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Embrace disruption and reap the rewards

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We’ve all heard the word ‘disruption’ being bandied around in a business context, but how does it really impact businesses and as its urgency increases, how can they respond to it?

American Express recently explored this point with a major research study, capturing the views and practices of 250 CFOs from companies with revenues of between $2 million and $300 million. The research has been published in a white paper titled: “The Age of Disruption – CFOs as Champions of Change”, available for download at

Our research found CFOs subscribed to two distinct schools of thought when it came to disruption – those who believe it has a negative impact on business and those who welcome the opportunities it presents with open arms.

Forty-eight per cent of those surveyed believe disruption negatively impacts their business and a third of those CFOs (34%) admit they haven’t experienced business growth in the past three years.

On the other hand, companies experiencing the greatest success are those who have accepted disruption as part and parcel of operating in today’s world. Double digit growth is forecast for these businesses in the next 12 months.

DisruptionDisrupted Australia

Regardless of how you view disruption, it is wide-spread, reaching almost every sector in Australia. Sixty-seven per cent of CFOs confirm disruption is currently taking place in their business and 40 per cent admit they are more focused on managing disruption today, compared to a year ago.

The single biggest disruptor to business, according to their CFOs, is existing local competition (38%), indicating mid-sized companies are most concerned by what’s already on their doorsteps.

New market entrants from overseas (18%) are the second most disruptive factor, followed by existing international competition (11%). Surprisingly, only nine per cent of CFOs cite technology as the most disruptive factor.

Urgency breeds risk

With a greater focus on managing disruption, it’s perhaps not surprising that the research reveals company’s risk appetites have also increased year-on-year. Thirty-eight per cent of CFOs rate their company’s risk appetite as high – up six per cent compared to 2014. CFO’s own risk appetite also has increased.

Yet with greater risk taking, the chance of failure also rises. Almost half (46%) of CFOs admit their business is at risk of failure in the next three to five years.

Yet what’s clear from our research is that there are companies that are leading the disruptive charge. The most successful initiatives being undertaken by this group are the recruitment of staff with news skills sets (38%), reaching new customer segments (32%) and overseas expansion (26%).

Disruption creates opportunity

It’s certainly true that today businesses must grapple with disruption at never-before-seen levels of speed and intensity. To survive and thrive, businesses must now confront the reality of the age of disruption head on.. What’s clear from the research is that those that are embracing it are enjoying the greatest success. The onus is now on businesses to learn from others and take advantage of changing times, and to look at the market with fresh eyes and consider new opportunities.

American Express is certainly witnessing disruption in the payments sector with the rise of contactless and in particular mobile payments. Mobile and digital technology is creating enormous opportunities for us to create deeper and more meaningful connections with our customers and we certainly want to be at the forefront of this.

Earlier this year we announced a partnership with the fitness brand Jawbone in the US, which allows our members to make tap-and-pay payments with their wearable fitness devices.

In Australia, we recently formed a partnership with Stone and Chalk, a not-for-profit fintech hub to help accelerate the development of world-leading technology start-ups in the payments space.

For all companies it is imperative that a spirit of reinvention is part of their DNA. You have to constantly innovate and challenge the status quo; to accept disruption for what it truly is: an opportunity to exceed customer needs and make your business ready for the future.

About the author:

Christine Wakefield, Vice President of American Express Global Corporate Payments, Australia & New Zealand