During the last decade, Indian markets have been integrating with the global economy at an unprecedented rate. The copious flow of capital, deregulation along with new technology and communication platforms has demolished ‘barriers of entry’ which created an undue advantage for Indian companies in the past.
Side by side customers who had little or no option and bargaining power are now being spoilt for choice. With each passing day every Indian company is losing the historical advantage of having a geographically secure customer base, capital and exclusive access to tangible assets like land, building, production plants. These traditional ‘visible’ assets are giving way to 'hidden' assets like intellectual property, brand, customer relationships and talent. The companies that will add value in the future will be the ones who will put these hidden assets to work.
Indian companies have moved from a position where 80% of the competitive advantage was derived from visible assets reported on the balance sheet to where 80% will be driven by hidden assets, which find no mention in the company’s accounts. As access to financial capital becomes a commodity, these ‘hidden’ assets, which cannot be easily imitated or bought, will become the true capital of the firm.
A hidden asset is something that a firm possess whose value, properties or potential is not fully appreciated or realised. It's not that companies ignore their existence rather that they discount by a fair measure their economic utility and their true long-term value.
May be it is not surprising that assets we fail to measure and track are typically undervalued. They are unmined veins of business gold, which were not central to the business strategy of the past, but hold the key to the future.
These tectonic changes in the very fundamentals of value creation capabilities of Indian firms bring with it an unprecedented opportunity to add or destroy value. Indian companies which own scarce intangible capital can generate extraordinary returns on the financial assets they deploy because they get other players needing those intangibles to put up with most of the financial capital and associated risks.
These companies can tap global profit pools through geographic expansion by being asset-light and leveraging arbitrage opportunities. We believe that Indian companies that pursue strategies to grow and deploy their brand and intangible capital will be rewarded with sustained yet extraordinary business and market valuations.
All this is easier said than done. Most Indian companies are not fully aware about the intangible assets they possess. Management and governance processes have not been put in place to measure, manage and develop these precious ‘invisible’ assets that drive value in their businesses today. Consequently, they often find themselves in a world that seems to be filled with confusion, complexity and uncertainty.
Indeed, the ability to synchronise a company’s intangible assets with customer needs through crafting and delivering a superior value proposition has become a key managerial skill. To keep control over their destiny firms will have to develop a holistic and objective strategy to bring accountability of brand & intangibles to the boardroom and capitalise them as assets.
This has been reinforced by recent changes in global accounting standards for business acquisitions — IFRS 3 and the revised IAS 36 & 38. The goal of these new standards is to require companies to be transparent about the nature and scale of intangible assets that they are acquiring. A new era has begun and it carries with it substantial ramifications for CEOs and boards and most importantly for marketing and finance.
The starting place for any business leader is to ask these crucial questions
• Which are the key intangible assets of the business, which could create new strategic options, refine current options, or improve one's ability to execute strategic options?
• How do these intangible assets impinge on business and market value?
• What is the potential upside for the business by fully leveraging these intangibles? What are the key value drivers to focus on in the journey towards the ‘Size of the Prize’?
• How can capital investments and budgeting plans be sensitised to these opportunities?
• Can marketing play a role in the boardroom to articulate the value added by the brand & intangibles so that management time and resources are directed to the issues that matter?
All this is about transformation and renewal of the company's genetic and cultural codes and the single-minded focus to understand and build on the hidden assets of the enterprise.
t is possible that management teams bounce like ping-pong balls from one issue to another, never digging in and understanding their invisible core and what value it holds. Many of the demons are internal and our most difficult foes are often ourselves.