CashFlo Unscripted is a Indian business podcast where we speak to various businesses and finance leaders across the country, on topics relevant to the day.
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I recently had an opportunity to speak with Ms. Anjali Bansal on the CashFlo Unscripted Podcast. Ms. Bansal is the Founder of Avaana Capital and the Chairperson of the Investment Council at NITI Aayog. She also serves on the board of several large companies including Tata Power, Siemens, Delhivery, and Bata.
India, is in the midst of an unprecedented economic shutdown, as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nothing like this has been seen before. Naturally, my conversation with Ms. Bansal focused on the Indian COVID-19 lockdown, and specifically its impact on working capital and supply chains.
We know that India has imposed one of the strictest lockdowns seen anywhere, and the question the country has debated is this – did we need something so stringent? Was there perhaps not a middle ground – a lockdown that kept people safe, but also mitigated the economic impact.
Ms. Bansal brings a unique cross-sector perspective on the lockdown, working as she does with multiple Boards, and NITI Aayog. Her perspective is worth keeping in mind – we should be most concerned with the human cost of the pandemic. Economies can recover in time, but lives must be protected. While the economic impact has been severe, the human cost in terms people getting sick with COVID-19 and people losing out on proper healthcare as the system is overburdened, cannot be ignored.
On a positive note, the lockdown has triggered greater productivity, rapid adoption of remote working and most importantly, a greater sense of collaboration. Innovative solutions for healthcare, keeping businesses running, ensuring supply of essentials, have all been positively impacted by collaboration in the face of an unprecedented disruption. Further, the care and the thought has come from all segments of the economy, large companies, individuals as well as startups to finding solutions and reaching out to some of the most vulnerable segments of our society, whether it was through meal camps, distribution of food packets, providing healthcare services and outreach to stranded people to migrant labor, to daily wagers.
The connecting theme and primary takeaway of my discussion with Ms. Bansal was one of optimism that while we are in an absolutely unprecedented global human and economic crisis, some solutions will emerge.
The next key question for our readers, as we proceed through the lockdown, is what’s next?
The priority should continue to be the health and safety of our people as employees, as colleagues, as a society and then around the world. India’s lockdown was decisive, and seems to be flattening the curve. But the nature and duration of the lift of the lockdown remains to be seen. There are still many unknowns. That being said, what we do know is that there has of course been a supply shock, but will also be followed by a demand shock – brought on by a dampening of sentiment and consumer confidence overall, globally and in India.
“The priority should continue to be the health and safety of our people as employees, as colleagues, as a society and then around the world”
On the supply shock, Ms. Bansal’s perspective is that while scattered reports of Force Majeure have hit the news, for the large part the lockdown has seen a spirit of cooperation and togetherness.
The risk lies however, in the liquidity shortage and increasing cost of capital post-lockdown, especially for MSMEs. Post lockdown, expect to see payment delays in addition to the premium on borrowings. Fortunately, MSMEs are recognized as the lifeblood of the economy and solving this liquidity problem is very top of the agenda in policymaking right now. We need to solve for both infusing liquidity into the economy to tide over this crisis but also look at structural methods of improving liquidity and working capital to make supply chains resilient for the future.
“Resilient” supply chains seems a concept which has gained prominence only now. In the past, Enterprise Risk never looked at Supply chains, but that will now change. For supply chain leaders, this is a good time to really step up and play an even more visible important role in their company’s leadership team and as a strategic partner to business. Not just as an enabler, but very much a strategic partner. Reducing risk and improving digitization in supply chains has an immediate impact on working capital, so even more of a necessity for supply chain and finance leaders to work together.
Two trends are emerging for resilient supply chains – digitization, and a revisit of the global supply chain footprint, which is happening across sectors. This presents an opportunity for India if we prepare ourselves.
“For supply chain leaders, this is a good time to really step up and play an even more visible important role in their company’s leadership team and as a strategic partner to the business“
On digitization – MSMEs are embracing digital solutions at a pace never seen before. Digital can no longer be an isolated silo, it’s actually now an all-pervasive horizontal across the enterprise. Companies that are either digitally enabled or digitally-led are actually coming out of this crisis and dealing with it in a much more agile fashion.
This is happening even in so-called “traditional” industries as well. For example – supply of groceries was a paramount need in the lockdown. Once cash was identified as a potential transmitter, even neighborhood kirana stores are also rapidly adopting digital payments. This is happening even upstream with players like Ninjacart doing digital procurement and delivery.
With respect to the footprint of supply chains, countries are moving towards globally distributed supply chains and low-cost manufacturing. The dependence on any one geography, such as China, for specific components or inputs like pharmaceutical APIs, is being reconsidered. This is where in some ways India can actually take a big share of that pie if we prepare ourselves.
This was a supremely insightful and thoughtful experience for myself, and I have come out better informed and more understanding of the situation, and the massive trade-offs we are having to collectively make – stopping the economy, risking jobs and livelihoods; to save lives. Do consider listening to the discussion in its entirety on the CashFlo Unscripted Podcast. If you have any feedback, do write to me at email@example.com.