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Automation has proved a lifeline for Crown Agents Bank, a business nearly two centuries old that continues to profit from forward thinking - Michael Ogazi, Senior vice-president of finance, Crown Agents Bank
If 2020 has taught businesses one lesson, it’s that they need to be agile enough to respond rapidly to market fluctuations and uncertainty. But how can businesses achieve new levels of agility, especially if they have been operating in roughly the same way for centuries?
Technology may be the winning formula that sets leaders and followers apart in the current environment. By investing in a digital transformation strategy sooner rather than later, organisations can use automation to improve productivity and efficiency, as well as collect the data they need to make informed business decisions, such as where they need to invest and potential new business models.
One organisation that is well under way with its digital transformation programme is Crown Agents Bank. Originally established by the British Crown (it can trace its roots back to 1749), Crown Agents Bank has provided banking services from its London base since 1833.
Mostly operating in developing markets including Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Asia Pacific, it began its digital upgrade programme with the bank’s acquisition in 2016 by Helios Investment Partners. It has since been pursuing considerable digital transformation, streamlining operations across the bank.
“We’ve been undergoing a process of automation across all of the functions within the bank,” says Michael Ogazi, senior vice-president of finance. “The overall strategy is about having the technology in place to keep moving money to different places, in our case, emerging markets.”
However, rather than choosing digital technology from just one company, Crown Agents Bank has opted for “best in class” solutions for each of its functions. For T&E (travel and expense), this meant SAP Concur solutions, due to its global footprint and long-standing credentials. Before it adopted this solution, staff travelling to the emerging markets on business had to keep their receipts and make an expense claim on a form when they got back to the UK. This would then have to be scanned and emailed to the finance department before it could be approved.
Quick-thinking: staying ahead of the curve is key in today's environment CREDIT: GETTY
“We estimated that if we had four or five people travelling abroad in a week, it would take us about eight hours in total to process their claims,” says Mr Ogazi. “Concur Expense allows us to automate the whole process.”
Crown Agents Bank’s corporate credit card links directly to the SAP Concur software, so any business payments made on the card are automatically logged and categorised in the system. The employee takes a picture of any business receipts and that is then pushed via an app to their manager’s phone for approval. All the manager then has to do is click “approve” or “reject”.
Importantly, SAP Concur solutions integrate with Crown Agents Bank’s accounts package so details of the expense claim are easily captured in the ledger. “As a result, the front office spends much less time preparing expenses and more time on revenue generation,” Mr Ogazi says. “And Finance spends less time trying to reconcile expenses in multiple currencies.”
The overall strategy is about having the technology in place to keep moving money to different places, in our case, emerging marketsMichael Ogazi, senior vice-president of finance, Crown Agents Bank
Since lockdown started in March, employees at Crown Agents Bank, who previously only worked remotely occasionally, have all been working from home. Again, technology has helped with this shift, ensuring the experience for employees is just the same as if they were in the office. “The IT department were the real heroes when lockdown was announced, ensuring everyone got the laptops and the platforms they needed to do their jobs remotely and keep money moving in some of the world’s fastest-growing economies,” says Mr Ogazi.
Like staff at other companies, those at Crown Agents Bank have been using video-conferencing tools as well as instant-messaging platforms to keep in touch and collaborate. But the experience of working from home has varied from one employee to another. “There are some who have taken to working remotely like ducks to water, maybe because they no longer have the commute, while others have struggled, perhaps because of lack of space or increased family responsibilities.”
Certainly, one thing that has changed during this lockdown period is that expense claims are a little different than they used to be. “Rather than claims for taxis in exotic and far-flung places, we’ve now got to process claims for folding chairs and tables as well as computer monitors so people can work at home properly,” Mr Ogazi says. At least, thanks to its automated expense solution, this is a much less time-consuming process than it used to be.
It has never been more important for businesses to harness technology to help them stay agile in ever-changing and highly challenging markets. The success of those that can stay ahead of the curve will demonstrate their resilience.