The past two pandemic years have been a rough ride, not just for businesses but for finance leaders too.
Most of the Asia Pacific enterprises that chose to adopt cloud and leverage intelligent technologies like AI, machine learning or predictive analytics before the pandemic were able to remain agile, resilient and transform their business operations to navigate the business uncertainty, or even grow their revenue.
As we adapt to operating with endemic Covid-19, lingering market and operating environment uncertainty has continued to put pressure on CFOs to bolster productivity and rein in discretionary cost.
Conversations with them reveal that the biggest question on their minds now is − how will they improve the cost efficiency of their finance function in the coming year?
Even CFOs who have achieved finance efficiency can’t rest easy – the board continues to ask how they will scale today’s efficiency along with the business as it grows and shift to performing more business partnering type activities.
With the increased pressures on finance function efficiency, it’s no wonder that the three unfolding developments below are preoccupying CFOs.
Bulk procurement gains ascendency
Today, many employees in their personal capacity shop from large, one-stop online stores like Amazon, Lazada and Shopee. It’s hardly surprising to see them start to turn to the same merchants for their work-related purchases too.
In North America, SAP Concur has observed a shift in corporate purchases to Amazon for Business, which lets organisations buy from a company curated portal with pre-negotiated rates. This shift means that all organisations can provide their employees with a managed catalogue buying experience without the heavy technology investment that they can ill afford.
It also drives efficiency within employee driven spend, and lets new hires set up their remote offices efficiently without compromising finance visibility and control.
Additionally, employee experience is improved as all purchases can be automatically captured, and the expense claims submitted, at the point of transaction.
More APAC organisations will discover these benefits and adopt this route of purchasing in 2022, as the footprint of Amazon for Business (and likely other large e-commerce platforms) expands globally.
Digital payments move into the mainstream
One thing in the payment space that APAC office workers do a lot more than their counterparts in other parts of the world, is the use of digital wallets and mobile payments for purchases such as private hire vehicles, goods or document delivery, and entertainment.
APAC employees utilise such payment modes in their everyday personal purchases, and are intuitively extending the practice to their professional lives.
The use of such forms of payment will continue to grow in 2022 as more countries within APAC shift towards cashless societies.
There is significant efficiency for the employee and finance function to be realised if firms could seamlessly integrate the handling of digital wallet and mobile payment claims into their broader expense management system. Given that these expense claims come from trusted sources with more complete transaction data, they will provide greater visibility to the finance team and reduce time taken to audit these transactions, as compared with cash-based transactions.
Technologies that help organisations accomplish this already exist. SAP Concur, for instance, partners with WeChat and MatchMove to help China and Southeast Asian companies, respectively, achieve an integrated e-wallet and expense management experience.
Transactions paid via these platforms will automatically be populated into organisations’ expense reports within SAP Concur. We are in the process of onboarding more digital wallet payment providers across Asia Pacific in 2022.
The comeback has been slow but there’s no doubt that corporate travel is returning.
With frequently changing governmental regulations and Covid-19 control requirements by the various countries; employees’ anxiety about their health and safety; and companies’ duty of care obligations to fulfil, the complexity of managing travel has grown appreciably since the onset of the pandemic. Costs have spiralled too.
Traditional, manual travel management processes will no longer be able to keep track of the changes comprehensively enough, or let the business react quickly enough to evolving circumstances on the ground.
Organisations have little choice but to invest in travel management technology and automation, so that employees’ trips can be planned and carried out efficiently, sustainably and cost effectively.
Beyond mandatory pre-trip approval, organisations will need to be able to efficiently select safe flights and accommodation options while keeping costs down; pick the right corporate travel insurance cover for travellers, and provide the means to continually monitor employee locations so that assistance can be rendered swiftly when the need arises, among other things.
We expect APAC CFOs to start looking at this area fervently in the coming months to mitigate ad-hoc costs and attrition risks.
All in all, we expect a renewed appetite for intelligent automation of travel and expense processes in 2022.
Covid-19 curbs and closures have laid bare the inherent challenges of relying heavily on manual human labour to keep essential processes functioning efficiently. Only through automation and cloud technology can businesses stay resilient and scale in these uncertain times.