By Tarmo van der Goot, VP EMEA, Chargebee
The subscription-as-a-service (SaaS) sector is experiencing some of its strongest growth ever, as an increasing number of businesses start thinking outside the box and offering up attractive packages for customers. However, finance teams are under pressure to stay on top as competition ramps up by winning new opportunities in different markets and shaking up pricing models. It’s certainly an increasingly competitive market when you consider how ubiquitous SaaS products have become: in 2021, organisations reported using 110 SaaS applications per annum, a significant increase from 2015, when they were barely using eight.
SaaS vendors are also facing the challenge of fast-changing customers tastes, with many quick to change or cancel subscriptions altogether if those aren’t to their liking. This is leading to an increase in churn rates, which should be setting alarm bells ringing for all SaaS vendors.
Automation is one sure-fire way to make certain SaaS businesses aren’t left behind when it comes to meeting customer demands, and more and more businesses are taking advantage of it. Rather than have to resort to outmoded techniques such as data entry with spreadsheets, an automated approach can provide finance teams with the tools they need to drive continued growth, particularly in three areas: accounts receivable, account reconciliation and billing.
Keeping cashflow in check with automated accounts receivable
Just as the human body can’t function without a steady blood flow, neither can businesses do without a healthy cashflow. Key to this is ensuring accounts receivable (AR) is collected on time and correctly. Errors in manual accounting or partly – and poorly – automated processes can cause the numbers to stop adding up, and mistakes made in AR can impede other areas of the business before you know it.
Ensuring that the whole process of AR collection is fully-automated can eliminate such headaches, by giving finance teams visibility and control over which customers ought to be charged when, and using which method. This is a particularly important issue for SaaS businesses that give their customers flexibility to amend their plans as they choose. Any fast-growth company opting to manually work out these complexities risks losing sight of more holistic considerations about customer and business priorities.
Once AR is fully automated, the difference is noticeable. Teams can have all the necessary information provided to them on dashboards, so they can keep track of cashflow regularly and act on issues before they fester. Having one’s ducks in a row in this way not only allows businesses to avoid building up a string of bad debts, it also frees up finance teams to focus on proactive, strategic decision-making.
Errors become a bygone concern through automated account reconciliation
Another area where automation can make a real difference is account reconciliation (AR). Not being able to trust account figures through poor AR can cause an under- or overestimation of figures, meaning overspending can ensue. Worse still, businesses can face difficulties paying salaries to their own workers or suppliers, or fail to spot potential instances of fraud, incurring fines that can cost them greatly.
The ability of automated systems to reduce the likelihood of human error in AR collection is an evident advantage here, too, but beyond that, automation can also make payment gateways easier to work with, as businesses can configure and immediately match customers’ preferred payment method and currency to the right gateway account. No need to bring in a finance team member to double-check the process, and no accounting errors to deal with.
Breaking into new markets with automated billing
When presenting a SaaS product to the world, vendors can be juggling numerous features such as add-ons, different price points, coupons, use of foreign currencies or simply unpredictable frequencies for billing. Whether they occur in isolation or all together at once, these issues can make billing processes near impossible to keep track of at times. To compound matters, businesses face the danger of customer churn when payment cards are declined, taking a needless toll on the bottom line.
Compliance across different territories must also be borne in mind, with regards to the varying tax regimes a business may be operating in or data protection laws which might exist. When moving to new markets, employing billing automation software isn’t just a convenience but a necessity. Automated billing allows businesses to remain compliant through improved revenue recognition, helping them stay on the right side of standards such as ASC606 and IFRS15.
The aforementioned problem of declined payments can also be resolved, as dunning management can be automated to the point where revenue leakage is minimised. Automated dunning means customers receive prompts for using out-of-date credit cards, or payment methods can be updated. Put together, these improved practices help prevent revenue falling through the cracks.
In automating billing, businesses can exercise maximum financial visibility and control over existing product families as well as scale billing capabilities to accommodate further growth, be that launching new and exciting product families or services, domestically or abroad.
Automation truly pays in 2022
The world of fintech has been in the grip of a dramatic technological revolution, but not all are equipped to adapt. Moving into a subscription-based model can create a host of new opportunities but these come with challenges of their own which have to be faced head-on. In this environment, financial automation allows businesses to turn their gaze from avoidable mistakes in the rear-view mirror and focus on the tremendous growth opportunities directly in front of them.
Wealth Managers and the Future of Trust: Insights from CFA Institute’s 2022 Investor Trust Study
Author: Rhodri Preece, CFA, Senior Head of Research, CFA Institute
Corporate responsibility is more important than ever. Today, many investors expect more than just profit from their financial decisions; they want easy access to financial products and to be able to express personal values through their investments. Crucial to meeting these new investor expectations is trust in the financial services providers that enable investors to build wealth and realise personal goals. Trust is the bedrock of client relationships and investor confidence.
The 2022 CFA Institute Investor Trust Study – the fifth in a biennial series – found that trust levels in financial services among retail and institutional investors have reached an all-time high. Reflecting the views of 3,588 retail investors and 976 institutional investors across 15 markets globally, the report is a barometer of sentiment and an encouraging indicator of the trust gains in financial services.
Wealth managers may want to know how this trust can be cultivated, and how they can enhance it within their own organisations. I outline three key trends that will shape the future of client trust.
THE RISE OF ESG
ESG metrics have risen to prominence in recent years, as investors increasingly look at environmental, social and governance factors when assessing risks and opportunities. These metrics have an impact on investor confidence and their propensity to invest; we find that among retail investors, 31% expect ESG investing to result in higher risk-adjusted returns, while 44% are primarily motivated to invest in ESG strategies because they want to express personal values or invest in companies that have a positive impact on society or the environment.
The Trust Study shows us that ESG is stimulating confidence more broadly. Of those surveyed, 78% of institutional investors said the growth of ESG strategies had improved their trust in financial services. 100% of this group expressed an interest in ESG investing strategies, as did 77% of retail investors.
There are also different priorities within ESG strategies, and our study found a clear divide between which issues were top of mind for retail investors compared to institutional investors. Retail investors were more focused on investments that tackled climate change and clean energy use, while institutional investors placed a greater focus on data protection and privacy, and sustainable supply chain management.
What is clear is that the rise of ESG investing is building trust and creating opportunities for new products.
TECHNOLOGY MULTIPLIES TRUST
Technology has the power to democratise finance. In financial services, technological developments have lowered costs and increased access to markets, thereby levelling the playing field. Allowing easy monitoring of investments, digital platforms and apps are empowering more people than ever to engage in investing. For wealth managers, these digital advancements mean an opportunity for improved connection and communication with investors, a strategy that also enhances trust.
The study shows us that the benefits of technology are being felt, with 50% of retail investors and 87% of institutional investors expressing that increased use of technology increases trust in their financial advisers and asset managers, respectively. Technology is also leading to enhanced transparency, with the majority of retail and institutional investors believing that their adviser or investment firms are very transparent.
It’s worth acknowledging here that a taste for technology-based investing varies across age groups. More than 70% of millennials expressed a preference for technology tools to help navigate their investment strategy over a human advisor. Of the over-65s surveyed, however, just 30% expressed the same choice.
THE PULL OF PERSONALISATION
How does an investor’s personal connection to their investments manifest? There are two primary ways. The first is to have an adviser who understands you personally, the second is to have investments that achieve your personal objectives and resonate with what you value.
Among retail investors surveyed for the study, 78% expressed a desire for personalised products or services to help them meet their investing needs. Of these, 68% said they’d pay higher fees for this service.
So, what does personalisation actually look like? The study identifies the top three products of interest among retail investors. They are: direct indexing (investment indexes that are tailored to specific needs); impact funds (those that allow investors to pursue strategies designed to achieve specific real-world outcomes); and personalised research (customised for each investor).
When it comes to this last product, it’s worth noting that choosing advisors with shared values is also becoming more significant. Three-quarters of respondents to the survey said having an adviser that shares one’s values is at least somewhat important to them. Another way a personal connection with clients can be established is through a strong brand, and the proportion of retail investors favouring a brand they can trust over individuals they can count on continues to grow; it reached 55% in the 2022 survey, up from 51% in 2020 and 33% in 2016.
TRUST IN THE FUTURE
As the pressure on corporations to demonstrate their trustworthiness increases, investors will also look to financial services to bolster trust. Wealth managers that embrace ESG issues and preferences, enhanced technology tools, and personalisation, can demonstrate their value and build durable client relationships over market cycles.
5 tips to ensure CSR efforts come across as genuine
By Mick Clark, Managing Director, WePack Ltd
Corporate social responsibility – or CSR – is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the long-term success of modern-day companies.
The harsh reality is that only a paltry 46 percent of people trust the brands they buy from. And with more competition than ever in all walks of business, a positive brand reputation needs to be earned or customers will simply take their money elsewhere.
That’s why I share my insights on the importance of CSR in modern business and introduce an effective plan to avoid coming off as disingenuous to your employees and customer base.
The value of CSR
The needs of modern employees and consumers are changing. There is a higher emphasis placed on the ethics and morals of companies and their handling of hot button topics like the environment or social issues.
59 percent of UK workers believe their business should be investing in charitable initiatives. 67 percent of people aged 18-19 feel this way, showing a generational shift in favour of companies that support ethical, social, or environmental causes.
At WePack, we recognise the importance of this and make sure to regularly donate to a variety of charities including RRT (Rapid Relief Team), and donated £6,000 to the charity’s social causes last year.
An example of good CSR can be found in search engine giant, Google. It has had notable success with its CSR initiatives. Its flagship CSR campaign, Google Green, is a companywide commitment to using clean sources of energy, cutting down on its use of fossil fuels and drastically increasing energy efficiency as a direct response to the climate crisis.
It has been so successful that its data centres now require 50 percent less power to run than the average data centre and it’s poured over $1 billion into jumpstarting renewable energy projects.
Customer attitudes are fundamentally changing, and people are far more concerned about the values that their money could be indirectly supporting. In fact, 71 percent of customers prefer buying from businesses that align directly with their values.
In the modern-day, demonstrating high levels of CSR boosts brand perception. Businesses that make it a priority are more attractive – from an investment standpoint – to both customers and potential stakeholders.
For example, more than a third of consumers are also willing to pay more for a product or service if the business prioritises sustainability specifically – so it pays to be responsible.
Businesses with purpose-driven and ethical goals and proven commitments to CSR help retain employees. Millennials will make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025, and it’s that cohort that is increasingly demanding socially responsible employers.
Those that fail to meet the needs will ultimately see their customers take their purchasing power elsewhere.
Addressing the challenges
As obvious as it may sound for a business to take on as much CSR as possible, many organisations face limitations.
Pressure from investors can disrupt the growth of CSR initiatives. Sometimes, the direction that stakeholders want to take the company doesn’t fully align with plans to target social or environmental issues.
Companies face becoming fixated on linking profitability with CSR programmes. It can be tough to present a genuine CSR programme without it coming across as a marketing ploy – presenting an extra hurdle for businesses to overcome.
Despite the challenges businesses face that are out of their control, many firms unwittingly make their own mistakes that cost them dearly.
For example, businesses can struggle to bolster their CSR programmes if they don’t consult their customers and staff first. A simple survey helps companies decide what issues to put as a priority and target to satisfy their customer base and employees.
Any attempt to create an effective CSR programme needs top-down support. Many businesses wrongly treat CSR as a separate entity, rather than fostering a companywide culture. This can lead any attempt to push back on global issues to appear disingenuous to those looking in.
Shifting the CSR approach
Because of the global shift in public needs and opinions in recent years, businesses need to better demonstrate their efforts to avoid having their campaigns labelled as a box-ticking exercise.
It’s no secret that consumers are doing more research and are becoming more switched on to spotting lacklustre approaches to CSR. Also, everyone can have their say online – it’s much easier to get exposed if your CSR campaign is nothing but an empty publicity stunt.
For example, Volkswagen’s reputation was left in tatters after its ‘greenwashing’ scandal promoted a newer, cleaner diesel vehicle that wasn’t any better for the environment than previous models. The company took it further by fitting a device that helped it cheat emissions tests – resulting in a $125 million fine.
For this reason, CSR campaigns need tangible results to be credible and trustworthy.
Sharing top tips
When it comes to structuring a strong CSR campaign, it’s critical to demonstrate several things to prove your strategy is effective in helping the chosen cause.
Firstly, evidence the fact that your efforts are helping wider communities. Whether it’s through statistics or showing proof of investment in social causes, tangible evidence goes a long way when legitimising your CSR campaign.
Secondly, balance your rhetoric. Effective communications are vital to the success of a campaign. However, it can damage a company’s image when done poorly. Businesses should speak about their chosen issues in their dialogue rather than spending too much time talking about the solutions the company has implemented. This stops them from becoming too self-promotional or sounding braggy.
To further avoid this, make sure you can directly tie your CSR campaign to corporate values and beliefs. As well as helping to strengthen your comms, it will also guarantee that company values are more than just surface-level – helping to facilitate tangible, long-term change.
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