How businesses stand to lose more than they save with radical cost cutting

Spokesperson: Benjamin Swails, Northern Europe General Manager, Pleo

For years, my career was focussed on the next big conference, the customer meeting that required a flight and hotel stay, or the big customer dinner where the right bottle of wine really mattered. Since becoming the General Manager of Pleo’s Northern European business, my remit has expanded to understanding how much money we have coming in versus going out. Today, I’m asking whether my teams travel to travel, or because it’s necessary? What are we spending on the tools and applications required to do the job and what is the ROI? How many coffees is my team expensing every day? To some this might seem like overkill, but these details matter to me in 2024. And they should matter for you too.

That’s because, ahead of what’s expected to be a challenging year for UK business, a quarter of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are looking to reduce business spending in 2024. This is according to Pleo’s CFO Playbook for 2024, which polled over 500 UK financial decision makers. But, when it comes to where these spending cuts will manifest most strongly, 1 in 5 UK businesses are exploring reducing pay for remote workers – a decision that has the potential to impact 16% of full-time British workers. With just under half (41%) of businesses asking their teams to come into the office more, it’s obvious that business leaders are keen to bring back in-person collaboration and make the most of costly office rents. But is reducing pay for remote workers really the answer?

Before they sign off on spending decisions that can have potentially damaging ramifications for employee morale, businesses must first bring some clarity to their spending oversight and find the balance between a leaner business and one that still operates a flexible culture. This means having a tighter rein on spending – including deeper insights and fewer spending blind spots – to reduce the need for radical cost-cutting strategies. Because in 2024, details matter.

Why there is a need to reduce spending

The past few years have undoubtedly been a challenge for UK SMEs. In late 2023, for the first time in over a decade, more businesses were closing down than starting up. Fast forward and 2024 has kicked off with similar uncertainty. Encouraging EY forecasts expect the UK economy to grow 0.9% this year, up from the 0.7% growth projected in October’s Autumn Forecast – while GDP growth expectations for 2025 have been upgraded from 1.7% to 1.8%. But, less than a month on, the UK finds itself in a recession.

This has increased the pressure on organisations to reduce spending for the year ahead. However, only a third (34%) of UK businesses feel they’ve got an excellent grip on managing their spending, and just 28% feel they have strong visibility of their financial health and performance. Yet, curiously, almost 50% of UK businesses believe 2024 will be “easier” than 2023. Something that, in light of the challenges businesses face and the lack of significant investment into spending visibility and performance,  is hard not to interpret as wishful thinking. And businesses risk flying blind in their quest to cut costs without comprehensive spending oversight to navigate them.

Cost cutting shouldn’t be a Hail Mary

Let’s use the notion of reduced pay for remote workers as a case study for making spending decisions without spending oversight. Renewed calls for workers to return to the office is one thing, but this feels like more of a financial misfire that declares the contribution of remote workers less valuable. Pleo is currently thinking about the role of its own office space. But, what’s crucial is that we don’t plan on putting financial pressure on those who prefer to work from home. Instead, we’re thinking bigger and evaluating our office needs for all London-based staff. This ensures we can save money on rent, not people, before investing it into amenities our team wants.

Many of our employees are still working remotely and while, in a perfect world, I would love to see 80% of our team come into the office to help contribute to the culture that makes Pleo so special, we need to strike a balance of office requirement and productivity preferences, and keep our culture intact as we do so. Ultimately all of our employees need to feel valued.

As businesses strive to streamline their spending, the decisions made at the collective level are likely to impact individuals most – from work models and colleagues to pay and progression. And so before making such drastic spending cuts, businesses need to ask themselves how they can manage spending better. Not with broad strokes, but by looking at the detail. And this starts with more comprehensive spending oversight across multiple departments and activities.

Where to start with cost consolidation

Though streamlining costs might present some businesses with a significant shift, it is worth the effort. Better spend management offers an opportunity to truly unlock enhanced efficiency and resilience.

One area of opportunity that’s set to become more key in 2024 is addressing technology investments and tool consolidation. We know that digital transformation is well underway for many businesses, yet consolidating platforms and software is languishing towards the bottom of the priority list. Only 16% in the UK see it as a big ambition for 2024 – something they might want to reconsider considering the average worker is overburdened across 9 tools every day. Such ‘digital overwhelm’ is not only a concern for the workforce and productivity, but budget too.

Another opportunity for consolidation isn’t necessarily about cost, but mindset. Too often, businesses conceive of spend and expenses as two separate things. The former more likely to be high-value items such as office rent, ad spend and international business travel; the latter more likely to be smaller cost items like coffees, office supplies and local travel costs. In fact, despite only 19% of businesses thinking of expenses and spend as the same thing, only 27% of organisations had clear guidelines on what separates them – potentially opening up a black hole in terms of unaccounted outgoings.

At the end of the day, businesses just want to know how much they have coming in vs going out. Whether it’s an expense or spend, it’s all outgoing. And when 25% of decision makers say they use different platforms, this fractured view of company outgoings is allowing a lot to slip through the cracks.

The priority of pocket repair

There is no doubt that UK businesses face a challenging 12 months ahead. In order to focus on revenue growth and filling their pockets in the coming months, business leaders first need to check there aren’t any holes in them. This means ensuring their spending oversight is exhaustive and leaves no stone unturned – and no finance strategy half-baked.

This is how businesses can reduce business spending and, crucially, avoid doing so as part of a trade-off with working culture and productivity. Because without financial oversight and strategy, ill-conceived cost cutting will remain a bigger risk and could potentially end up costing business leaders in more ways than one.

spot_img

Most Popular