Finance Matters: Mylene Kasiban Addresses a Makati Business Club Forum

Mylene Kasiban, Chief Financial Officer of Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc., recently took part in the fourth session of the Makati Business Club’s C-Suite Leaders Series, held online on May 28, 2021.

According to the MBC, this series of talks by industry leaders aims to provide insights on how “disrupted business functions must prepare with agility and efficiency as we strive to thrive in the new economy.”

Mylene, the 2020 ING FINEX CFO of the Year, was invited to share her expertise in the field of financial planning and management to mitigate risks and vulnerabilities particularly in the context of the ongoing pandemic.

Key points of the one-and-a-half-hour presentation and open forum included discussions on the effect of the pandemic on the retail sector, Robinsons Retail’s response to the crisis, her outlook for the industry, and her thoughts on the evolving role of a CFO.

According to Mylene, the Covid-19 pandemic required retailers to adapt quickly on different levels. The efforts by the national government and the private sector to stem the spread of the virus created a demanding environment for businesses to navigate. The community lockdowns and limited transportation options affected consumer and employee mobility, and the rise in unemployment rate (10.3%) and sluggish remittances (down year-on-year by 0.8%) reduced the spending power of Filipino consumers. These in turn adversely affected business productivity, and the downturn was reflected in macro-economic fundamentals. Covid-19 abruptly shifted the narrative from 2020 being a promising year for growth to being a year defined by a global recession.

In responding to the crisis, Mylene noted how RRHI prioritized employee safety and sanitation efforts to continue store operations and implemented business continuity plans. Likewise, austerity measures were implemented in Finance to preserve a strong balance sheet, liquidity, and to reduce expenses where possible.

A key strategy for the group was the big shift to e-commerce platforms, as well as the acceleration of other digitalization initiatives within RRHI.

With the objective of increasing its online presence, RRHI launched its own e-commerce sites and digital apps, while continuing partnerships with third-party marketplaces and offering click and collect/delivery services to customers. RRHI also continued to initiate community engagement activities to help respond to community needs throughout the pandemic, including donations to NGOs, local governments, and medical frontliners.

In Mylene’s view, growth by end 2021 will likely be flat or single-digit, “but we are confident that we will rise together through the pandemic and the economy will recover in the coming years.”

The extent of business recovery will depend in part on the success and speed of the roll out of vaccination programs, and at what point consumers will regain confidence to shop in stores and when lockdowns are lifted.

E-commerce is also here to stay as part of the new culture of consumption, meaning retailers have to adapt by creating new and fulfilling experiences for customers to gain or preserve market-share, especially in the post-COVID industry landscape. Along with the rise of e-commerce and its linkages to consumer data, there is also a need to be vigilant in updating systems for cybersecurity and protecting consumer information.

In the open forum that followed her MBC presentation, Mylene shared that a CFO is a crucial driver and steward for the company’s strategic thrusts forward, apart from, in her experience, being expected to handle multiple traditional roles in finance.

Upon being chosen as the 2020 ING FINEX CFO of the Year, she described her most notable contributions to the company as having “implemented finance transformation in RRHI, transforming my finance team to being business partners more than just controllers, and that has actually helped us manage the crisis, especially in this current pandemic. I implemented a lot of innovative ways to simplify our processes, implemented a lot of automation initiatives across the organization.”

As a collaborator, Mylene worked with her team to adapt to regulatory changes in financial reporting and to update internal procedures, such as the shift from manual to automated digital processes to make financial reporting and analysis more efficient.

She also played a significant role in RRHI’s corporate acquisitions, seeing the potential for growth in retail businesses where RRHI is proficient and already has considerable presence, as reflected in the acquisitions of Rustan Supercenters in 2018 and Rose Pharmacy in 2020.

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