By Ian Johnson, SVP Market Development at Soldo
2021 was a record year for fintech investment, with funding numbers across Europe hitting a staggering $31.6 billion in the second half of the year alone. However, with the UK now facing the worst cost-of-living crisis in 60 years, after energy-led inflation reached a 40-year high and triggered a worse than anticipated economic slowdown, investors have faced a reality check and the fintech sector is being hit. In the first half of 2022, fintech investment dropped to $26.5 billion – highlighting that funding isn’t as free-flowing as it once was. High valuations and IPOs that followed the 2021 boom are now declining, and fintech heavyweights like Klarna, for example, saw their valuation drop 85% from $45 billion to just $6.7 billion earlier this year.
It has become clear that, despite a brief golden period of post-pandemic spending, the double blow of tightening budgets and rapidly rising costs from inflation means that UK businesses have to prepare to deal with the aftermath.
The first instinct for companies struggling to adapt to change is to cut costs – and we saw fintechs initiating a wave of layoffs as they struggled to raise their next funding rounds and VCs put a pause on writing checks. By managing spend tightly, finding cost efficiencies and freeing up time by removing manual tasks, companies can become more productive, agile and can remain competitive in an uncertain economic environment. To do this, finance teams need full visibility across all areas of the business, in real time, and can control spending for people and teams. In short, having a complete picture of spend will give teams the confidence and flexibility needed to adapt to this unpredictable climate.
Businesses are held back by manual finance processes
Yet while this seems straightforward, many finance teams are held back by processes that have been built on top of earlier processes – meaning a lot of the work they are doing is manual and laborious.
It may not come as a surprise to learn that, according to Soldo data, two-thirds (64%) of finance teams in technology companies do not use a spend management platform, while a third (36%) state they make purchases on behalf of their company every week. Without the full visibility of spending going on within the business, finance teams simply can’t understand what’s coming in and importantly, what’s going out.
Why automation is the answer to modernising spend management
For businesses to survive, let alone see growth in this current climate, it’s key they turn to automation and modernise their business spend management – revolutionising the way they work. Business spending and expenses can often be an invisible drain on a company’s finances, which if left unchecked is a huge problem for a growing business. In the same research from Soldo, it was revealed that a third (32%) of respondents rely on reimbursements and a quarter (26%) rely on petty cash.
The data also showed in businesses with more than 1000 people, over a third said their department spend is between £1,000 – £10,000 per month. Without some form of automation in place, tracking this large amount of spend involves a lot of manual input and paperwork, including spreadsheets, paper receipts, reams of bank statements, and reimbursement forms. These manual methods of tracking and auditing a constant stream of significant payments will make it harder to control, track and report on company spend and will increase the risk of mistakes or gaps in the data that come from manual data entry.
Time back to spend on strategic tasks
Spend management can be time-consuming, almost a quarter (23.5%) of finance teams spend a full day each month just processing expenses. Instead of wasting days putting together company-wide expenditure and spend data with manual methods of spend management, easy spend management technology will allow teams to spend their time taking action supported by accurate data.
That’s a lot of time and effort that could be saved and put to better use – for example, strategic thinking to help the business save in the current climate.
Work with automation, not against it
Better use of time often means understanding where repetitive, menial tasks are being performed and looking at ways of making them more efficient, hence the role of automation. But for automation to become widely accepted, some narratives need to be addressed. For example, there is a belief that job roles may be replaced with automated software, whereas in reality, the exact opposite is true.
Finance teams should aim to work with automation rather than compete against it. When businesses get the right mix of human and automated work, processes are more efficient, and individuals are freed up to focus on more useful tasks like data analysis or forecasting. The data they are using also becomes more accurate and more reliable – meaning more precise predictions. And because the data is richer, decision-making is better too.
Thanks to the deep insights, high-quality data, and informed forecasting that technology unlocks, finance teams can be strategic advisors to businesses. A great example of this is Marie Myers – HP’s CFO who has also taken on the role of Chief Transformation Officer – adopting automation to transform many business functions. As Marie points out “data analytics is increasingly important to provide insights that help us be more strategic partners to the business and to help HP make data-driven strategic decisions.” It’s a great example of what many CFOs and finance leaders are looking for – being better prepared to guide their business into the future rather than being fearful of what it presents.
Whether it’s the cost-of-living crisis, a recession or an unforeseen hurdle not yet on the horizon, finance teams must ensure they are devising and implementing strategies that provide the adaptability needed to overcome any challenge. With the adoption of technology, businesses can modernise finance teams and empower them to play a strategic role – guiding the business to success whatever the scenario.
Enhancing sustainable commitments in retail banking
Source: Finance Derivative
Mikko Kähkönen, Head of Payment Cards Portfolio at Giesecke+Devrient
Today, more consumers are keeping environmental pledges from banks at the forefront of their financial decisions, and those banks that fall behind their competitors on sustainable action are risking the loss of customers, particularly among the younger generation. This shift highlights a growing expectation from consumers for their banks to make and uphold sustainable commitments, signalling a change in consumer priorities where environmental responsibility is increasingly seen as essential, not just an optional extra. Giesecke+Devrient research shows that as many as 64% of Gen Z consumers would be happy to switch banks if their current provider didn’t meet their expectations.
However, sustainable commitments must be authentic to avoid any accusations of greenwashing. Unfortunately for the banking sector, consumer trust is being strained as greenwashing incidents have risen by 70% around the world. Banks can’t simply make claims that can’t be backed up; pledges must be supported by evidence. There’s a number of practical steps they can take to prove their credentials.
Banking on the evolution of cards
The bank card has increasingly become a physical symbol of the relationship between consumer and bank. As such, banks have taken steps to ensure that it is designed with sustainability in mind. Many are now created with recycled PVC material, commonly up to 100%, with a lower carbon footprint.
Some banks are elevating their sustainable credentials by utilising cards that are made from plastic collected in oceans and coastal regions, helping to clear up the world’s beaches. Alongside this, others are issuing cards made of polylactic acid sourced from (inedible) corn starch. This is a fully renewable biomass that could be industrially composted.
Sustainable cards can then encourage further sustainable initiatives. We’re more often seeing issuers now actively taking part in local conservation, community development and educational projects around the world to help benefit the planet. Communicating these efforts to customers can help reinforce sustainable credentials and leave tangible evidence that proactive action is taking place.
Contributing to the circular economy
Powering the sustainable credentials of issued cards is one aspect, but it’s also vital that banks encourage their customers to do the right thing with them once they expire and they need to be discarded of. We’re already seeing prominent banks making progress in this area. UK retail bank, Santander, has launched a pilot scheme in branches and ATMs that encourages customers to return their outdated credit and debit cards for recycling, for example.
The collected cards are then turned into plastic pellets to be used elsewhere, for instance to make outdoor furniture, sponsored by Santander, for local communities. As more banks opt for card recycling, consumers will be empowered to dispose of their old or expired cards in a green way and help to reduce ecological footprint.
Into the digital world
Outside of card innovations, retail banks can add to their credible green claims with digital solutions. As an example, the card issuance process has typically involved paper letters, with additional PIN letter, that are posted out to customers to activate their payment cards. Instead, an ePIN service can enable customers to instantly access their PIN via their choice of a mobile app or SMS message, reducing paper waste and waiting times.
There are also innovations taking place in terms of QR codes and augmented reality (AR) solutions to enable digital marketing offerings. This means that printed collateral doesn’t need to physically sent out in the post. The more that these types of communications are sent out digitally, the more that consumers see a tangible commitment to sustainable practices.
Banks can even take an additional step by deploying third-party partners to track the CO2 footprint involved with every purchase or payment. By opting for organisations that have a solid track record in green practices, such as supporting product certifications and information on eco-products and their claims, they can make steps to compensate for each transaction carbon footprint.
Contributing to the green story
To ensure they don’t come under any criticism regarding their environmental claims, banks and financial institutions have the opportunity to adopt sustainable practices that align with their customers’ expectations for eco-friendly commitments in both their physical and digital services. They can introduce banking cards made from recycled or entirely compostable materials, eliminating plastic waste.
Digitally, banks can minimise unnecessary paper use by employing online applications to simplify the process of delivering PINs. By innovating in these domains, they can fulfil their environmental responsibilities and establish that essential trust with consumers, contributing positively to the planet’s wellbeing.
Successfully dealing with the unintended consequences of change
by Daniel Norman, Change Management Consultant at Symatrix
Most people dislike change. We are drawn to stability and established routines and feel unsettled when anything happens to disrupt the ‘status quo’. It’s bad enough when the local supermarket moves the bread section – but when the company we work for introduces a new digital system that completely changes how we work, it feels like ‘the sky is falling in’.
When change happens within businesses, there may initially be some resistance from employees: whether it be in the form of avoiding new systems, skipping training, clinging to old methods, or even quitting altogether. Change in business is a constant, however, and it is usually driven by a desire for improvement, and typically over time, becomes the new normal.
Good change management is all about smoothing this process of transition and that means engaging with people and helping them to seamlessly switch to a new model or ways of working. Change management is not just concerned with implementing new systems or processes; it is just as much about listening intently to colleagues, customers, and stakeholders.
It’s working with people to get things right, building a deep understanding of the challenges we and our colleagues face, and shaping the vision for a future that resonates with people. Change is most successful when everyone feels they have a part to play in moving things forward. And that’s true of all change initiatives, large and small.
Finding a way forward
When it comes to managing change, it’s important to recognise that everyone will have their own journey; they’ll work through things at their own pace, and that’s more sustainable than pretending we’ll all arrive at the same point at the same time.
It’s also important to focus on creating a supportive environment, or the right conditions for people to adapt, with as little friction as possible. The goal is to establish conditions that minimise friction and foster a collective sense of purpose. This philosophy is crucial in creating a environment conducive to individual and organisational growth.
Getting the planning process right
When planning for change, it’s essential to consider both the intended and unintended consequences. Just as technological advancements like social media have transformed communication but also introduced challenges such as misinformation and mental health concerns, organisational changes can have extensive, unforeseen impacts. A thorough exploration of current operational practices, beyond process maps or managerial assertions, is therefore, always a vital feature of any effective change management approach.
For that reason, it can often be a mistake to pull out those process maps the team updated 12 months ago or rely on the word of line managers that will tell you ‘this is how we operate’ without taking into consideration the work-arounds or simplifications that employees have developed over time.
Teams will naturally evolve, and patterns of work; ways of doing things that aren’t written down, will always be there. A good change manager must always be cognisant of that. Even small changes, like when a key person in the team changes roles, can have a big impact.
To manage change well, it’s important to talk to the people who will be most affected by it. This helps change managers to plan and effectively execute the change journey. By ignoring these key considerations, organisations risk their change strategy stalling from the outset and the opportunity for operational efficiencies may therefore never be fully realised.
Throughout the process, it is crucial to continuously monitor and measure the impact of change on all key stakeholders. One effective way of doing that is by embracing the principle of change curves: a popular model organisations can use to understand the different stages people and the organisation go through when a change occurs.
An effective strategy involves mapping stakeholders against this curve, whether as individuals or groups, during project check-ins. This approach can help project leaders gauge the current position of every team member on the curve, the impact of the project’s upcoming phase on them, or their colleagues, and additional support measures that could be implemented. Such an assessment facilitates a more tailored and effective change management strategy, ensuring stakeholders are adequately supported throughout the transition.
Not everything will run like clockwork, of course, no matter the change management approach that is put in place. Challenges, setbacks, and opportunities for improvement are inherent to any process, but proactive anticipation and planning for potential worst-case scenarios and unintended consequences significantly enhance our ability to support our colleagues and teams effectively. This strategic foresight is crucial in managing transitions smoothly and realising the intended benefits of initiatives.
A positive route ahead
Change, especially in business, are inevitable and often aimed at fostering improvement and growth. However, the journey through change is deeply personal and varies from one individual to another. By acknowledging this, creating a supportive environment, and engaging with all stakeholders, organisations can navigate the complexities of change with minimal resistance and maximum efficiency.
Effective change management, therefore, is not just about the technical implementation of new systems but about genuinely listening to and working with people to adapt and thrive in new circumstances. It’s about understanding the nuanced ways teams operate, the unofficial shortcuts and workarounds they’ve developed, and considering the broader implications of change beyond immediate operational efficiencies. Through a thoughtful approach that anticipates challenges and values stakeholder input, organisations can not only manage change but turn it into a catalyst for positive transformation and growth.
It is clear then that while people may inherently dislike change, with the right conditions, support, and leadership, the transition can become a journey of collective progress and innovation. Change, managed well, can transform the initial discomfort into an opportunity for development, making the once feared ‘sky falling in’ scenario a launchpad for reaching new heights.
Embedded finance: What consulting firms need to know
By Michael Pierce, VP of Sales at Toqio
Consulting firms are the architects of change in the business world, offering insights and solutions that guide companies toward growth and success. They navigate the intricate landscape of markets and industries, providing invaluable advice to their clients. In this evolving milieu, an opportunity is arising as embedded finance enters the scene, creating a unique and prospectively vital synergy between consultants and platform providers.
Embedded finance, especially within the scope of B2B enterprises, is a hot topic right now among consultancies and the outlook seems to be quite positive.
To date, much of the initial traction in embedded finance has been in the consumer sector, with products such as no- or low-interest financing, buy-now-pay-later (BNP), and others. On the B2B side, there is an increasing amount of mobilization. In recent months we’ve seen incumbent banks either entering the banking-as-a-service (BaaS) market or enabling their services through open banking partnerships, while strategy firms are busy advising corporate entities on the potential routes they can take. Early adopters have already made embedded finance a cornerstone of their digital or financial transformation programs: MVPs and proofs of concept have been on the rise.
As we all peer forward, the market is starting to look for scalable use cases to take advantage of these massive, predicted opportunities. Companies are searching for solutions that go beyond the hype.
For consulting firms, the messaging remains positive. The fundamentals of embedded finance drive strong service revenue. Even more importantly, the business cases for their clients stack up as well. Numerous opportunities are on the table when consultants incorporate embedded finance platforms into their projects, including increased revenue, improved retention rates, access to a wider range of data for better decision-making, and many more.
Embedded finance helps to break down barriers faced by many companies when trying to access affordable financial services. By integrating financial services directly into the supply chain, companies can enjoy many benefits, such as liquidity management, credit accessibility, risk mitigation, and many others. That’s one of the reasons why embedded finance platforms are proving to be the latest addition to the consultant’s toolkit. They offer a wide array of solutions that enable businesses to integrate financial services into their products and services. What makes embedded finance platforms especially appealing to consultants is their adaptability and scalability.
Consulting firms understand the need for versatile solutions capable of addressing various business requirements. Versatility and adaptability are key, giving consultants the flexible tools they need to deliver on time and within budget.
Embedded finance platforms are a natural extension of consulting firms’ capabilities as they offer a comprehensive range of financial solutions that integrate perfectly into existing business processes. This alignment provides consulting firms with several advantages, such as enhanced client services, data-driven insights, streamlined processes, scalability, and versatility.
The compatibility between consulting firms and embedded finance platforms is readily apparent. Consultants excel at diagnosing business issues and embedded finance platforms provide a precise prescription for financial enhancements.
There is an extensive list of benefits that consulting firms can get from platforms like this. Diversifying their business is just one of them as embedded finance platforms augment the services that consultants offer. They allow consultants to present clients with solutions for intricate business ecosystem operations, such as payment processing, receivables management, and liquidity optimization.
Partnering with an embedded finance platform can also open up new revenue streams as well as being able to scale the solutions built with more agility. Consultants can use them to address the unique needs of projects of any size, whether working with an SME or a multinational enterprise.
The relationship between consulting firms and embedded finance platforms isn’t just about expanding services, it’s about offering integrated financial solutions that improve efficiency, profitability, and competitiveness. This partnership drives results. In a world where businesses seek comprehensive solutions, embedded finance platforms empower consulting firms to address complex financial challenges effectively.