Due to the rapid adoption of digital business tools, ranging from point-of-sale, accounting and CRM solutions, to social media and analytics, businesses have become flooded with internal business data. Yet there is undeniable value in the insights hidden within this data, such as sales and cash flow forecasting, customer sentiment analysis and marketing effectiveness. Given the growing competition and digital disruption affecting all industries, business owners need to seize all competitive advantages available to them.
The core problem, however, is creating a consolidated view of all this company data and deriving actionable insights in as close to real-time as possible. In response, financial institutions and companies such as Visa are helping businesses make sense of their data to become more competitive and successful.
“Through Visa’s role as a network business, we have a responsibility to partner with those in the industry who are delivering value to end users,” explains Anthony Jones, Head of Business Solutions for Australia and New Zealand at Visa. “Part of how we do that is through connecting banks and fintech partners, as both sides have something to offer the other: banks bring scale and recognisable brands, while fintechs don’t have to take into account legacy infrastructure and can therefore move at speed. We’re focused on creating the right industry standards to enable payment in any device, in any channel.”
One example of this close collaboration with Visa is New Zealand’s ASB Bank, which has created Plus, a free mobile app that helps business customers consolidate and visualise their business performance from a wide range of sources. These include Xero's online accounting platform, Google Analytics, Vend point of sale and Shopify e-commerce, allowing companies to access all of this data in a single app on their mobile devices, anywhere and at any time.
“We understood that business owners wanted data, but it was really important for us make sure that they used it,” explains David Bell, General Manager of ASB Business Ventures. “A lot of business owners get data, but they don’t use it. They go, ‘That’s interesting, but I don’t know what to do with it’.”
So beyond simply consolidating data, Plus also provides augmented intelligence: short, easy-to-digest chunks of information that suggest ways for users to improve their business operations. For example, Plus can help manage invoices, advise how to optimise cash flow and recommend setting up a separate Visa credit card for business expenses. It can even provide benchmark comparisons between a user’s company efficiency versus other small businesses operating in the same or similar industry.
The augmented intelligence features of Plus are not simply limited within the app. “Artificial intelligence is a hot topic, but what we heard from our customers is that they don’t truly believe in it,” Bell says. “They don’t want a solely digital experience. They get the need for it … but they’ve all told us they want a human involved at the right time.” As a result, Plus will also link business owners to ASB advisors, providing them with human-powered insight when it’s needed.
Since its launch in late 2017, businesses using Plus are already benefiting from improved cash flow and financial efficiency. According to statistics from Xero, the average small-business invoice in New Zealand is paid in 34.4 days, but for businesses that use Plus as well as Xero, the timeframe has dropped to 31.9 days. Cutting that time to payment is an important indicator of a company’s health, especially given that about 48 per cent of small businesses in New Zealand fail within five years, and the majority of those fail due to cash-flow problems, Bell explains.
“If you want to win in a highly competitive market, you’ve absolutely got to leverage the data within your business, and you’ve got to do it efficiently,” Bell says. “It’s like Formula One racing. Imagine a business is like a car with 80,000 parts, put together by 2,000 different manufacturers, working with a team in a highly regulated environment and a driver going round the track. It’s thousandths of a second that make you reach the front, and whether in racing or in business, this is made possible by the level of innovation and constant evolution of data analysis.
“Technology is removing borders and boundaries to business, but it’s also making it easier to be outperformed. As a result, businesses need to adopt solutions to help them operate more efficiently. For those that don’t, they may not feel the pain today but they will tomorrow.”