Tipalti, the automated global payables solution, has revealed fresh insights into the strategies of global finance leaders in high growth businesses in the current economic climate. Almost eight in 10 (78 per cent) believe sustainable growth is now more important than growth-at-any-cost.
With interest rates at their highest level in 14 years driving up expenses and supplier costs, finance leaders are also recognising that automation is a key factor in supporting sustainable growth plans. The new research surveyed and interviewed 500 finance leaders in fast-growth businesses across the US, UK and Benelux. The findings revealed that over three-quarters (78 per cent) of finance leaders agree that their accounts payable (AP) function can play a key role in offsetting higher costs related to inflation.
However, a lack of automation continues to swallow finance teams’ hours with 36 per cent of time still being spent on manual processes rather than on tasks that aid strategic initiatives. Businesses remain largely focused on growth in the current economic climate. Just over half (51 per cent) stated that they are focused on maintaining their original growth plans. Meanwhile, 45 per cent are focused on more sustainable growth.
A fall from grace
“Two years ago ‘growth-at-any-cost’ was considered successful and the reason why valuations skyrocketed. It made it easier than ever to grow a startup,” said Rob Israch, president of Tipalti. “Falling from their pandemic peak, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank followed by other regional banks sent shockwaves throughout the finance sector. It impacted liquidity in the tech space, meaning many are now faced with a very different reality.”
Businesses are now beginning to plan for growth beyond the economic downturn, and visibility over finances is hugely valuable. On average, 77 per cent say that as a business they need to stop being reactive and begin planning beyond an economic downturn.
In fact, 79 per cent say that AP automation can enable them to plan beyond the current slump and support growth objectives by freeing up time for strategic activity (83 per cent). This enables timely supplier invoice payments (84 per cent) and allows less friction and complexity to ease business expansion (80 per cent).
“Sustainable growth needs to be strategic and measured,” continues Israch. “Successful businesses will be focusing on their core proposition and doubling down on the segments of the business with the best productivity and economics. Essentially, those that provide the best ROI and attractive payback for sustainable growth. To be future fit, businesses must ensure their finance team is agile and equipped with the tools, such as automation, to withstand change.”
AP challenges remain
On the surface, the research suggests that time spent on manual processes is improving. However, the reality is that higher volumes of supplier invoices and the same (or less) resources mean that finance professionals are being forced to process invoices faster. In fact, the time to process an individual supplier invoice has dropped from 50 minutes in total in 2021 to 33 minutes in 2023. This creates additional risks of errors and burning out the accounts payable team.
While AP automation is high on the agenda, departments appear to be automating their processes slowly and in increments. They’re doing this in lieu of addressing their processes holistically. Thirty-two per cent say that AP won’t be fully automated until the end of 2024. Meanwhile, 31 per cent say 2025, meaning these challenges are only set to continue for the foreseeable future.
It is clear that AP inefficiencies have a knock-on effect on an organisation’s reputation. Eighty-one per cent of those surveyed say that now more than ever they need to ensure supplier relationships are as good as they can be. But if AP inefficiencies continue or intensify, finance leaders expect to suffer. Issues will include:
- Damage to supplier relationships (34 per cent)
- An inability to find enough time to contribute to strategic decision-making (33 per cent)
- A weakening negotiating position with suppliers (31 per cent)
Amidst economic uncertainty and technological transformation, the finance function evidently has a leading role to play in delivering growth and business success in the years to come.
Tipalti commissioned Insight Avenue to conduct an independent study. It comprised of 500 interviews with finance and AP leaders in the US, UK, Netherlands and Belgium. Interviewees were with high-growth businesses (revenue growth of 20 per cent or more in the last 12 months) with 50 – 1,000 employees. Interviews were conducted during March 2023.