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Flexible Finance: the importance of investment in changing times

By Jose Carvalho, Senior Vice President, Global Commercial Payments Europe at American Express 

2017 has been a challenging year for many British businesses. Business leaders across the country have facedsignificant changes to the way they trade, grow and operate. And, as a result, they have needed to work harder than ever to set their organisations up for success.

At American Express, we looked at the investment priorities of those overseeing some of the biggest budgets in UK business, to help us better understand how leaders are reacting to new challenges this year. To do this, we asked 100 of the UK’s senior finance executives about their strategies for success in 2017 in our Global Business and Spending Outlook.

Rather than cutting costs, we found that almost all of these leading finance executives are upping investment to help their organisations navigate change; 99% say their company’s spending and investment will increase worldwide between 2017 and 2018. Instead of battening down the hatches, these leaders have remained flexible when it comes to how they are spending, to equip their businesses with everything they need now and in the future.

So, what can other finance leaders learn from our findings? 

Improve customer experience 

Gaining the edge over competitors means providing customers with a much better experience; 84% of UK senior finance execs said that pressure to compete on the quality of customer service has increased over the past two years. So it’s no surprise that the country’s finance leaders are spending more in this area to generate increased sales and improve customer loyalty. The message from finance executives is that you don’t get ahead by cutting corners or skimping on service; you win new customers by offering the best.

Focus on people 

Talent proves a critical foundation for success in these changing times. Far from reducing headcount, the majority of the country’s top finance execs expect the overall number of employees in their businesses to have increased by the end of 2017, and they plan to boost investment in headcount as a result.

People are your most powerful asset. Our research found that the biggest challenge in delivering great service is retaining great staff, and senior financial executives said that adding more customer service and support staff would have the biggest benefit to their company. Finance and IT workers are high on the list of employees to hire and retain this year, while a shortfall of sales and marketing staff is seen as a business-critical problem.

Senior finance managers are also forging workplaces that attract and keep brilliant people. Ensuring that flexible working, better workplace environments and improved training are top of the agenda this year will help build a happy and motivated team. This is essential in a competitive and constantly-changing environment.

Stay committed to tech 

Technology is another high-priority area, and receiving the single biggest increase in company-wide spending in 2017. Hardware and infrastructure top the shopping list, as well as enterprise-level IT systems to help improve operational performance. Mobile tech is also seen as way of helping people work remotely.

But more value is also being found in data itself; sophisticated data analytics have become more important for strategic decision making, and top finance execs say these will overtake management intuition and experience within five years.

Having the right systems, processes and tools in place to deliver real competitive advantage is key. And in unpredictable times, any investment that boosts efficiency and frees up teams to handle business-critical decisions and work will ultimately boost the bottom-line.

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