How AI can improve cashflow during an economic downturn


As the nation continues to struggle with an economic downturn, SMEs are grappling with managing cashflow impacts from the changed business environment. Many Australian and New Zealand businesses are now reviewing their processes to see where savings can be made, and efficiencies gained. Artificial intelligence (AI) and its subset, machine learning, could be the answer for resolving cashflow management issues for SMEs.

It may seem counterintuitive to invest in a new program or system during an economic downturn; however, without the insight and oversight that an automated program can offer, SMEs could struggle to get a clear idea of where the money is being spent and saved.

There are three ways AI can improve cashflow for SMEs:

1. Reduce fraud and increase compliance

Manual expense management processes often create fraud and compliance issues due to double handling, human error (or deliberate fraud), and physical copies of invoices that may be lost. AI-enabled expense management systems can reduce this risk by eliminating physical invoice copies while facilitating online expense submissions and approvals, and generating instant reports that give the business real-time visibility of expenses.

2. Streamline data entry and analysis

Reporting periods can be a nightmare for financial personnel if they have to manually review and analyse all expenses and invoices. It can sometimes take hours or even days for finance staff to review expenses, add them into the system individually, and then analyse and report on the findings, and this is in addition to the time that business managers and employees spend on filing and approving expenses.

A newly released SAP Concur Finance in the New World of Work study found that Australian managers and employees spend an average 8.2 hours per month filing, reviewing and approving expense claims. In New Zealand, these administrative processes equate to an average of 10.3 hours per month.

AI-driven expense management systems can significantly reduce staff cost and time, and avoid double handling, by automating these processes using information that is already vetted and confirmed.

3. Enforce company expense policy

Manually enforcing company expense policies can be subject to human error, or even deliberately fraudulent decision-making. This can result in expenses being approved that should never be considered. SMEs can enforce company policy for expenses and invoices by setting up company guidelines within an automated expense management system. AI-enabled systems can automatically check all submissions against company policy before either approving or denying them, ensuring that the business doesn’t unnecessarily lose money, while eliminating the risk of human error in decision-making.

Investing in AI and machine learning systems can help SMEs streamline their expense management and reporting with much less cost and effort than manual processes. This way, SMEs can more easily and immediately review and improve their cashflow, better positioning them for sustained resilience and success even in a tough economic landscape.

Fabian Calle, General Manager – SMB, SAP Concur ANZ