Complex revenue streams are the new reality of business. Revenue teams are under pressure to adapt to this evolving business landscape and modernize their skill sets, processes, and technology. Failure to adapt can lead to lost business opportunities, increased costs, unnecessary risks, and even a negative impact on the mental health of revenue accounting professionals.
Zuora commissioned an independent market research firm to survey over 500 accounting and finance leaders at enterprise organizations across North America and Europe to analyze the current state of corporate revenue accounting. The corresponding data, presented throughout the report, reveals critical challenges that revenue accounting teams are facing, as well as the negative downstream effects for overall business performance.
We invite accounting and finance decision-makers to take a close look at this report and take action on existing challenges and opportunities within their revenue accounting teams.
This is the first report I’ve seen that addresses so many dimensions of revenue accounting. The insights here reveal an urgent need for leadership to rethink how the office of the CAO/CFO should approach process automation, systems capabilities, and skills development.
Senior Vice President of Subscribed Institute
Historically, revenue accounting teams were mainly operating in the “back office” and somewhat removed from the business.
However, due to an accelerated rate of innovation, intensifying competition, and challenging macroeconomic conditions, businesses are facing increased pressure to adapt and move quickly. One way companies are responding to this is by implementing new business models and offerings, such as bundles and subscriptions. Most recently, consumption-based pricing models became the new hot topic in the technology sector, as well as more traditional industries. This pace and volume of change adds complexity to the revenue process. More than three quarters (76%) of respondents report growing complexity in their company’s go-to-market models, products, and pricing.
This new reality is forcing many accounting teams to reinvent themselves and shift from back-office execution to more of a business advisory mindset. In fact, 74% of respondents agree that their team needs to focus more on analytics and business partnering, but a lack of automation is holding them back.
While many revenue teams are being asked to support business transformation in addition to their daily responsibilities, respondents say they are typically not armed with the right tools to support these requests—68% report not having the right technology to address growing demands from the business.
Investing time into understanding the entire revenue process and working across the organization will help modern revenue teams meet the new demands of being a “consultant to the business,” help shape offers and understand revenue recognition implications up front, as opposed to being informed after the decision has been made.
End-to-end revenue automation is a key enabler—revenue accounting teams that manage to automate 90-95% of their revenue recognition use cases are able to create bandwidth to understand the business and work collaboratively with product, sales, pricing, and marketing teams.
Revenue automation is the catalyst that empowers companies to unlock the full potential of tailored offerings. By automating revenue processes, businesses can dynamically adapt and customize their offerings, delivering personalized experiences that resonate with their customers on a deeper level. This not only enhances customer satisfaction but also drives revenue growth by fostering long-term loyalty and unlocking new avenues of monetization.
Principal, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Data is a hot topic and there is no exception when it comes to revenue accounting. But respondents say that revenue teams are facing challenges with data accessibility, accuracy, and completeness. The most common challenge is bad data hygiene in upstream processes (39% of respondents), followed by a lack of integrations, requiring teams to enter data into multiple systems (36% of respondents).
For revenue accounting teams specifically, managing the order-to-revenue process holistically and addressing upstream data and process issues can help address these challenges.
Respondents also say they struggle with a lack of flexible revenue recognition systems and rely on spreadsheets to support their revenue process. Nearly a third (30%) of respondents report lack of version and access control in Microsoft Excel, and 29% report they’re concerned about the risk of spreadsheets crashing.
Respondents cite inadequate reporting and analytics capabilities, lack of real-time visibility, inability to perform automated SSP analysis, and lack of contract modification functionality as other key challenges with revenue data.
It’s important to invest in mapping the entire revenue process and related data flow. As this is required for process audits, there are many resources available, such as audit and advisory firms or data mapping tools that streamline the process to document the data flow and identify areas of improvement.
Consider holistic order-to-revenue process automation to break down data silos and ensure data integrity and consistency. In addition, when choosing a revenue automation solution, it is important to invest time upfront to fully understand its capabilities, such as real-time reporting and analytics, SSP analysis, and contract modifications.
Data is the biggest challenge. We frequently observe that upstream systems inadequately capture the data required for the revenue accounting process and often will inconsistently use the data that is captured upstream. This leads to manual interventions by the revenue accountants to collect, validate and correct the upstream data in order to accurately perform revenue accounting. The lack of systems expertise for the contract-to-revenue process is a frequent obstacle in improving data quality and automating the revenue accounting process.
Executive Director, Ernst & Young LLP
Seventy-nine (79%) percent of respondents say that they need a higher level of automation. On average, respondents estimate that their team wastes more than half (53%) of their time on manual repetitive tasks. Almost three quarters (74%) of respondents report that manual interventions are required on a daily basis to process transactions.
This can be a result of limited options to automate or systems to implement as well as a lack of resources to focus on these initiatives. While many revenue accountants use Enterprise Resource Planning platforms (ERPs), the majority of respondents (60%) shared that their ERP’s revenue recognition capabilities do not fully support their business requirements, even with customization.
An even greater percentage—65% of accounting leaders—say that ERP revenue modules were more expensive than anticipated when factoring in customizations and ongoing maintenance.
As a result, many revenue accounting teams continue to use spreadsheets to augment missing functionality. More than three quarters (79%) report that their team relies on a combination of spreadsheets and ERP revenue modules. At the same time, since 76% report being under pressure from leadership to optimize costs and improve efficiencies, there could be an opportunity for teams to educate leadership on the benefits of automation.
The data helps elucidate why more and more companies have shifted away from managing revenue recognition within an ERP. Instead, they turn to specialized point solutions that can operate as a revenue subledger and feed data directly to the ERP general ledger. The advantage of these point solutions is their native capability to provide features that are critical to the revenue accounting process, such as SSP analysis, contract modification and revenue analytics, without expensive or complex customizations
I see this pattern quite often in the industry – a ton of automation in the CRM space but hardly any in the back office specifically in Revenue Management. Accountants are spending significant time on manual, repetitive tasks. This is not only inefficient, but it also opens up the door to errors, especially if the company is still doing revenue calculations on Excel. Revenue automation can help to streamline processes, improve accuracy, and free up revenue teams to focus on more strategic work.
Senior Manager, Deloitte & Touche LLP
Within the last year, multiple data points have shown that accountants are increasingly moving on to other professions. Revenue accounting’s reputation for poor work-life balance and a perceived lack of purpose are contributing factors, among others.
Revenue accounting is no exception. It is no surprise that 59% of respondents report their revenue team members feel unfulfilled at work, while 65% report working past midnight at least once in the last year.
Manual processes, repetitive work, and lengthy close processes all reduce revenue teams’ abilities to focus on strategy, analytics, and business partnering, resulting in frustration, exhaustion, and a lack of purpose.
It should come as no surprise that revenue accountants are anxious about the numbers being accurate—and this worry has long-term effects. Our survey found that a staggering 63% of respondents report poor revenue processes affect their mental health, while 19% report having nightmares about revenue data or processes.
If employee work-life balance and mental health are not top of mind for accounting and finance executives, they should be. Technology can help to automate manual tasks and create time for more strategic work. Optimizing the revenue process can result in increased employee satisfaction and allow teams to be more impactful and influential partners to the business.
The dreaded month end close which every Office of the Close team loves to hate; As someone who has seen firsthand the rigors of closing the books with manual and lengthy close cycle processes, I urge businesses to take a close look at their revenue accounting processes and consider how automation can help to improve them. By doing so, businesses can not only improve the efficiency and accuracy of their revenue reporting, but they can also help to reduce costs, improve compliance, and help to create a more fulfilling and rewarding work environment for their revenue team.
Senior Manager, Deloitte & Touche LLP
The data shows that companies are facing increased scrutiny from auditors and rising audit costs. More than three quarters (76%) of respondents report that scrutiny from auditors has increased in the past three years and 78% report that the rise in audit costs is directly related to the audit of revenue.
At the same time, a whopping 65% of leaders report concerns about the risk of misstatement because of existing manual processes and control risks. Growing business complexity, coupled with lack of automated internal controls, are likely contributing to this.
As stated previously, instead of automated systems, revenue accountants are often stuck with manual processes and spreadsheets. As a result, accountants are required to provide numerous documents and spreadsheets to auditors, who must then verify calculations to support their work.
Additionally, the effects of a lack of process automation (particularly, human error) can increase a company’s risk profile, an auditor’s workload, and time spent by internal employees supporting the audit. The increase in risk and time to validate can also create incremental costs for overtime and overall growth of auditor fees.
To effectively validate the numbers generated by high risk manual processes, companies are going through frequent audits: 94% of respondents say they go through process audits at least once a year.
As a business grows, revenue process complexity tends to grow as well. Nearly half (47%) of respondents are frequently asked to support growing complexity and manual interventions into transaction processing and reporting without additional headcount.
In lieu of increasing headcount, it is imperative to include automation within revenue accounting processes and controls that can help mitigate risk and reduce overall company costs as the business grows.
According to Gartner, automating at least 25% of internal controls decreases audit fees by 27%. Revenue automation enhances a company’s risk profile, allows it to conduct system audits, and saves time for internal revenue teams, allowing them to focus on analytics and business partnering while reducing audit costs. With automation also comes the enhanced security of access controls, which are essentially non-existent with manual spreadsheets.
With the current state of revenue accounting, leaders acknowledge the need for more resources: 79% of respondents agree that they need a higher level of automation, and 78% expect an increase in headcount in the next 12 months due to the complex and/or manual interventions required for reporting.
At the same time, executives aren’t yet fully on board with automation—67% of respondents say they struggle to get buy-in from leadership in order to implement revenue automation.
Given the many hats CFOs and other finance executives must wear, it’s not surprising that they might not always have full visibility into the nuances of the revenue process. Bringing leadership up to speed on the current process, risks, and the implications for supporting new go-to-market models, products, and pricing, can help make the business case for automation.
Educating finance executives on the benefits of end-to-end revenue automation and the cost of inaction can help revenue leaders make the case for automation. Leveraging advisory firms and technology vendors can also help revenue leaders create compelling, data-driven business cases for automation that can then be used as tools for gaining executive buy-in.
It seems paradoxical that the most important line on the income statement does not get enough attention from finance and accounting executives when it comes to automation and process improvement. While resources are spent to streamline and optimize other business processes, revenue accounting is still largely performed with manual labor and spreadsheets.
Executive Director, Ernst & Young LLP