Automating accounts payable (AP) and payments is not high on the list of new IT ventures, but business growth can result in a paper glut.
The good news is that payments are now one of the easiest things to automate to help AP scale. Today’s cloud technology makes it much easier than most organizations imagine to manage a growing number of vendor payments, without growing the accounting and finance department.
Since AP is usually one of the last places for technology investment, most people are aware of the benefits of cloud solutions, but haven’t actually experienced them. It’s a big mind shift to go from thinking, “We have to go from Lawson 10 to Lawson 11 and it's going to take us four months to do it," to believing there’s a solution that you can implement in a few weeks and that is updated instantly without any effort on their part. But this is truly the case with cloud and SaaS solutions.
Integrating a payments solution can be accomplished within a few weeks without burdening IT, and it often pays for itself with the savings from making the whole process electronic and the increase of credit card rebates. This isn't just a scalability initiative. It’s also a cost-cutting initiative.
Many people aren’t aware of what technology companies are doing in B2B payments. Traditionally, AP has looked to their bank for help with payments because for a long time, banks had the only electronic options—ACH, credit card, and wire transfers for domestic and international payments.
The problem is that the only electronic part of these payment options is the movement of the funds. Preparing the files to transmit payment through the bank’s pipes and then reconciling and following up failed payments on the back end is all manual. So is most of the effort to enable vendors for electronic payment and keep their information up to date. Really you’re just shifting processes, not improving them, and that’s not scalable.
Blind loyalty to business banking relationships is starting to erode as cloud-based fintechs introduce new technology and service offerings to this market. These companies use existing, regulated bank pipes to move funds, but they also offer a single, streamlined workflow for all payments—even international—on the front end, and full visibility into payment status on the back end. That helps AP cut down on time spent answering calls and emails looking for payment status updates.
Fintechs are also using technology and people to provide all of the payment support services that can eat up so much AP time in a growing company. Bank payment programs are no longer the only way, or even the best way, to do electronic payments.
CFOs today are charged not only with scaling the business, but with making their organizations more strategic. They are savvier with respect to technology that will help them free up staff time to do high-value work that supports rapid growth, instead of mundane and monotonous tasks.
If you’re looking to grow, any place where you’re doing a process over and over in the same slow, antiquated way, there’s an opportunity to use technology as an accelerator. Payments fit that bill. AP can do more with the same headcount, cut paper processing costs, increase rebates, and free up brain power to work on more strategic things like cash forecasting or invoice discount programs. Cloud payment technology can take the payables process from painful to painless in a very short time frame, making it a no-brainer for any company looking to scale.