The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant disruptions have triggered major innovations, bringing about rapid digitalisation among businesses that are looking for ways to manage cash flows and optimise costs, Megha Chopra, Country Business Head, Global Commercial Services, American Express India told Moneycontrol in an exclusive interview.
“This is the B-2-B (business-to-business) digital moment”, Chopra said. “The pandemic has forced businesses to fast track their digitisation plans. This has come on both sides of the businesses—the critical and manageable part or the controllables as we call it today,” she said.
On other hand, having created a digital footprint, businesses are now seeking to use that data intelligently. “This is making their processes more and more efficient and turning these into profit centres, vis-à-vis cost centres before,” Chopra said.
This push that businesses are having in creating their digital persona, have transcended beyond the bigger companies.
“Now, we are seeing small and medium enterprises creating their digital presence and trying to reach out to customers. When 75 per cent of your customers are spending online, why would you not give that flexibility to your customers? So, you will see a lot of businesses coming online, you will see a lot of businesses embedding payment gateways and giving the flexibility of cards, wallets, UPI etc. This is rapidly bridging the digital divide and accelerating customer access,” she said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left a trail of destruction across the broader economy. “Undoubtedly, the pandemic has caused an unprecedented impact on businesses. Both the degree of disruption and prolonged impact of disruption have been very, very high,” she said.
Different industries and sectors, however, have responded differently to the pandemic, with some such as online media, online education and e-commerce thriving during the pandemic. “They have topped the charts in terms of sales during the pandemic. The growth curve has been on the incline for these industries,” Chopra said.
On the other hand, industries such as travel and tourism have seen their businesses come to a complete halt. “We are seeing softer recovery in these sectors. Domestic travel has just started to inch back. It is not as pessimistic that we had earlier thought that it will only remain a virtual world. There are signs of soft recovery. It will take 18-20 months for full recovery”.
The third set of industries such as automobiles and the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) have seen a strong rebound. “Automobile is a very good example with a 30 per cent growth in September,” Chopra said.
“Overall, I would say that some are marching towards recovery, while some are a bit slow on the recovery. That said, it is still a few quarters away to come back to where we used to be in 2019,” she said.
Maintaining liquidity and cash flows are the biggest challenges that the pandemic has thrown towards businesses. “No one knows when this is going to end. It could take six months, it could take 12 (months) or it could take 24 months. So, how do you ensure availability of alternate sources of funding and optimise the best available resources and also build in the contingency plan for any unprecedented developments? That’s a big concern area, an area that businesses are prepping up to ride through this crisis as long as it exists,” Chopra said.
American Express, she said, has backed its customers to ride through the crisis. “Amex, globally and locally, has a singular motto: we are there to back our customers. That has been there from the start of the pandemic through these times. It will remain our motto as we march out of this crisis,” she said.