Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is now firmly established as a decision-making factor in the UK’s finance functions, according to research from American Express. This study reveals that nine in 10 (89%) financial leaders say ESG factors are important when it comes to business spending and investment decisions.  

The research, based on a survey of senior finance decision makers at larger UK businesses, found that finance functions have already put in place KPIs and metrics to measure business performance across various ESG pillars. These include ethics (70%), carbon reduction (69%), employee diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) (66%), supply chain equality and fairness (64%) and energy use, reduction or sourcing (63%).  

Topping the list of areas where KPIs on ESG are not currently in place but where finance leaders have plans to implement are: Customer DE&I (35%), community outreach (33%), giving and philanthropy (33%) and climate risk (32%). 

The survey also found that finance functions are helping lead the charge on environmental sustainability, a vital component of ESG activity, with more than a quarter (27%) saying that tackling sustainability is a pressing challenge for their business in 2023.  

While six in 10 (60%) finance leaders at these larger UK businesses say that business travel is important to the success of their business – underlined by the fact that almost half (46%) expect to spend more on business travel / T&E in 2023 – over three quarters (77%) acknowledge the need to balance business travel with greater focus on environmental sustainability

American Express general manager, UK commercial, Stacey Sterbenz, said: “Given the challenging operating environment, it’s encouraging to see UK finance functions, and the businesses they serve, embracing ESG principles when it comes to spend and investment decisions. It’s clear that finance teams in partnership with their colleagues across the business, are leading the charge to improve and manage their impact on the world they operate in.” 

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Optimistic mindset 

Drawn from an upcoming report from American Express that delves deeper into finance leaders’ main priorities and challenges, the research finds this group with a strong sense of optimism heading into 2023, despite the challenging external environment. 

Overall, 92% of senior finance decision makers from larger businesses are feeling confident about the prospects and performance of their business in the next six months; a similar number (88%) reported the same for the next 12 months. Furthermore, six in 10 (60%) anticipate that their business’ financial performance will be better this year, compared to 2022, with only around one in seven (14%) expecting their performance to suffer this year. 

The research found almost all the finance leaders surveyed are taking multiple steps to improve their competitiveness including reducing operating costs (38%), boosting sales and marketing activity (34%), increasing automation and technology adoption (30%) and renegotiating with suppliers (27%). Just one in 10 planned to scale back their business’ growth plans. 

Sterbenz added: “Our research found finance leaders in bullish mood and focused on a range of actions to improve business competitiveness. Significantly, the vast majority have no plans to scale back their growth ambitions. In this context, it’s imperative that finance teams have access to high quality data and insights to support agile decision-making and retain visibility and control over spend.”  Despite their optimism, it’s clear that finance leaders will remain focused on mitigating risk in 2023, with about eight in 10 (81%) saying that a more flexible and agile finance function is important for the year ahead, and 85% stating more accurate forecasting will be critical to success.