Having a strong financial system in place is always important. But in disruptive times, it becomes even more important.
The pandemic crystalized what financial decision-makers had known for a long time: Outdated, clunky financials software can drag down the business in a world where decision-makers need accurate, fast, and comprehensive information and reporting. When COVID-19 struck in March, most SMBs found themselves ill-equipped for the financial impact, unprepared to cope with uncertainty, and poorly positioned to recover.
For those that were still in business in July, the situation was still dire. For instance, according to SMB Group’s July 2020 SMBs: Navigating a Path Forward survey:
- SMBs cited dealing with ongoing uncertainty as their top post-COVID business challenge.
- Among SMBs 78% said that COVID-19 negatively impacted their business.
- More than half had to close temporarily.
- One-quarter of SMBs said they had less than two months of cash reserves available to sustain their businesses, and 30% said they had three to five months of cash reserves.
Furthermore, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 38.1% of small businesses had not received the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) assistance that they had sought.
In hindsight, many “coulda, shoulda, wouldas” have surfaced that would have helped SMBs fare better. One of the key examples is in financial management, where it’s clear that many SMBs stuck with spreadsheets, low-end, or disconnected financials solutions far too long. When the pandemic hit, they lacked the insights that could have helped them to avoid unnecessary risk, and the agility to effectively respond to new realities.
As a result, 19% of SMBs are now seeking to modernize their financials and accounting systems to establish a stronger business foundation for the future.
How Well Does Your Current Financials Solution Support Your Business?
Accounting and finance are the backbone of every organization. When people have easy access to accurate, comprehensive, and timely financial information, they have a clear view of what’s going on and can make better decisions.
But many older, legacy financial applications don’t provide real-time visibility into financial information. Day-to-day, this makes it tough to make operational decisions, such as whether to hire more people or buy new equipment. Planning, forecasting, and budgeting turn into time consuming, arduous tasks. People spend too much time moving data back and forth between applications and spreadsheets, introducing the risk of manual errors with each new version. Reports generated through this cumbersome process are typically static spreadsheets, so they’re outdated as soon as they’re created—driving the need to create updates. This leaves everyone involved with little time to actually analyze the data and make sense of it.
Some common problems associated this situation include:
- People don’t have a “single version of the truth.” Planning, forecasting, budgeting, and reporting are collaborative activities. Different people can end up working from conflicting or erroneous information, increasing the chance for errors, creating confusion, and slowing down the process. It can also lead to unnecessary conflict over whose version of the truth is “right.”
- Executives can’t get the information they need, when they need it. It’s tough to make confident decisions without an accurate, real-time view of the business, capabilities to drill down into specifics, and analytics tools to model and assess the pros and cons of different decisions.
- The financial system gets in the way of growth. If you’re trying to expand or take your business in a new direction, your financials DNA needs to accommodate this. If you’re adding new subscription-based services, you’ll have to adhere to new regulatory and reporting requirements. If you want to expand internationally, it also needs to support multiple languages, currencies, taxes, and regulations.
Modern Cloud Financial Solutions are Key to Business Resiliency and Growth
The pandemic has driven home the fact that an outdated, brittle, disjointed financials approach can disadvantage SMBs. In contrast, cloud solutions ensure real-time, up-to-date, and trustworthy information.
As a result, cloud solutions are becoming the norm for SMBs across almost all application categories. Cloud computing has proven its worth during these trying times, enabling SMBs using them to more easily meet new operational, customer, and employee requirements: 83% of our survey respondents said cloud-based business applications had been valuable in sustaining their business through the pandemic—and 37% said that the pandemic has made them more likely to choose a cloud solution for new application investments.
Modern financials solutions, such as Sage Intacct, are born in the cloud. Data flows into cloud solutions in real-time, ensuring that the information in the system is up-to-date and trustworthy. Instead of spending most of their time aggregating data for the executive team, finance can focus on analyzing it and communicating insights. Some vendors also offer integrated planning and budgeting modules to help teams dig in even deeper to evaluate what-if scenarios and potential outcomes from different courses of action.
Moving to a single, secure financials solution also provides important security advantages. If you’re juggling a medley of point solutions and spreadsheets to get work done, it’s all too easy for people to share spreadsheets with sensitive company and customer data—potentially putting this data into the wrong hands. Moving this information out of spreadsheets and into a unified cloud solution limits access to budgets and payroll data with user-level security rules and permissions.
Now, cloud vendors are embedding artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities into their solutions. This gives applications the intelligence to do things such as categorizing expenses, flagging policy violations, spotting trends and anomalies, providing alerts and making recommendations for you. Best of all, cloud financials solutions provide friction-free access to these capabilities via the application and interface you’re already using, so you don’t have to figure out how to bolt these capabilities on.
If there’s an overriding lesson that all of us can take away from the pandemic, it’s that business conditions can turn on a dime. SMBs know this, and many have made or are planning to make major changes to ensure business viability—such as developing new virtual services, creating additional sales channels, and adding no-touch payment and transaction options for customers. Modern, flexible financial and planning tools make it easier and faster to make these shifts.
Continuing to rely on a tangle of older, disjointed solutions can actually slow down business processes and impair decision-making. For long-term viability, businesses must be ready to tap into new opportunities and avoid unnecessary risks as circumstances change. SMBs will need to examine how they can better digitize financial processes and harness data to more effectively understand, predict, and respond to new market, employee, and operational requirements.