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The BFS industry started 2020 in a cautiously optimistic mood, hoping for a rebound in global economic growth. But then the COVID-19 outbreak swept the world into a state of emergency. The current challenge is far greater for BFS firms than was the Great Recession, as they need to crack the code of how to deal swiftly with both demand- and supply-side shocks. In this scenario, banks face a dual mandate of:
To illustrate the variation in pandemic impact across different BFS lines of business (LoBs), we analyzed the severity of impact and speed of recovery for each line. Our assessment of severity of impact involved modeling factors such as the COVID-19 revenue and profitability impact from both a near-term (3-6 months) and a medium-term (6-12 months) perspective. We gave more weight to the medium-term impact as the near-term uncertainty makes the modeling of impact very difficult.
And we mapped impact severity against the speed of recovery by gauging the time it will take for these LoBs to bounce back to the pre-crisis state; this is a function of the health of these business segments before the crisis, as well as expected changes in customer sentiment and buying behavior once the crisis is over.
Our analysis found that BFS LoBs cluster in four zones, each of which exhibits unique characteristics and will face a distinct set of technology and IT services implications. Taking it counterclockwise from the bottom right quadrant:
At an industry level, we expect BFS firms to completely focus on running the business initiatives in the near term. Our research suggests that banks have put nearly 60 percent of change projects on hold. Most of these suspensions are temporary and will restart once the crisis abates; however, we believe that the prioritization and nature of these change projects will mutate due to a shift in business priorities and budgets.
As an immediate response to the current situation, designing and executing customer assistance programs should be the top priority for BFS firms. In the medium term, the firms’ focus should gradually shift to modernization of legacy systems that slowed down banks’ agility and ability to respond to this crisis. Post COVID-19, BFS firms will need to reimagine their products, pricing, and channel strategies to fulfill evolved customers’ expectations.
Our recommendation for BFS enterprises is to cautiously evaluate their exposure across each of their LoBs and carve out a holistic IT strategy that takes into account not only the near-term implications, but also their long-term business philosophy.
Not surprisingly, we’ve been flooded with questions about the implications of COVID-19 on the IT services industry over the past two months.
Let’s take a look at the two most prevalent questions.
How are IT contracts being impacted?
Financial distress – such as a dip in revenue generation and restricted cash flow – is forcing enterprise IT to review their IT contracts. Clients are exploring three options:
Their preferred option is putting non-critical projects on hold. Clients are triaging to keep their business-critical functions – like transactions systems, call centers, datacenters, and supply chain systems – running. However, they’re putting non-critical engagements, such as new application development and feature upgrades, on the back burner.
Second in order of priority is deferring payments. We’re seeing deferral requests increase in frequency, especially in distressed industries such as travel, transportation, hospitality, and medical devices. And we’ve seen payment terms going up to 180 days in a few situations. However, an early trend that will soon establish itself as the IT industry norm is balance sheet (or cash pile) financing; vendor balance sheets have started to play a role in enabling billing deferrals and “deploy now pay later” models. For example, Cisco has set up a US $2.5 billion war chest leveraging its balance sheet to help some of its clients defer payments until 2021.
Our analysis shows that vendor balance sheets, both tech products and IT, are healthy. For example:
And there is evidence that they may dip into them to help their clients out.
The third in priority is seeking discounts. We’re seeing anecdotal evidence of clients seeking discounts on contract value and in a few cases extending up to 50 percent of the annual contract value. But to clarify and qualify this:
Most importantly, we’ve seen enterprises being very flexible and collaborative with their vendors – working closely with them to keep initiatives running.
How will enterprises prioritize and fund IT initiatives during this crisis?
Enterprises are currently preparing their playbooks to navigate the ongoing recession. It’s important to note that recession does not mean that IT initiatives will be broadly deprioritized. Depending on the impact they see on their overall business and their anticipation of recovery, enterprise executives will triage their resources (cash, talent, vendors) to keep critical initiatives running.
Here’s a look at the framework we’re using to help buy-side clients prioritize their decisions:
In the coming weeks, enterprises will be using this framework to:
Watch this space to see how this playbook evolves. If you have any questions or ideas on other approaches, please write to me at [email protected].
Clearly, the coronavirus (COVID-19) already has an impact on the global economy and broader market. Companies are cancelling conferences and events. They are closing their campuses to outsiders. Travel is restricted. And in some instances, companies impose a work-from-home policy. In the IT and BPO services industry, decision-making is stalled, and we already see clients cancelling planned contracts.
How bad is the disruption to the services industry? It will have a negative impact on revenue growth in the next quarter (ending in June 2020) and potentially in several quarters to come. New projects will be postponed or cancelled. This is because, first, companies simply cannot buy complicated services without some form of travel. Second, any large initiatives require executive support and energy, and they won’t have time to push contracts forward during the next few months.
Read more in my blog on Forbes
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