Navigating the COVID-19 Roller coaster

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COVID-19 has changed the business world forever. From working from home to school campus closures, the coronavirus has altered every organization no matter the industry or sector.

During the Synario Client Summit, three finance professionals discussed how they projected and reacted to both internal and external changes to their unique business. Our “Navigating the COVID-19 Rollercoaster” presentation panelists included:

  • Mandy Huggard - Director of Finance and Administration, Children's Home Society of Washington
  • Samantha Savoy - Budget Analyst, Trinity University
  • Chris Poley - Utility Analyst, Turlock Irrigation District

Watch the attached recording of the Summit presentation or read the Q&A synopsis below:

 

 


 

Moderator:
Let’s get started with how you and your organization handled the pandemic when it first hit in the Spring of 2020. What moves did your organization make to protect itself?

Mandy:
As a non-profit working with children, you can imagine that the virus had a huge impact on our in-person services. We had to perform quick analysis on what programs could continue to be provided and which could not along with the long-term impacts that came with those choices. On top of that, we needed to keep tabs on our liquidity ratios in case state and federal funding was suddenly cut.

Chris:
For Turlock Irrigation District, we focused on four main aspects. First was reliability of service. Our utility customers, residential and business alike, needed to know that we would not shut off their access to water during these hard times. At the direction of the federal government, Turlock put a short-term ban on shut offs and late payment fees.

Next, we worked with local and state governments to find any available funding programs, as well as set up weekly online board meetings with local officials. After that came the safety precautions for employees, both at home and in the field.

Once all of those aspects were understood and contained, we were able to use Synario to project how shut offs and usage changes would impact our business.

Samantha:
I think the campus closure was the biggest immediate impact for Trinity University. We had to refund room and board costs while simultaneously investing in new technology to both work and teach remotely.

While these expenses were all taking effect, we were trying to plan for how these changes (and continued changes due to COVID-19) would put the University in the upcoming fiscal year. We made as many short term budget cuts as possible to provide breathing room for the unknown financial position we were leaping toward.

Moderator:
Chris, where did your realities land in comparison to your projections?

Chris:
Our revenues actually matched what we projected, albeit from different groups. We saw a large increase in residential usage versus commercial usage. Our county has an agricultural backbone that I believe helped us weather the worst of the COVID-19 impacts. Versus other counties and sectors, our unemployment rates remained very stable as opposed to the massive spike seen by the rest of the country.

Moderator:
Mandy, how were your plans for the fall versus where you ended up? How did you readjust?

Mandy: 
The Children’s Home was able to stay mostly aligned with our original projections, however, we did have to pivot a large portion of our services to remote delivery. We received leniency on how we could use our public funding, which was key in allowing programs like counseling and therapy sessions to be delivered via TeleMed.
We are now preparing various forecasts for reductions in state funding and private donations at different fiscal levels.
 

Moderator:
How about you Samantha? How were the plans for Trinity’s fall semester compared to what actually happened?

Samantha:
One of the first things we did was send out a poll to our students and faculty asking whether they would prefer to come back to campus in the fall or learn remotely. A majority voted for remote learning, which stressed our existing budget. However, through budget cuts in each division and department, we have been able to adjust reasonably well to the new normal.

Moderator:
How have your planning processes changed, Samantha?

Samantha:
We’ve moved many of our manual processes to electronic automated systems. Our planning has become more collaborative, open, and flexible. We are now able to say, “we suspect this but we need to plan for these other options as well.” Our budget, for example, is much more dynamic now, allowing us to be more proactive rather than reactive.

Moderator:
How do you feel about it being more flexible?

Samantha:
It feels good, but it means slightly more work for our finance teams. That work includes uncovering the financials behind projecting student cohorts as they move through the university. Being able to watch the impact of today’s COVID-19 enrollment numbers as they move through the university was very eye opening to the University’s leadership teams.

Moderator:
How about you Chris? Have your planning processes had to change?

Chris:
The pandemic has definitely shaken things up for us, but I do believe that the shake-up will make the industry better as a whole. Our major areas of concern, some of which have changed our planning processes, mainly center around shut offs, delinquencies, and the cost of utilities. The financial impacts of the moratorium on shut offs, for example, was under-projected. Turlock Irrigation is seeing current delinquencies at about $5.5M and growing at about half a million dollars per month. We are throwing the unknowns related to these areas of concern into Synario and planning accordingly.

Moderator:
Mandy, have your planning processes changed?

Mandy:
We are mostly focusing on responding to our communities needs right now. We have to balance our existing and future funding with the changing needs of our community as they continue to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic. Our model helps explain how the various budgets within our organization fit together, especially over the long-term. Our internal team has benefited a lot from understanding the financial changes that are happening due to the pandemic and where their division fits within those changes.

Our planning process hasn’t changed a whole lot because we were already monitoring our budget to actuals throughout the year. The only thing that has changed is the level of detail we are using within our plans.

Moderator:
What is your outlook for Children’s Home Society of Washington in the coming year? Are you optimistic, neutral, or pessimistic?

Mandy:
I would say that we are optimistic at the moment. New challenges pop up daily, but we are still optimistic because our planning processes have adapted well to the current conditions.

Moderator:
How about you Samantha? How do you feel about the outlook for Trinity University over the next few months and years?

Samantha:
I’m feeling very optimistic because our Synario planning has allowed us to be as flexible as needed.

Moderator:
And you, Chris? What is your perspective on the upcoming year?

Chris:
I would say that we are in the neutral category for Turlock Irrigation District. Utilities live in the world of reliability, meaning we are concerned and planning for everything. That conservatism can help us in situations like this because we are already prepared for so many different kinds of disasters… although no one anticipated this one!