About The Author: Annabel Sim is Director at Compleat Software. Compleat is a disruptive P2P SaaS solution that extends the functionality of accounting software to automate and simplify the way businesses buy online from suppliers.

As we’ve noticed over the past couple of years, change doesn’t always mean for the better. But it is inevitable, and those that stand still risk being left behind.

The global pandemic has pushed the UK economy to the edge, reiterating the importance of many of the practices that underpin the finance function. And while agile, innovative businesses have adapted to this change and adopted new technologies, traditional companies are yet to set the wheels in motion.

It’s almost 2022 and many companies are still using spreadsheets, while others are putting unnecessary pressure on accounts payable staff by not providing the right tools to get the job done. 

Indeed, many of the spend and procurement practices we’ve taken for granted for so long are now completely unsustainable. The acceleration of digital automation has taken their place, bringing with it a whole host of changes to the way finance teams operate.

As we enter 2022, there are four key areas businesses can expect to have a significant impact on the way they operate:

1. Remote working and spend management

This initial shift towards remote work left businesses doing away with on-premise technology such as desktop PCs and servers, and scrambling for cloud and SaaS technology that could allow teams to efficiently operate.

And while apps such as Zoom and Slack have made collaboration that little bit easier for remote teams, it certainly hasn’t helped in areas such as spend management and invoice processing. 

Financial processes are typically some of the last to be updated – which is fine when it’s working, but what happens when staff need to book a flight or pay for their software subscription? With employees no longer always around in the flesh, do businesses still have insight into what, where, and when employees are making purchases? 

Employees need the freedom to spend where and when they like, which is why automation in the purchase-to-pay cycle will continue to be a popular trend in the new year.

Able to provide better visibility and control over company spending and expenses, automated systems take the hassle out of managing decentralised teams. Just because purchases are made out of sight, doesn’t mean they should be out of mind.

2. B2C purchasing is coming to B2B

As we’ve just mentioned, employees want to spend like they do in their personal lives. E-commerce has quickly become the go-to channel for consumers, and this is also becoming true for B2B spend.

Staff want to be able to spend at the stores they know and trust, because why pay for a laptop from a historic provider when another offers a better price or faster delivery?

Businesses also can’t afford situations where their employees are waiting for approval on a new laptop they’ve ordered, especially if working remotely. This also means ditching the company credit cards and providing staff with payment systems that work around them, not the other way around.

Deploying a purchase to pay portal means staff can shop at the stores they want, when they need to. It also does away with the dreaded end-of-month receipt gathering, replacing it with an instant payment system that updates in real-time – important for financial reporting and cash flow management.

3. Fraud will continue to evolve

Something as simple as an email has seen businesses losing hundreds of thousands of pounds – a trend that has only worsened while staff continue to work from home. But as employees are reluctant to return to the office any time soon, businesses need to find another solution.

Automation in the purchase to pay process is helping not just streamline time spent managing and approving purchases, it’s also reducing the amount of fraudulent activity in the finance function. 

Instead of manually having to sift through filing cabinets for paper documents or the 50,000th line on a spreadsheet, the digitising of invoices mixed with automation provides visibility on if invoices have come from the correct supplier as well as making sure all of the important information is correct.

So not only are companies better protected against fraud internally and externally, staff can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they can rely on a system that matches all of the right information almost instantly.

4. Cash flow will remain a top priority

Furloughing schemes have ended in the UK at a time of continued financial insecurity, while 60% of small businesses said cash flow had been a problem for them in 2021. Which raises the question – how much insight do businesses have into their cash flow issues?

To safeguard cash flow in 2022, businesses need to focus on advancing operational efficiencies in the finance function. Businesses can’t afford to have surprises sprung on them. Prioritising factors such as live reporting, digital invoicing, and automation can help bring finance up to speed with real-time spend.

Being able to gain visibility into company spend at the time of purchasing is a vital part of efficiently managing finances – almost impossible to do when staff are working remotely and if businesses rely on end-of-month expense reports.

Plus, by gaining real-time insight into day-to-day spend, businesses no longer have to have large amounts of cash reserves. Analysis into historical spending in areas such as technology, software, or office supplies can also provide a cyclical view of purchases, with the potential for money to be saved through subscription services rather than upfront costs.

What to expect in 2022

For businesses looking to stay on top of whatever change comes their way, upgrading the finance department’s current tech stack has to be a priority near the top of the wish list. 

Automation is at the top of most finance leader’s wish lists for good reason. Rather than see robots replace staff, the technology is replacing the old school, tedious processes that need to be made a thing of the past for staff.

And while we all feel like we’ve lost visibility of our remote staff, it doesn’t mean we should lose grip over our finances. Cash flow and spend management will continue to be vital areas of focus, and teams need to be armed with the right tools to provide real-time visibility and control.

2022 is set to be a big year, but businesses still need to make sure they’re one step ahead of the game.

(Want some help with that? With our Addition app, clients can streamline budgets, invoicing, supplier payments and more. Our CORE product starts from just £99 a month. Let’s make 2022 add up together!)