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The pandemic forced companies to plan for volatility, say CFOs

October 29, 2021, 9:45 PM UTC

2020 was quite the year to become a CFO.

“We literally lost all our revenue from one week to another,” says Matthias Tillmann, CFO of hotel search company Trivago, who was one of three newly minted CFOs who spoke with Fortune on a virtual panel Oct. 28.

COVID closed businesses and dug into bottom lines, and it forced many industries to ramp up and rethink their technology spending, on top of the immediate and pressing demand of how to keep their employees safe.

“I think it’s important to understand that you can’t be everything to everyone all at once,” says Cynthia Gaylor, CFO of DocuSign. “And that includes from a customer perspective.”

DocuSign had to take a step back and reevaluate what its customers’ urgent needs were, versus their aspirational needs. It’s not just about prioritizing for growth, she says, but guaranteeing you are prioritizing in the right places.

It’s also important to gauge where a company’s investments may reap the most reward, according to Broadridge CFO Edmund Reese. Broadridge, a communications and data intelligence company, has six different business units, and Reese says he has learned how to focus—not just on which businesses are growing most, but which products within those businesses are offering most from their original investment. “You need to be very clear on measuring the return from your different products in your different business segments and allocating your resources against that,” he says.

In some cases, COVID was an opportunity for companies to take another look internally, and see whether they were taking the advice they’d been offering customers. DocuSign reps emphasize how its product allows clients to work from anywhere, but “we haven’t been as good about digitizing our own systems and infrastructure,” Gaylor says. The company is “kind of drinking our own champagne, if you will,” she says.  

Challenges ahead for CFOs shouldn’t always be seen as a bad thing: They are also a chance to reevaluate products and priorities. “These challenges are coming, but they’re also opportunities,” Reese says.

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