Moving accounts payable from a cost center to a value-add

If you’re in Accounts Payable (AP) and you’re still relying on manual input, you know the struggle is real: manual processes reduce the business’s visibility into spend, as well as increasing the potential for error and driving up labor costs.

 

And you have undoubtedly heard the promises about the cloud: its cost-reducing magic, its seamless automation of repetitive work. You can’t read anything on the industry without hearing about the cloud, and about AP changing from a cost center to a value-added business function. We’re here to tell you that the hype is true.

 

Recently, we held a webinar for AP professionals, describing how technology is transforming AP. In small to mid-size businesses in particular, where resources can be hard to come by and the pace of growth is swift, AP technology can have significant impact. We were joined by four speakers from the AP world, who discussed how new technologies are helping AP teams across the country.

 

Accounts Payable Invoice webinar  625x356 Jim Ivers of Coffman Engineers (far left); Christine Williams of Sesame Communications (second from left); Jennifer Sullivan of Becker & Mayer (second from right)

 

One of the main points of discussion was how cloud computing can reduce manual processes to improve visibility, forecasting, and business decisions. During the webinar, Heritage Bank controller Darin Johnson discussed the savings Heritage realized when they moved to Concur for expense management. After merging with Whidbey Island Bank, Cowlitz Bank, Pierce Commercial Bank, Northwest Commercial Bank and Valley Bank, Heritage needed to combine its AP processes and make them all consistent.

 

Between the mergers and the separate manual processes from each bank, Heritage didn’t have the visibility into its incoming receivables to forecast its revenues for the next month. With so many acquisitions, its invoices tripled, but their manual system wasn’t up to the extra work.

 

Heritage added four AP professionals to its staff of two, and for several months, painstakingly merged its manual processes. “My staff tripled just to keep up with the basic bills. But because of the time it took to process those bills manually, we couldn’t keep up. We were 30 days out on most of those bills. We were just trying to keep our heads above water.”

 

Then Heritage moved to Concur, a cloud-based expense management solution. “It was amazing, what a difference Concur made,” Johnson says. Within 10 months, the bank was able to redeploy 4.5 of its staffers to more strategic analysis that would help improve the business. The remaining staff, freed from manual processes, could do more analysis of home foreclosures and problematic invoices, which led to better forecasting and business decisions. By using Concur, Heritage was able to make accurate revenue forecasts 45 days out.

 

“Technology is always changing,” Johnson says, “but in the accounting industry, AP hasn’t seen much change in the last 60 years. The trick is to embrace change and to nudge your employees to see the future as it could be.”

 

Jennifer Sullivan, Director of Finance and Operations at Becker & Mayer, also joined the webinar as a speaker. Becker & Mayer produces children’s books and toys—a business that sees significant peaks before the holidays. As much as 70 percent of the company’s business happens in the three months before the winter holidays.

 

Like Heritage, the company also had its share of manual AP processes. “It takes a lot of work to do data input, and when you have big seasonal peaks like we do and you’re relying on manual data entry, it becomes very difficult to scale,” Sullivan says. “The risks become exponentially greater, too. People start approving [expenses] without understanding what they’re approving. Big mistakes are most likely to occur when everybody’s feeling overwhelmed.”

 

Darin Johnson, Heritage Bank, and Jennifer Sullivan, Becker & Mayer Jennifer Sullivan of Becker & Mayer (left) and Darin Johnson of Heritage Bank (right)

 

Becker & Mayer moved to Concur, and they’ve never looked back. “Data is vital to our organization,” Sullivan says. “The ability to use that information, deliver reports on it and make decisions on it can lead to better customer service, more profitability, and better business decisions all around.”

For more information about Concur’s products and services, see https://www.concur.com

 

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