Airbase’s Annual Benchmark Survey of Finance Professionals reveals businesses have clear priorities for success in 2021.
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Airbase, provider of the leading spend management platform, released results from an exclusive survey of 745 finance and accounting professionals at small and midsize U.S. businesses that reveal the most important issues they face. The survey’s findings reflect remarkable resilience from the respondents. Not only did a majority adapt quickly to the challenges of 2020, but many went on to experience greater revenue growth than they expected for the year. To continue that success, finance leaders have defined clear priorities for meeting 2021 head on, with goals to strengthen operational efficiency, data analysis, and security.
Revenue Growth Against The Odds
The 2020 economy may have presented many challenges, but the survey’s respondents were more than capable of meeting them. Over one quarter expects their revenues to grow by at least 25% more than was planned for 2020, and 71% said they expect to meet or exceed their projected revenue for 2020. Small companies struggled more on average, with about two in five smaller companies (between 50–100 employees) expecting revenue to be lower than planned for the year.
A Successful Transition To Remote Work
One of the biggest lessons learned over 2020 was the need to quickly adapt in response to unexpected events. That certainly happened when much of the business world transitioned to a remote workforce in March of 2020. Despite the unprecedented speed of this transition, a majority of respondents say they adapted well to the change, with only 7% of respondents saying their teams didn’t adjust well.
Many respondents consider the transition so successful that they are making permanent changes. Although just 6% of surveyed companies supported remote work prior to 2020, going forward, only 24% plan to fully return to the office after restrictions are lifted. As a result, almost two thirds plan to make salary adjustments to reflect the different costs of living for those employees who take advantage of the flexibility of remote working arrangements.
Top Business Priorities Reflect Plans For A Strong 2021
The top priorities listed for 2021 correspond to addressing some of the more significant pain points noted by our respondents. The first of these is the high level of manual effort required by finance teams, with 38% saying that manual tasks take more than one quarter of their team’s time, and 11% reporting that half or more of their team’s time is spent on manual work. Next is a surprising level of wasted spending being reported, with more than 60% of the respondents feeling that they could reduce wasted spend by between 2% and 10% with better visibility and control.
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It is not surprising therefore, that the top priorities for next year focus on making changes to improve efficiency and responsiveness. Recent research demonstrates that companies who embrace change in times of crisis emerge stronger than those who don’t. The following changes listed by companies as their top priorities will help businesses continue to adapt to the new post-COVID world with improved tools and processes to power them into the rest of the decade.
- Improve processes. Over 40% of respondents named “Improve or change finance operations by adding new systems or processes” as a top priority. This is a timely goal, since the technology around operational functions such as spend management has seen many advances that can improve efficiency for traditionally time-consuming tasks such as the monthly close.
- Strengthen data security and privacy. Data security is another area that has seen a lot of attention over the last year, with corporate fraud rising since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no wonder, therefore, that just over one third named “Improve data security and privacy” as a priority for 2021.
- Automate accounting tasks. Accounting automation helps finance teams scale without hiring additional staff. Just over half of companies surveyed plan to hire more people in 2021, but hiring plans for finance departments suggest that they will be expected to expand their capacity as their company scales.
- Increase focus on FP&A. In a competitive and unpredictable business environment, strategic planning and analysis becomes more important, so it’s not surprising that over 30% of respondents plan to place more emphasis on FP&A. That priority complements the increased interest in accounting automation. Allowing automated systems to take over time-consuming, mundane tasks frees up more time for higher-value FP&A.
- Focus on real-time data and analytics. This focus area connects with the need for increased emphasis on financial planning and analysis. When executives have instant insight into financial activity, they can make informed decisions faster. Real-time data helps companies pivot in reaction to the unexpected.
One striking aspect of these priorities is how interconnected they are, and how companies can leverage the resulting operational improvements to become more responsive and resilient going into the new year. With a holistic approach to financial operations, companies will be ready to thrive no matter what 2021 brings. Airbase is excited to play a role in modernizing their technology to help growing companies succeed.
Airbase Founder and CEO Thejo Kote:
The results of the survey were of no surprise to Airbase founder and CEO Thejo Kote. He believes finance professionals now know what tools they’ll need to thrive in a post-COVID world. “Keeping track of where your money is being spent has never been as important, particularly when you’re in the midst of growing your business, as 54% of respondents plan to do in the next 12 months,” said Kote. “As we enter a post-COVID world, it’s vital that business prepare their finance teams with the best tools and technology to allow them to manage every last penny outside of payroll and utilize their time without spending it on manual procedures”