Businesses: How to Survive the Coronavirus Panic

“Never let a good crisis go to waste” (Winston Churchill)

Globally, the COVID-19 coronavirus has spread panic amongst societies and markets. Businesses are suffering their most challenging times since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.

This is the time for urgently reviewing how events have affected your business and how you can respond to the seeming chaos.

Cash is king

When faced with great uncertainty, conserve cash and shore up all your credit lines. This will give you greater flexibility when strategizing a response to the coronavirus. You may, for example, be able to buy a crucial stock item for a discount from one of your suppliers, thus ensuring that you can continue operating. Apart from strengthening your position with your competitors, this could help the supplier to remain in business – relationships are important, and this supplier will be grateful to you.

Trim costs wherever you can – some of this is being done for you as many companies are cancelling travel, resulting in many meetings and conferences being called off. Capital expenditure is being pruned globally and there may be opportunities to delay some of your current capex.

Keep your staff healthy

Apple has already told staff to work from home to reduce the risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus. Desks are being spaced to reduce the possibility of catching the virus and meetings are being cancelled or are taking place electronically.

Make sure the risk of staff catching the virus is minimised and have a succession plan if some key members are incapacitated by the coronavirus. Take particular care of staff members who have health issues, as they could become seriously ill or die if they catch the virus. As health authorities are advising people to frequently wash their hands, ensure that you have enough hand washing dispensers.

As many of your staff will be working from home using smart phones and their own desktops, have your IT department mitigate the risks of hacking or computer viruses getting into your IT platform.

Perhaps, most importantly, communicate often with your employees and managers. Regularly follow updates from the World Health Organisation and the local Department of Health. This is a time of uncertainty, as there is no definitive knowledge on how the coronavirus will evolve and thus sharing the information you gather on the disease, will improve the health and morale of staff in your business.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act imposes obligations on employers to provide a healthy environment for their staff. Much of the above is in line with ensuring that you comply with that Act’s requirements, but you need to ensure your organisation is compliant with the legislation.

Your supply chain

This is clearly a key area and working out the risks of suppliers and contractors being unable to supply you is a key task. Some of the important areas will be changing your safety stock holdings, reviewing your contracts with stakeholders and assessing the risks and the consequences of default. This is where it really pays to have cash.

As we said above, keep in mind the long term relationships with suppliers.

You also need to review your insurance policies – will they pay out if certain scenarios unfold? Do you need to take out different policies?

Reacting, planning and preparing strategies will ensure you have the agility to ride out this crisis and may even strengthen your position with competitors.

Is Passwordless Authentication the Next Big Step?

Consider these facts:

  • Over 80% of hacking is password related.
  • In the first world the average cost of fixing a successful hack is $3.9 million.
  • The average person spends 11 hours a year changing or resetting his or her passwords. For a company with approximately 15,000 employees, the cost of this is $5.2 million per annum, including a cost of $1 million for password resets alone.
  • This average person has between 25 to 85 passwords for the various applications he or she uses.
  • In online retail, 90% of attempts to get into the website are by hackers who have a success rate of about 1%.

The implications for world economic growth and for business

These statistics adversely impact customers who find using the internet a stressful experience and thus often limit the time they spend on the Web. Research indicates that most consumers will pay a premium to have a pleasant online experience – no passwords expired, no one time pins etc.

For businesses the main issue is the time spent in ensuring their internet gateways are safe from hackers to avoid the reputational and other damage they will suffer if they are hacked. Invariably, this leads to more complexity which scares off customers, encourages hackers to find flaws and so the spiral continues.

Nor is this only dragging down businesses, it also has a sizeable effect on the global economy. Just look at the world’s ten largest companies:

Source: Bloomberg, Google

The seven companies shown in blue above are based on a “platform model”, highlighting the importance of this issue to the world’s economy. With seven of the companies in the tech sector and two in financial services (Berkshire Hathaway, J.P. Morgan), it is obvious just how important their internet platforms are to their success.

The solution

A good solution will need to have the following elements:

  1. Security, for obvious reasons.
  2. Privacy – with the pending full commencement of the Protection of Personal Information Act this will become an even more important element.
  3. Sustainability – it needs to be robust, flexible and long lasting.
  4. Inclusive – with the rapid breakout of people into distinct groupings (LGBT, #Metoo etc), the solution must cater for all these needs.
  5. Scalability – as the world is making greater use of the internet, any new system must be able to rapidly scale up.
  6. Pleasant user experience – it needs to be easy to use.

This solution should move away from passwords towards alternatives like biometrics (facial recognition, fingerprint authentication and the like), QR code authentication and even to the system recognising unique habits you have like how you toggle a mouse.

These solutions are becoming more available and in the US companies which have moved away from passwords are finding their sales line growing, costs being reduced, productivity rising and happy customers.

Make sure you don’t lag behind your competitors in this important developing field.

Do You Need Business Interruption Insurance?

Catastrophes like floods and fires do occur and there is insurance to cater for these types of events. There are two different types of insurance cover for these events – one to repair or replace the assets damaged (your normal insurance policy) and one to compensate you for the losses incurred during the time it takes to get the business going again. This latter one is known as ‘Business Interruption’ or ‘Loss of Profits’ insurance.

Statistics show that nearly three out of four businesses never recover from a catastrophic event and it is therefore important to ensure that your Business Interruption insurance has been carefully thought through.

What to insure for

You need to have a good grasp of your costs and expected sales and gross profit. You don’t want to underinsure so if your business is growing reflect that fact – for example if you expect 10% growth (and trends in your business justify this) show this to insurers or you won’t get paid out this additional amount.

It is important to make sure that all your projections are well grounded and can be defended as they will be closely scrutinised by loss adjustors in the event of a claim. Thus, the better you understand your costs, the less chance of having a claim either rejected or adjusted downwards.

Another critical factor is the indemnity period. This is the time you will be covered for whilst out of business. For example, if you put a six-month indemnity period in your policy, you will only get paid out for six months even if it takes twelve months to get the business back on its feet again.

Let’s look at an example… 

Bernie has a cosmetics factory and his year end is 31 December.

Bernie’s Cosmetics Factory
Budget for Year R
Sales 120,000
Cost of Sales (45,000)
Purchases (10,000) **
Wages (35,000)
COSTS (46,000)
Salaries (20,000)
Distribution (6,000) **
Maintenance (5,000) **
Rent (15,000)
= PROFIT 29,000

On January 2, the factory burns down. It will take 12 months to get the factory up and running again.

Business Interruption Claim R
Gross Profit 75,000
Less Purchases (10,000)
Salaries 20,000
Rent 15,000
Preparation Cost 5,000 ***
= CLAIM 105,000 *
*Adjusted gross profit plus your incurred costs.
**Variable costs which will not be incurred in the 12-month period of re-establishing the factory.

  ***Putting together claims is a time-consuming task, so include it in your policy.

  NB! Include VAT in the assured amount as insurance pay outs include VAT.

You can see from this simple example that this is a very complex process – spend time with your accountant getting to grips with your revenues and costs. Also use a reliable insurance broker.

Remember that 43% of businesses that suffer a catastrophe never trade again and a further 29% go out of business within two years.