Those who embrace disruption succeed

Disruption is a phrase increasingly bandied around in business circles but what's the real impact of disruption to Australian business and how do they respond in the face of it? Well, the results are in: those who accept disruption are statistically more successful. And those who turn away are just treading water.

This is a topic American Express recently explored with a major research study, capturing the views and practices of 250 CFOs from companies with revenues of between $A2 million and $A300 million. The research has been published in a white paper entitled “The Age of Disruption – CFOs as Champions of Change".

"Companies experiencing the greatest success are those who have accepted disruption as part and parcel of operating in today's world."
Christine Wakefield, Vice President of American Express Global Corporate Payments, Australia & New Zealand

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 per cent) 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.

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Regardless of how you view disruption it is widespread and 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 focussed on managing disruption today compared with a year ago.

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

New market entrants from overseas (18 per cent) are the second most disruptive factor, followed by existing international competition (11 per cent). Surprisingly, only 9 per cent of CFOs cite technology as the most disruptive factor.

With a greater focus on managing disruption, it's perhaps not surprising 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 6 per cent compared with 2014. CFO's own risk appetite also has increased.

Yet with greater risk taking, the chance of failure also rises. Almost half (46 per cent) 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 there are companies leading the disruptive charge. The most successful initiatives being undertaken by this group are the recruitment of staff with news skills sets (38 per cent), reaching new customer segments (32 per cent) and overseas expansion (26 per cent).


It's certainly true that today businesses must grapple with disruption at never-before-seen levels of speed and intensity. CFOs must now confront the reality of the age of disruption head on in order for their companies to survive and thrive.

What's clear from the research is those embracing it are enjoying the greatest success. The onus is now on CFOs to learn from others and take advantage of changing times and to look at the market with fresh eyes and consider new opportunities.

My own company, 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 customers and the company wants to be at the forefront of this.

For example, earlier this year AMEX 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, the company 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 a spirit of reinvention is part of their DNA. You have to constantly innovate and challenge the status quo while accepting disruption for what it truly is: an opportunity to exceed customer needs and make your business ready for the future.

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

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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