Three Post-Lockdown Priorities for Middle East CFOs, SAP Concur’s Emma Shakespeare

By Emma Shakespeare, Regional Director, SAP Concur.

Chief financial officers and other organisational finance leaders face a tricky period ahead as the world moves back to some semblance of normal. With global economies in lockdown for much of 2020 and employees confined to their homes as offices around the world closed, organisations have already had a rocky year.

Now, as economies reopen and countries kick-start their economies, finance leaders face the difficult task of managing and controlling spend in a radically different operating environment. Many workers have expressed interest in retaining their work-from-home arrangement. Even before the pandemic, 98% of respondents in a Forrester survey stated they would like to continue working from home at least some of the time.

Business travel will pick up over the coming months as borders reopen and air travel resumes. And with constrained cash flow, finance leaders will need to think smartly about how they manage and deploy their organisations’ financial resources.

For many, though, reliance on manual processes, a lack of clear policy to support remote workers, and ineffective tools for ensuring business travellers are safe could undermine efforts at recovery.

We recently had a chance to explore some of the concerns and focus areas for CFOs and finance leaders in the MENA region. At a recent roundtable hosted by SAP Concur, CFOs and financial directors shared insights into their immediate spend management priorities as business picks up pace again.

Based on the discussion, the following three priorities emerged for CFOs in the MENA region:

Boosting efficiency with automated processes

Sixty per cent of the audience at our roundtable stated they have semi-automated processes, but 90% said there is room for improvement, especially in terms of corporate policies and compliance.

Automating some or all expense management processes can support compliance. In one study, 68% of finance leaders said they’re not confident that employees comply with company travel and expense policies.

Manual, spreadsheet-based processes are inefficient and can have a negative impact on business productivity and growth. Dedicating precious resources to conduct manual work that can easily be automated – such as wading through boxes of paper receipts and manually capturing the details in spreadsheets or print-outs – leaves organisations exposed to errors, inefficiency, and lack of visibility over total spend.

And yet, studies have shown that 41% of businesses have paper-based expense processes in place, and 26% use spreadsheets to manage their expenses. The majority – nearly three out of every four – don’t use automated expense management systems at all. This will need to be urgently addressed if CFOs want to keep a firm hand on company expenses over the coming months.

Enabling effective remote work

Managing unauthorised employee spend has always been a challenge for organisations. With so many employees now working from home, unforeseen and unplanned expenses could easily crop up and undermine efforts at cost-efficiency.

Finance leaders seem prepared. At our webinar, finance directors said they were well-prepared for enabling work-from-home and had appropriate systems in place to support employees remotely.

Organisations should also implement new expense policies to guide employees regarding the types of expenses – including internet access, office equipment, desks and supplies – they can claim as business expenses.

Without adequate spend policies and tools to encourage compliance, organisations could be exposed to unforeseen costs at a time when cash flow is already constrained due to this year’s events.

SAP Concur provides finance leaders with central control over the implementation and enforcement of spend policies. Employees using the SAP Concur mobile app to submit expense claims can get immediate feedback regarding the legality of their expense claim, which also improves the employee experience.

Keeping business travellers safe

One CFO, Tobias Maier of DHL said the safety of employees is the number one priority for their business as employees return to work.

In the wake of the pandemic, organisations are under pressure to meet their duty of care obligations toward employees, especially ones travelling for business. Unplanned events such as natural disasters, political unrest and health emergencies could leave travelling employees at risk. It is essential that organisations are able to locate and communicate with employees wherever they are and bring them to safety when needed.

The Concur Locate service within SAP Concur provides organisations with real-time visibility over where their travelling employees are, and creates an instant direct communication channel for times of emergency, allowing organisations to bring employees to safety quickly and efficiently.

SAP Concur provides integration to a variety of duty of care service providers. These organisations provide real-time visibility on where travelling employees are, and create an instant direct communication channel for times of emergency, allowing organisations to bring employees to safety quickly and efficiently.