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Looking forward to 2008?

What are your key priorities as an FD for 2008?
Tony Conophy, Computacenter:
We expect a slowdown in investment banking spend in 2008 and need to find ways
to counteract this impact on our business. As the business expands the range of
service offerings, the complexity of contracts increases and we expect to see
this to continue to increase. This presents operational and financial
challenges.

Nick Eastwood, Rugby Football: Manage cash flow and liquidity.

Simon Lane, William Hill: Continue to focus on tight control of
costs and progress the international operations of the business.

Judith McKenna, Asda: People, recruitment and development. Always on
my list is aligning customer priorities with commercial priorities ­ critical in
a tightening consumer environment. At a practical level, we are implementing SAP
financial systems with a go-live at the end of next year: that’s a big
opportunity, but a big financial control risk if we don’t manage it well.

David Nish, Standard Life: Standard Life has completed its first
year as a plc, therefore a key focus is to continue to strengthen the link
between the drivers of operational performance and shareholder value. We must
take advantage of the significant number of growth opportunities that we have.

Are you concerned about the UK or world economy?
Conophy: Yes, both. It has taken some time for the credit crunch to
impact the real economy; we are now starting to see this. There is a tendency in
the good times for people to get too exuberant and likewise in the more
challenging period, to be too pessimistic.

Eastwood: There are clear warning signs and one of the worrying
features of the recent US sub-prime issue is that there is no transparency in
the system on the extent and size of the problem. The danger is that, because of
this, warnings of recession become self-fulfilling.

Lane: The UK economy is of some concern going into 2008 as the full
impact of the credit crisis on consumer behaviour is still unclear.

McKenna: People will have less money and will be more cautious about
what and where they spend it. We must make sure we don’t talk ourselves into a
bigger crisis.

Nish: Cautious. The impact of change and events are now felt more
immediately and are generally more severe. Views remain that significant issues
exist in several sectors of the global economy which are not yet fully
understood.

The FTSE-100 index is around 6,310. What is your expectation for the
index at the end of next year?

Conophy: As the real economy is impacted, I expect that we will see
further decline, but will then see recovery towards Q2 next year to finish the
year around 6,500.

Eastwood: Don’t expect much change ­ underlying performance gains
may be offset by general market caution.

Lane: I would expect a flat performance during 2008.
McKenna: I’ve often thought a crystal ball would be a useful tool to do this
job.
Nish: A combination of credit problems and uncertainty about the economic
backdrop mean a more difficult investment environment is expected. Markets will
continue to be volatile and any forecast will be wrong ­ or if right , a lucky
guess.

What advice do you have for finance directors for 2008?

Conophy: The credit crunch will continue to impact finance availability
and thus working capital management will increase in priority, as will the
continuing trend towards increasing transparency in reporting.
Eastwood: Same as Q1: Manage cash flow and liquidity.

Lane: Keep costs tight and be prepared for any adverse trends in
consumer behaviour.

McKenna: I’ll be asking my team to ensure they continue work in
partnership with the business, getting out to stores and across our trading
floor to ensure we really understand what is going on so we can provide first
class decision and support.

Nish: Expect the unexpected and be clear about the risks faced and
the levers of performance you can control and influence. Ensure contingency
plans are robust and tested ­ taking things for granted can be risky.

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