When it comes to a manual payment solution, few accounts payable (AP) teams can complain about having nothing to do. Quite the opposite. A constant influx of invoices, purchase orders, receipts and other documents require their unwavering attention. Day in and day out, the AP pros have to make sure invoices are processed, reviewed, approved, and paid on time. The work is uninteresting and often unstimulating but even worse, the bigger the workload the slower - and more costly - the process.
Unfortunately, managing all this paper is still a big problem for far too many organizations. When Yooz surveyed 1,200 finance professionals in the US and seven other countries for the second edition of “The State of Automation in Finance” report, we found that they were well aware that shuffling paper creates unnecessary problems and costs.
The solution? Automation. Repetitive and high-volume workflow processes are exactly where a payment automation solution is a game-changer.
Neither Wrong Nor Late: AP Automation Makes No Mistakes
Consider the following: according to the in-depth survey, there were three main issues with a manual accounts payable process:
- It’s too time consuming (52%)
- It has led to errors in invoices in the past (38%)
- It has caused vendors or suppliers to receive their payment late (31%)
And that’s despite the fact that slightly more than half of all organizations surveyed say they have removed most manual processes, while another 19% claim to have gotten rid of at least half of their manual processes.
Automating the AP process from start to finish addresses all three of these issues. It's secure, it scales, and it is so fast, accurate, and reliable that a whole range of benefits accrue almost immediately.
Time consuming? AP Automation offers up to 80% lower processing costs with few exceptions and cycle times measured in hours.
This begins with the very first step of receiving the invoice. Once it arrives, multi-channel capture guarantees that invoices will be ingested the moment they come in, regardless of their format or delivery method. While an intelligent platform requires few tweaks to get started thanks to the robotic process automation (RPA) and machine-learning (ML) algorithms used to read and understand each document, software beats overworked humans at extracting all relevant information such as dates, amounts, SKUs, corresponding PO numbers, banking and tax details etc.
Errors in the invoice? Automation that uses three-way matching starts checking right away, catching errors and exceptions at speed without human intervention.
Unlike humans, software doesn't get tired or suffer from eyestrain. It operates at the same level, multitasking to identify and flag exceptions. The AP staff only need to step in when these exceptions require a review. In most cases, payment automation automatically routes invoices straight through for review and approval.
Vendors or suppliers receiving their payments late? Having a modern payment module is a crucial part of a smart end-to-end AP automation process.
Payments can only go out in time when the right person signs off on invoices without delay. A cloud-based solution makes sure of that, giving the AP team access from anywhere, anytime, even from a mobile device. With the right permissions for access, a quick keyword search or a more detailed deep dive into related documents is a matter of a few clicks.
When all lights are green, a modern payment module is the final step in a smart end-to-end AP automation process. It should be as easy as possible for a vendor to be onboarded: provide a single email address and pick the preferred payment method. Becoming part of such a business network reduces errors for both parties and provides suppliers with visibility into where their invoices and payments are. No more need to pick up the phone or send inquiries by email.
For the AP team, automating the payment process should be just as uncomplicated, starting with a single interface to get it all done, from managing purchasing orders to initiating an electronic funds transfer. Ideally, it should come down to selecting an invoice and the partial or full amount and then picking an automated or manual payment schedule.
Why You Should Avoid a Patchwork of Payment Automation Software
While having a single, complete payment automation solution may seem logical, some companies choose to only automate parts of the workflow process or poorly integrate different solutions. This creates an inefficient patchwork system which can results in more problems than benefits. Only when every step of the way is digitized and automated - from issuing a PO to initiating payment - will a business truly reap the benefits of a modern AP automation platform.
Part of the reason may lie with the hodgepodge of solutions that companies rely on. As the report found:
- 1 in 7 organizations use spreadsheets and manual processing
- A slightly smaller number of companies (14%) rely on either Electronic Document Management (EDM) or ERP workflows (14%), which are not designed for the specialized needs of AP automation
- Barely 1 in 5 organizations have deployed the best solution that covers automated invoice processing end to end, from capture to approval and payment
- Only a quarter of all organizations surveyed have adopted digital B2B payments.
In other words, even though plenty of companies have dipped their toes into AP and payment automation, they’re leaving money on the table by not implementing a holistic system that’s purpose-built to excel at one thing: streamlining their AP workflow process to ensure every vendor gets paid on time, every time.
Payback Time: The Many Benefits of Cloud-Based AP Automation
Recurring deliveries from trusted vendors are a case in point where straight-through processing is a big plus. It means zero human handholding while the platform captures, reviews, and approves the invoice and then schedules payment to occur in regular intervals.
Paying on time, every time can make the difference for staying in a vendor’s good graces. After all, having a timely cash flow definitely impacts their business! By being dependable and timely, incorporating automatic payments into the invoice process helps organizations build lasting relationships and can even be a tool to negotiate more advantageous terms. The end result is a boost in resilience against external shocks and a stronger competitive position.
In times of strained supply chains and depleted inventory, automating the payment process is an important insurance policy against unexpected disruptions. Not to mention three other opportunities:
- Capture every single early-payment discount,
- Ban late payment fees from your vocabulary and
- Create a new revenue stream through cash back from virtual credit cards.
Yes, by making timely payments you can actually create a new revenue stream!
Payment Automation Provides Security You Can Bank On
The ease of use when making timely B2B payments doesn’t mean you have to compromise on security. One in four finance leaders say that stronger cyber security practices are one of their top priorities for 2022. AP automation lets companies address this concern, with the system performing multiple checks throughout the process. From the moment an invoice comes in until payment goes out, the risk of erroneous or fraudulent payment slipping through goes down a significant amount. Considering the rise and variety of fraud after the pandemic, being able to speed up the process while reducing the chance of error is no small thing.
In addition, making the purchase-to-payment workflow scale securely pays off in multiple ways beyond data or financial loss. It creates more transparency and traceability of transactions, even when the team is working remotely. Since the system automatically records each step, it creates a digital audit trail that helps ensure that a company is legally compliant.
Finally, there’s another dimension to payment process automation that will only keep growing in importance. An intelligent AP system doesn’t only translate into better cost management and improved vendor dynamics. It also makes a key difference for attracting and retaining talent. Two-thirds of finance leaders we spoke with are concerned about hiring new talent and retaining existing staff in 2022.
Win the Talent War With AP Automation
Two-thirds of finance leaders we spoke with are concerned about hiring new talent and retaining existing staff in 2022. New hires will be drawn to a company that gives them the cutting-edge tools to be successful. Existing staff will be freed up from menial, repetitive tasks and instead able to to focus their energy and creativity in other directions such as solving tricky exceptions, working with vendors and communicating with other departments to optimize operations beyond cash management. In addition, seeing the benefits of AP automation helps companies become more open and accepting of other, future digitalization.
Time to Move
Thanks to cloud-based systems, payment process automation - now more than ever before - is accessible to businesses of any size with payment options and capabilities that can easily scale and be customized for specific needs. What does this mean? For those organizations who want to come out stronger, those that have multiple sites, growing businesses, hybrid teams or even almost no team? They need a cloud-based system that powers the entire workflow no matter what disruptions and surprises the economy has in store. Invoices need to move through the system and get paid, that’s the bottom line.