Seven corporate reporting lessons from Asia’s experience of COVID-19

By  Peter Wollmert, EY Global and EY EMEIA Financial Accounting Advisory Leader

The pandemic presents financial reporting challenges for finance teams, but they can benefit from lessons learned by their peers elsewhere in the world.

CFOs and finance functions around the world are helping their organizations to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Yet different countries are at different stages of their crisis management journeys; finance functions in some markets are still responding to the challenges of the pandemic itself, while those in other markets are now starting to plan for what happens next.

As Asia experienced the disruption caused by the pandemic first, there is an opportunity for finance professionals in the rest of the world to learn valuable lessons from their peers there. Despite cultural, economic and institutional differences, the ways in which Asian finance teams have mitigated the impact of the crisis on their operations, and how they are communicating that impact through financial reporting, may provide some inspiration.

The finance teams of some multinationals are now studying the position of each of their markets on the COVID-19 curve. This is so they can develop scenarios, based on experiences in the Asian markets, for those that are further down the curve. These scenarios relate to unemployment rates, consumer behaviors, likely demand, the impact of government incentives, the extent of travel restrictions and the ability of employees to return to physical workplaces.

Already we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic weighing heavily on growth in Asia this year. China, for example, suffered a 6.8% contraction in GDP during the first quarter, on the back of declining retail activity and industrial output. Nevertheless, the impact of the pandemic does vary by market and by sector, and certain e-commerce businesses have in fact benefited from it. 

So, what are the critical lessons for finance teams from their peers in Asia? From talking to colleagues in China, Singapore and South Korea, I found that there are important takeaways in seven key areas:

1. Cash and liquidity

2. Financial reporting

3. Internal controls

4. Raising capital

5. Employee engagement

6. Engagement with customers and suppliers

7. Communication with shareholders

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Now, next and beyond

It is clear that finance teams around the world will have to continue to manage the impact of COVID-19 on their organizations for the foreseeable future. So, what should they be thinking about now, next and beyond?


  • Focus on the “three Cs” – cash, costs and credit. Perform a comprehensive review of all cash flows, take control of expenses, undertake immediate renegotiations with suppliers, and apply for government loans and aid where these are available and needed.
  • Study the patterns and trends in different markets for both the current and the previous quarters. Use scenario planning to anticipate different future situations and develop a response to them.
  • Use purpose to inform all organizational decision-making at this critical time.
  • Don’t lose sight of the long term. In a crisis, it’s easy to focus on short-term survival, but any decisions taken should also bear the future in mind.


  • Revise the organization’s budgets, strategy and structure for the medium term. Where possible, ask for external benchmarks (e.g., economic reports) that help support the forecasts. Devise a plan that allows it to respond to evolving customer demand and emerging risks while remaining resilient.
  • Explore how the organization can use technology to transform its business. There will be opportunities to drive efficiency by automating processes and using data more effectively.
  • Capture the results of how COVID-19 is impacting the business so they can be used as a reference in the future.
  • Communicate clearly and openly with investors about what the organization is doing to improve liquidity, reduce costs and revise strategy.


  • Think strategically about what the new normal will look like – for both your organization and its sector. How can your organization adapt its business model to thrive in a post-COVID world?
  • Explore opportunities for the company to operate differently in future. For example, greater use of remote working may allow it to reduce expensive office space and cut travel budgets.
  • Review your organization’s purpose. Will its current purpose – as it relates to customers, employees and shareholders – still be relevant in future?

Above all, keep in mind the need for agility and flexibility. Circumstances can change quickly, and CFOs will need to be prepared to change course if necessary.

The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

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