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When the pandemic sent businesses scrambling to survive, many began by throwing various tech at the proverbial wall and seeing what would stick. A new report from Sage revealed that, surprisingly, it was not new collaboration platforms or project management solutions that kept businesses from being buried by the weight of the restrictions the pandemic imposed: It was accounting and finance technology.

SEE: Working from home: The future of business is remote (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Nearly 30% of businesses said they believed accounting and finance tech was their “saving grace” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three-quarters of finance teams, the report found, are confident of a return to growth by the end of the year. And customer relations are on the upswing: 79% of businesses “feel more connected to their customers” than they did in 2020. Most businesses envision a return to pre-pandemic revenue levels in Q3, July to September 2021 (22%), or Q4, October to December 2021 (23%).

The pandemic accelerated many organizations’ digital transformation, with 28% of the surveyed businesses saying the pandemic accelerated digitization plans by more than five years to address the unique challenges.

Businesses that took that leap of faith and invested early in digital transformation were the most confident in seeing significant revenue growth over the upcoming year. More than one-quarter (28%) of respondents in Sage’s surveyed group of 1,050 chief financial officers for small- to medium-sized businesses polled in March expect to see revenue increases of 11% or more over the course of the year, significantly higher than the next highest cohort, with 17% of small businesses also expecting the same level of growth.

Customer support

Some companies offered customers financial support through flexible payment options (43%), reduced prices (42%) or net new incentives or rewards (47%) for purchases. These practices were “a major theme across U.S. businesses,” Sage discovered.

SEE: How to prevent (and handle) unethical situations at work (TechRepublic)

Most businesses do not plan to roll back initiatives implemented during lockdown.

Almost two-thirds of businesses said they received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, with 32% citing the PPP loan as “the reason their businesses did not go under.”

There’s plenty of support for COVID-19 protocols, too, with 70% responding that state regulations and public health measures, which include social distancing and office occupancy rules, had a positive impact on businesses.

Government aid

For 2021, those polled were asked what kind of support they’d want for their businesses to succeed, with 52% saying increased funds for COVID-19 testing and additional safety measures, 47% said increased support for employees, 40% said increased payroll and protection support, 34% asked for debt relief and loan forgiveness. Five percent said they did not need any government support.

Tech investments

Technology is a good industry to invest in: 77% of businesses continue to invest more resources in technology to improve efficiencies and decision-making, in addition to supporting a remote and in-office workforce.

SEE: $152 billion for job training in Biden’s infrastructure plan could help with the tech worker shortage (TechRepublic)

The top three solutions businesses plan to increase investment in are:

  • Business intelligence and analytic technology (48%)
  • Cloud accounting / finance technology (47%)
  • Cloud management technology (47%)

Confidence in a return to pre-pandemic figures is high: 69% of businesses anticipate revenue to return to pre-pandemic levels before the end of the year.

More than half of the businesses surveyed said they increased their digital marketing efforts, and 45% said they increased their social media footprint and budget.

Employers demonstrated they wanted to keep their employees and entice new applicants with 27% of businesses providing increased or non-traditional HR services, such as childcare stipends and flexible work arrangements as a pandemic response.

Community became a priority

Despite the many challenges, charitable giving continued, with 88% surveyed said they made some form of charitable contributions, such as services (53%), money (48%) and goods their business produced (45%). Forty-nine percent said they wanted to continue to further as well as increase charitable community giving programs, and 87% plan to maintain or increase the amount of donations to the community in 2021.

Pandemic practices stay in place

Almost half (48%) of respondents said the company had implemented permanent remote working policies, 42% expanded healthcare services and 39% offer child care assistance. Nearly a quarter (24%) said they added new employee recognition programs.

Improvements were seen across the board: 20% said project management skills improved, and 29% said management skills improved.

Businesses (37%) with 500 to 999 employees intend to significantly increase budgets tied to employee retention categories, 26% of large enterprises of 1,000 employees of more, and 10% of smaller businesses (50 to 249 employees). These companies said they’ll continue to look for employees with a dynamic skill set, with tech (39%) and management (28%) being the most sought after by hiring managers.

The top four areas finance leaders feel they can have an impact: 40% tech, 28% customer service and marketing, and 26% strategic planning.