Manual processes cause an estimated productivity loss of US$21.5 billion in APAC: SAP Concur

Despite widespread digital transformation, many firms, including large ones, still run manual finance and administrative processes

A new SAP Concur-commissioned study revealed that the potential economic loss across Asia-Pacific due to inefficient finance and administrative processes could amount to US$21.5 billion.

The survey, entitled Finance in the New World of Work, also identifies the gaps in organisations’ expense management, business travel, and remote work processes.

Despite widespread digital transformation, many firms still run manual finance and administrative processes

Asia Insight, which conducted the survey, used International Labour Organization statistics on output per worker and the number of information workers, and the study’s results, to calculate and derive that saving just 10% of the time spent on filing and approving claims would translate to US$21.5 billion of potential GDP revenue gain for Asia-Pacific each year, assuming all the lost hours are diverted to productive work. Mid- to large-sized organisations could save tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over the same period.

As much as 38% of respondents submit expenses manually by filling out a form and enclosing physical receipts. Such a manual process is tedious, error-prone, and incongruous with the digital lifestyles employees are leading today.

“With the unprecedented number of people working from home in 2020, this is really a watershed year for companies to manage employee productivity. While remote workers are well supported digitally in many areas, crucial yet often overlooked finance and administrative processes remain painfully manual,” said Andy Watson, senior vice president and general manager, Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China, SAP Concur.

“This takes up significant time that could otherwise be used for productive, customer value-added work. The situation is costly to businesses and creates more challenges in the current economic climate.”

Employees spent an average of 4.5 hours per month filing expense claims – about half a typical workday. Managers had it worse – they spent 6.1 hours reviewing and approving expense claims, in addition to the 4.5 hours they spent submitting their own claims. This added up to 10.6 hours a month.

“Tweaking the process for something as seemingly trivial as expense claims can have a large multiplier effect on business and economic costs,” said Adrian Tan, managing director, Asia Insight. “During this period when many firms are trying to do more with less, finance and administrative processes are definitely areas they should not forget to scrutinise for savings.”

Finance transformation is lagging in Asia-Pacific
Beyond the tedium (49% of respondents say they are less than satisfied with their organisation’s expense claims process) and inefficiency costs, the study also found that current expense management systems’ support for modern payment methods is inadequate.

Close to a third (29%) of respondents said they want their expense management software to integrate with external apps to enable added functionality like reimbursement of payments made through super apps (umbrella apps containing other apps).

There is also clear potential for mobile wallets to be better supported as a payment mode for business purchases, as mobile wallets are much more favoured for personal purchases than company purchases.

Room for improvement in business travel
The preference for all things mobile and digital includes business travel, too.

Corporate travel systems that enable staff to book flights and accommodations digitally and via mobile, perhaps even on their usual personal travel booking platforms and apps, help keep them happy.

Travellers also want mobile-based features like real-time alerts of danger spots and the ability to make itinerary changes on-the-fly via mobile, as well as seamless travel management with a high degree of personalisation.

Unfortunately for many organisations now, business travel management is piecemeal and disjointed, leaving 41% of employees less than satisfied with the time and effort incurred.

Opportunity for organisations to embrace remote work for better business outcomes
Remote work will be the default mode of work for many organisations in the foreseeable future.

While 60% of the respondents said they feel more productive working from home, 34% of employees cited the loss of productivity during official work hours due to distractions as their top challenge. Therefore, companies are now at a point where they can adapt their operations to make remote work a boon to them or do nothing and let it become a hindrance.

Survey respondents want their employers to enable easy remote claims and travel management, improve collaboration, and provide better IT equipment and services.

Recommendations for transforming finance operations
Almost two-thirds (65%) of employees felt a very strong or somewhat strong link between their overall finance and administrative experience and their overall satisfaction of working for their firm. This suggests that if businesses want to retain their talent, they need to improve their finance and administrative processes.

The SAP Concur brand commissioned the Finance in the New World of Work Study 2020, which was conducted by Asia Insight in May 2020.

The study was conducted across Asia-Pacific with 2,012 respondents who are finance and expense users from organisations with more than 250 employees. Markets featured in the study are Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand. Respondents work in the financial services & insurance, retail, manufacturing, public sector/government, healthcare, education, technology, professional services and automotive industries.

About 71% of respondents have expense approval responsibilities, of which 18% are senior management, 41% are middle management, 24% are managers and 9% are officers/executives. Some 82% of respondents are business travellers, with 60% travelling for work one to five times a year.

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