Ahead of the London Marathon next April, runners will be starting their training plans as the winter months draw in.

But in the current climate of economic gloom and pessimistic growth projections, the corporate landscape in London relates to many of the challenges seen in preparation for the long-distance race.

As a difficult year comes to a close, finance leaders too find themselves gearing up for the race to survive and remain competitive amid high interest rates and a business environment which has seen investor interest dip. In fact, European venture funding halved in the second quarter of 2023 compared to a year earlier, and was down two-thirds from the peak two years ago. We know that this has forced businesses to reassess their growth plans, with 78% believing sustainable growth is now more important than growth-at-all-costs, according to our research.

However, market momentum is recovering and investor confidence is slowly growing, making the fast-paced corporate area a literal test of endurance.

As professionals lace up their running shoes and fine-tune their strategies for 2024, perseverance, consistency, agility and strength are essential ingredients for success. The finance team plays a crucial role in spearheading growth, finding areas to drive efficiency and leveraging technology to free up time for strategic activity. 


With the ‘growth-at-any-cost’ mindset that dominated the digitally led economy in recent years, businesses once thought of success as a sprint that’s never ending. But high inflation is just one of the many economic hurdles businesses now face. In the US we’re seeing inflation come down to just under 3%, while the Bank of England is still grappling with rates at 5.25%, albeit steadying in a much needed sign of the tide turning.

Much like a long-distance runner preparing for a marathon, these conditions require finance teams to exercise endurance to keep up with dynamic business challenges and outlast their rivals.

The waters remain choppy but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Businesses are now beginning to plan for growth beyond the economic downturn. On average, our research found that 75% of UK finance leaders say that as a business they now need to stop being reactive and begin planning beyond an economic downturn. Those finance teams that look at areas to drive efficiency by reducing time-consuming manual workloads with automation will free up time needed to keep going on the treadmill.

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Fitness journeys require motivation and perseverance at an individual and team level. But monotonous tasks, such as time and strength tracking, can dampen motivation and the ability to focus on the more satisfying task of reaching your personal best.

Likewise in finance, tedious manual processing won’t directly lead to success or allow teams time to flex their strategic muscle and see an impact on the business, but the data is essential for growth. Currently, a third of finance teams’ time is being spent on manual processes rather than on tasks that aid strategic initiatives. And this breeds low morale, with 73% highlighting that admin staff productivity and morale is a concern. 


Consistency: the key word coming from any personal trainer, and a model that can be applied in the finance team too. Let’s take the payment run for example. Every day, invoices need to be received, processed and paid on time. Inconsistent payment processes can be hugely damaging to the financial health and reputation of a business. Despite this, nearly a quarter (22%) of supplier invoices are being paid late.

Trust is crucial in times of economic hardship to retain customers, maintain relationships with suppliers and ensure freelancers continue working with the business – and this requires fast and efficient payments. A finance team that operates with consistency at front of mind will fuel growth long-term.

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This year, we’ve seen many businesses slowing down to speed up, resetting growth ambitions by cutting costs and reducing headcount. This means pivoting to a leaner business structure that provides greater agility, and the ability to capitalise on opportunities as soon as they arise. It also places a greater emphasis on technology and automation to help support growth and drive efficiency.

Working across global environments where things can change rapidly, leaders must be agile enough to respond quickly and ably to regulatory and legislative changes, fraud, tax requirements or demand to expand into a new market. For example, when paying a new supplier overseas, the finance team needs to navigate a range of payment options, each with its own restrictions, costs and FX rate. Having the right technology and automated processes to easily pivot and identify the most cost-effective way to proceed is crucial.


Just as a runner pushes their limits to reach their personal best, businesses must constantly strive to innovate, invest in people and technology, and build robust strategies to stay ahead. As the financial backbone of any organisation, a strong finance team is able to handle the weight of different challenges placed on its shoulders – whether that be an influx of invoices, chasing late payments, going through auditing or preparing for their next funding round.

When finance teams take advantage of technology and have the right team in place, visibility across the whole finance function and beyond will improve. Ultimately, the business’ most important strength metric comes from the finance team, so this data is an imperative indicator of performance and will inform the strategy of the organisation at large.  

The business growth journey is just like a fitness journey: it’s not always straightforward. The finance function has a leading role to play in delivering sustainable growth, and the application of technology such as generative AI and automation means it can add even more strategic value for the business in years to come. But sustainable growth is a marathon and not a sprint, so equipping finance teams with the right tools and qualities will provide the best possible foundation to succeed in complex market conditions.

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