What could you accomplish in a week if you had an extra day to work with? I’m not talking about giving up your Saturday, which should be spent with friends and family. I mean if you took out all the day-to-day admin and tactical processes that divert your attention away from important business matters during the week. If you had a whole Friday to devote to analysing business performance and optimising cash flow– how could you help your company change course and better plan for the future?
That was something we wanted to find out when we recently embarked on a research project with market specialist Vanson Bourne. By exploring insights from 500 UK finance leaders in businesses of all sizes, we were looking to pinpoint those problem areas draining the finance team’s time and identify opportunities where leaders could provide a greater level of strategic input to the business.
What we discovered is that finance in small- and medium-sized companies spend 20% of their time – that’s one day a week – just on general administrative tasks. By admin we mean hunting down lost paper, retyping data into finance systems, chasing approvals, fielding calls and getting paperwork in order when the taxman pays a visit. That’s valuable time that could be better spent strategising and preparing for your next step on the path to business growth. And what could be more important for an SME looking to expand? Unsurprisingly cash flow is listed as the number one priority for finance leaders – it’s the lifeblood of the business and a few weak months can spell disaster for a fledgling company. But that doesn’t mean they always have the time to focus on it.
Expenses and invoices trail behind
Of all the processes a finance team is responsible for, employee expenses and supplier invoices appear to be lagging behind. In fact, 43% of SMEs expense processes and 36% of their AP processes were listed as mostly or entirely manual. That means having to rely on paper receipts and invoices, and predominantly using spreadsheets to manage these processes. Not only that, the smaller the company size, the more likely you are to have a manual system in place, even though cloud adoption is growing across the board.
If finance leaders were to fully automate their finance processes, the average amount of time they thought they would save is 26%.
So why do expenses and invoices trail behind in the automation journey? Perhaps it’s because paper tends to dominate these processes and together with a significant level of data entry, approvals and auditing, these functions are notoriously admin-heavy. They’re also susceptible to errors and fraud – something that takes a great deal of time and skill to spot. When you’re just starting out it’s easy to turn to those trusted free tools that have been around for decades, but you may find they don’t easily scale as you grow and you’ll need to invest even more time to make a broken process work.
Time to take back an extra day?
If finance leaders were to fully automate their finance processes, the average amount of time they thought they would save is 26%. That’s more than a day each week to redirect towards data analysis, reporting and strategic planning. It’s something that should be top of mind for many SMEs, as the survey showed the smaller the size of the business, the less time finance spend on strategic activities. At the same time, those who have begun a journey of greater process automation are listing the top benefits as being able to get a better view into cash flow, having a more productive team, making better use of their team’s skills and qualifications and being better equipped to plan for the future. So, what would your finance team be able to achieve with an extra day?
A report of the results from the Finance Leader Report is now available for download.