The Ultimate guide to Purchasing Finance Software
SaaS has changed how finance teams operate. CFOs and the people that work for them are able to get their work done in much more efficient ways than in the past – everything from payroll and expense management to insurance and accounting platforms have been transformed by technology. The typical modern organization now spends around 12% of its total cost base on software, meaning that for all the benefits of SaaS, it also comes with a high price tag.
Global SaaS spend is expected to reach $208 billion in 2023, marking an 18% growth over 2022 ($177b). This isn’t just spent on a small handful of vendors either. Vertice’s database of software suppliers is now comprised of over 25,000 SaaS companies offering solutions to businesses — over a thousand of which are dedicated to supporting finance organizations. SaaS adoption has ballooned so much that the average business of 1,000 employees now maintains around 177 active software subscriptions across all departments.
As the SaaS stack proliferates, it has become frustratingly hard work for finance leaders to manage this important and sprawling expansion in tooling. How can CFOs, controllers, accounting professionals and other senior financial executives ensure that they have a market advantage when it comes to SaaS, and that their organizations are lean, effective operational machines?
This research paper features a comprehensive analysis of 50 of the most popular SaaS products present in finance teams today, such as Netsuite, Expensify, Sage, Ironclad and Carta. It also compares trends among finance tools with other sectors and provides guidance for purchasing strategies. Vertice’s aim is to help organizations reduce their SaaS spend and take control of their tech stack.
In short, finance leaders buy SaaS more efficiently and with better terms than their counterparts in other departments, but these negotiation tactics do not result in a lower final purchase price. Many, if not most, businesses are overpaying when it comes to SaaS — and finance teams are no different.
Modern CFOs have been able to leverage technology to optimize their work processes and make more informed decisions. The widespread adoption of cloud-based software solutions has made it easier for finance leaders to access their data from anywhere, at any time.
There are too many benefits of SaaS to document them all elegantly, but the work of a finance professional in 2023 is radically different when compared with previous eras. Access to data and analytics tools makes planning, forecasting, reporting and risk management significantly easier. It has also helped with collaboration efforts among team members, improving the ability to digest and distribute work within the business.
Collectively, SaaS platforms have enabled the modern CFO to equip their team with an arsenal of financial management tools that save time and boost productivity, even for the more mundane corners of the department like budgeting or invoicing. SaaS has also offered increased flexibility and scalability, independent from IT in ways not possible in the past. Below is a quick overview of the core categories of SaaS that finance teams typically purchase, upon which the top 50 tools are drawn from in this report.
Finance SaaS Categories
Finance platforms included in this report
This research focuses on 50 vendors that provide functionality in areas across a wide range of financial SaaS subcategories. It is not, however, designed to be an exhaustive list of every product used by the modern CFO. Rather, it is a collection of some of the tools that are most frequently featured in a typical financial environment, representing the technologies most crucial to a finance leader’s strategy.
For this reason, crypto and blockchain software has been largely excluded from this research, as it represents a nebulous and nascent corner of most organization’s financial tech stack.
Usage of finance tools
Selecting, purchasing and implementing SaaS takes a significant amount of time and financial investment. Finance leaders and those working in operations, IT and security put a lot of energy in arming their teams with the right products to be successful.
The reality, however, is that the day-to-day can get in the way. In the world of SaaS, it is common for companies to pay for products that they do not use, such as subscriptions that have been neglected or abandoned.
Even if these unused licenses are disregarded, the problem remains significant. Research into usage behavior across hundreds of organizations, where usage is defined as a user accessing the platform within the last 30 days, indicates the severity of this issue.
On average, only 67% of SaaS licenses being paid for are actively being used by employees. This under-utilization represents an overspend of one third, a needless cost that will number in the millions at larger organizations.
The heartening news for finance leaders is that finance software is more likely to be efficiently used than in any other department, with the exception of HR. Tools such as Workday, Bob or ADP are essentially glued to the workers — without access, they might not be able to be paid or request holiday, meaning usage among these tools is expectedly high at 95% utilization. In sales, the number falls dramatically.
Fewer than half of sales tools are used regularly by the employees that the licenses are intended for, with just 48% of sales SaaS licenses purchased being utilized on average. For finance, it’s 84%, demonstrating that CFOs and other finance leaders are comparatively shrewd at estimating the number of licenses needed, as well as ensuring that those that are paid for are actually being used.
Choosing the best tooling for finance teams requires a great deal of research, meetings and comparison work. It might involve analyst expertise or using review sites like G2. Yet once the ideal product is selected and the investment is made, the ongoing process of managing, enhancing, and renewing a complete SaaS stack poses a challenge for many organizations.
Research into pricing data shows that B2B software is often sold at varying prices to different companies, resulting in a high degree of inequity in the actual prices paid by customers. This may be attributed to practical factors such as the size of a deal or the duration of a contract, or systemic factors such as the timing of a deal cycle for vendor sales teams (for example, approaching the end of an internal quarter).
In general, vendors employ a wide variety of battle-proven tactics to obtain the best possible selling price, while buyers almost always have fewer options and less bargaining power. Negotiating SaaS purchases can be challenging when streamlining a business, and the lack of knowledge about what other companies are paying can exacerbate the process. This means that transparency of pricing is a significant factor determining the final selling price.
What is pricing transparency?
In the simplest terms, transparent pricing refers to customers being able to view vendor list prices, as well as having some degree of insight into the prices that other customers are paying. Often, however, obtaining this information is surprisingly difficult. While many vendors provide a pricing page on their website, which can be helpful for negotiating and securing high-quality SaaS products at the best possible prices, a significant number conceal at least some of the pricing from prospective customers in a bid to maximize the selling price.
Vendors often use this pricing ambiguity to maximize the customer’s willingness to pay. In general only 45% of SaaS vendors publish their pricing, and the remainder keep the information hidden behind a sales call. This of course benefits the vendor much more than the customer. This is also seen with finance SaaS vendors, where around half (46%) obfuscate at least some of their pricing packages. .
This makes it much harder for potential customers to compare prices across different vendors, hampering the ability to make informed decisions on SaaS purchasing. This can be extremely frustrating for CFOs and SaaS buyers, with almost no insight into whether they are getting a good deal on the software or not, especially when no pricing data is available.
Finance teams are, on average, spending more on SaaS each year. In 2022, SaaS costs grew by around 14%, much faster than inflation. Even when excluding new purchases and additional licenses, SaaS costs rise quickly.
Analysis of over 10,000 SaaS contracts has shown that 74% of vendors have raised their list prices since 2019. Even the remaining 26% of vendors have reduced the average discount offered to customers, effectively increasing costs without touching list prices.
Several factors are driving these rising costs, such as vendors protecting their revenue by regularly raising prices to keep up with market forces. Vendors also use techniques such as offering new modules, bundling features, and upselling to expand their accounts.
Some vendors include automatic pricing increases in their contracts with customers, with a third (32.8%) of finance vendors having contractual language that supports pricing increases by default. Additionally, 85.5% of finance SaaS vendors use auto-renewal clauses in customer contracts — a number much lower than in other SaaS categories.
This data implies that finance buyers are more effective at negotiating terms with suppliers, looking to eliminate key clauses in contracts to limit the exposure to increased SaaS costs more frequently than buyers in other departments. For example, marketing and design leaders are much more likely to sign SaaS contracts that feature auto-renewal and auto-price increase terms than their peers in finance.
For more information on SaaS inflation and guidance on the different ways that your organization can combat growing costs, read our SaaS Inflation Index here.
As has been demonstrated in this research, and no doubt experienced directly by anyone working in technology, the difference between list prices and actual prices paid by customers can vary massively.
Organizations that have access to pricing insights can secure much more leverage in negotiation. A carefully prepared procurement team will typically take advantage of renewal cycles, head-to-heads, insider knowledge and market research to drive down the final price of the software that they purchase.
The reality for many CFOs, however, is that there are more pressing issues to work on than running a detailed program for dozens of different SaaS purchases – most companies now have a SaaS inventory of more than 100 products. Few have the time to go through this resource-intensive task for so many purchases.
Finance leaders will be dedicated to concerning themselves with the money coming in and flowing out, but completely disregarding the latter carries major consequences. SaaS now represents around 12% of total costs for the average modern business. Some are paying up to four or five times the price other companies pay per license for the exact same product. While very few buyers will pay the full list price for SaaS, many pay only a slightly lower amount. And some negotiate hard enough to pay only a tiny fraction of the official price.
*Due to sensitive pricing and discounting information, vendors have been anonymized. For vendor-specific insights, get in touch with us.
Analysis of the 50 top finance tools reveals that all vendors sell at an average rate lower than list price. The average price paid by customers of finance software is 22.2% lower than list price, in line with discounting in other SaaS categories, slightly less than sales (23.4%) and HR (22.4%), but more than DevOps (21.1%) and marketing (19.6%)
There are lots of different types of finance software, with some variance between subcategories. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) products are the most likely type of finance tool to be discounted (25.3%), followed by Fintech (24.3%) and payments software (23.5%). The least likely to offer reduced prices are expense management software (15.9%) and financial planning software (9.6%).
From extensive pricing data from the Vertice database, we have developed three distinct pricing ratings for each vendor:
Simplicity is rated on how easy and intuitive pricing is to understand. Parameters: Intuitive, low number of tiers, fixed for longer terms, minimal overages.
Transparency is rated on if pricing is published clearly and explicitly on vendor websites. Parameters: based directly on usage, no hidden add-ons, no additional fees, professional services and opaque set up fees.
Parity is rated on how consistent pricing is across similar customer profiles. Parameters: low pricing variability even across verticals, regions, currencies and company size. Standardized and low variance.
By making pricing unclear and difficult to understand, vendors often hold the most negotiation leverage. With a clearer understanding of a vendor’s pricing, you can gain back negotiation bandwidth and, most likely, secure a better deal.
The Vertice Pricing Clarity score aims to provide business leaders with insight into how a vendor compares with its peers in terms of pricing simplicity, transparency and parity. For each vendor, we’ve also analyzed average discounting — the aggregate price discount that customers pay compared with list pricing. Vendors with the best Clarity score are Paylocity, Papaya, AvidXchange, Applied Systems and Pleo.
Tool categorization is nuanced and complex, so the 50 products analyzed in this report have been grouped into three broad categories to better display the information.
• Expense Management & Reporting
• Procurement & Purchasing
• Payroll Management
• General Finance
• Investment & Finance Services
• Financial Planning
Click on any vendor to see how their pricing scores match up against their peers.
Managing spiraling SaaS costs can be a challenge, even when armed with the most comprehensive data. Finance, procurement, IT and departmental leaders all struggle to gain insights into the purchasing process.
To break it down into a simpler perspective, the amount of control a business has over any SaaS agreement depends on how much control it has over two key factors: time and leverage. Leverage can come from all kinds of places, such as pricing intelligence, awareness of a vendor’s sales cycles and overall business health, or insights into the competition.
Even just knowing what options are at your disposal with a particular vendor can help generate leverage. For example, around 89% of vendors alter their pricing based on the length of contract that a customer is willing to commit to. Being aware of the minutiae of each vendor’s pricing practices can go a long way at the negotiation table.
Negotiating contract terms with leverage
The goal is to create as much leverage as possible, and this often means taking a step back and thinking about the bigger picture. Finance teams need to take three key elements into consideration for a negotiation strategy to be effective.
Do you expect to switch tools in the foreseeable future? If you predict that you will likely need to switch tools as your business grows, it might be worth considering a contract with shorter terms so that you are not stuck paying for tools that will no longer serve your business in the long run.
Is the product scalable enough to meet future needs? Determine whether or not the vendor can scale its services to your specific needs as your business grows. If the product is scalable, choosing a multi-year contract will help maximize the overall discount.
How much do you value price certainty? It is almost inevitable that prices will increase in the future. If you want to lock in a discounted price for the duration of a multi-year contract, a long-term contract would be the best option.
Ultimately, the message for finance leaders is simple. To create an operationally efficient organization in a period of lean financial planning will require an intelligent, scrutinizing look at every corner of the business. With SaaS, it means not only running an effective process for managing the different tools and whether they are well utilized, but also securing better visibility into the nature of SaaS purchasing.
Getting accurate, industry-wide pricing data and the expertise to leverage it will be a fundamental differentiator between the organizations able to reduce their total software spend by $100,000s and those that can’t. CFOs have a responsibility to practice smart SaaS buying and establish this across the enterprise. Solutions like Vertice are designed to support finance leaders and typically save customers over 20% on their global SaaS spend.