the right decisions is what’s expected from boards of directors and management. In a crisis with so many uncertainties, that's evolving daily, has this ever been more difficult? Good governance isn’t about resolving every problem. It’s about choosing the best available option, taking into account what’s known at the time.
Good governance is about consulting relevant business stakeholders, calling in experts, where needed, to identify alternative solutions, consciously weighing different options and reflecting decision making clearly in (legal) documentation to be able to account for it at a later time.
The best option may not always be an easy one. Sometimes, when cost savings and restructurings and the many support measures taken from the government aren’t sufficient, a company ends up close to or in insolvency. It’s then crucial to act swiftly and try to leverage the different options the law and governmental measures provide (rather than waiting until it’s too late), thereby taking the right decisions, for the company, its directors, management and all stakeholders.
For more information regarding the legal impacts, get in touch with PwC Legal.
Information management, corporate intelligence and investigations
Proactive communication for all stakeholder groups, based on factual information and not fake news is essential to manage public perception of an outbreak, minimise misinformation and associated panic, and reduce the detrimental impact on individuals and the economy.
From our experience working with various organisations during the Ebola and MERS outbreaks, the lack of complete and accurate information prevented well-considered decisions being made regarding the resources needed to control the outbreak and treat infected individuals.
Capturing and constantly monitoring the correct information on an ongoing basis and verifying its reliability is vital. Trustworthy information underpins both crisis planning and response, and allows organisations to make informed decisions.
Questions? Please get in touch with Rudy Hoskens