Manual tasks slow down  finance leaders in Singapore

Photo by Mike Enerio

Finance teams are spending the majority of their time on manual tasks rather than directly driving business strategy with financial data, according to a new study done by Stripe.

These tasks include copying data from one spreadsheet to another, comparing and reconciling data, or manually putting together analyses.

Stripe worked with Milltown Partners — in partnership with their data provider, Focaldata — to survey more than 1,700 decision-makers in executive or finance roles  who estimate their businesses make at least 10% of their revenue from online sales.

Respondents were spread out across Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. There were 200 who were based in Singapore.

Among respondents in Singapore, 89% spend more than half of their time on these manual back office tasks, significantly higher than their peers in other Asia-Pacific markets including Japan (75%) and Australia (75%). 

This focus on manual tasks not only costs finance teams their time, but also increases the risk of errors, as 43% of respondents spend between 10 and 25 hours per month going over manual errors or discrepancies to reconcile data. 

Also, 36% report having to reopen their books or restate earnings at least once a quarter because of errors that were made after their quarterly close. These issues can add extra work for finance teams, slow down decision-making, and damage a business’s credibility. 

Meanwhile, Stripe also uncovered unexpected optimism from businesses in Singapore about their international expansion prospects, despite the challenging economic climate. 

In Singapore, 84% of businesses expect to expand into new countries over the next 24 months. However, challenges in the finance department are slowing down the speed of international expansion for Singapore businesses. 

Further, 65% of finance leaders in Singapore think that expanding into new markets is hard because of the potential disruption to their existing financial systems. 

A further complication to internationalisation is an increasingly complex international tax environment, as 68% of finance leaders in Singapore believe that their business’ tax requirements are becoming more complex. This far exceeding similar concerns from their peers in Japan (42%) and Australia (64%).

Thus, “automation of financial tasks” is a leading digital investment priority for 40% of finance leaders in Singapore, second only to the digital transformation of go-to-market and sales (42%). 

Other key areas of investment focus are cloud technologies (39%) and better use of data pipelines and data lakes (39%).

“With their organisations’ financial data living across dozens of disparate tools, requiring hours of manual reconciling across these various systems, their ability to do this is being severely restricted,” said Sarita Singh, regional head and managing director, of Stripe in Southeast Asia, India and Greater China. 

“CFOs need to have the right tools at their fingertips, powered by the right tech so they can make effective financial decision making,” said Singh.

According to Stripe, with artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models (LLMs) evolving at a rapid pace, finance teams stand to benefit, considering the dozens of hours each month they dedicate to manual tasks.

However, finance leaders still see human intervention and control as nearly as important as automation. 

For example, the CFOs surveyed were most interested in streamlining monthly reporting, data entry, and bookkeeping. But, at the same time, when asked which financial operations they wanted to run manually, they selected the exact same processes. 

In other words, the processes most in need of automation are the same ones finance teams say they prefer to run manually. This suggests that finance leaders envision their teams using automation to improve manual workflows but not completely eliminate human intervention.