For the longest time, conversation around the future of accounts payable has revolved around paper. But paper checks and paper invoices limit the automation you can achieve, so it makes sense that the conversation is rightly moving away from paper and to new frontiers of efficiency.

What AP teams are looking for in 2021 is simplification. They’ve advanced past check payments, adopting ACH, card, wires, and B2C, and are making formerly manual processes digital and efficient. But with diversified payments comes spiraling complexity, as organizations are now dealing with files and processes that look and act differently within their accounts payable systems. Managing those payments, potentially out of disparate systems and with different downstream reconciliation issues, creates a new set of complications for teams who may have just celebrated putting paper in the waste bin.

So how do you get past these post-paper challenges and effectively manage different payment types and processes?  

The solution is simple and one of the core challenges my team strives to solve: a managed payment program that allows you to drive the car while a partner presses down the accelerator on your automation efforts. If you find the right partner, you’ll have someone who can smooth out your invoice receipt and routing, the application of card payments and even managed check payments, and straight through reconciliation. That frees you to focus on the big picture problems of running the business.

That’s important because those challenges have become more daunting. Distributed work environments have done more than just make the simple act of receiving invoices and paying vendors more complex, though it has done that. It has also created openings for fraudsters who have grown bolder and more sophisticated in the past year, ones who are targeting accounts payable directly. Even beyond that, AP teams are being asked to drive or participate in larger organization-wide activities, particularly when mergers and acquisitions come into play.

In that environment, the focus should be on allowing AP to level up and focus on organizational priorities. That may include being more involved in fraud prevention efforts, professional growth, focusing on working capital optimization, or having the time to identify growth opportunities for the broader business. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds of AP processes, ERP systems, APIs, and the minutiae of getting payments out the door. Our goal—and the goal anyone who is offering to automate and secure your accounts payable should have—is getting you back to the business of doing business and doing so successfully.

In the big picture, organizations need to move beyond simply solving for antiquated paper payments and processes and thinking about:

  • Improving liquidity by fully automating the receipt, capture and secure approval of invoices — which creates the opportunity to capture early payment discount and free up members of your team who previously had to tackle data entry
  • Offloading supplier enrollment and enablement — removing the security risk of handling sensitive financial information and providing your vendors with a smoother experience and more remittance options than you can offer in-house
  • Integrating all payment types into a single system and file type — and getting a particularly persistent source of complexity out of your AP processes
  • What your team can do if they’re freed up to think strategically about your business’s future, rather than a lost check or tomorrow’s call to a frustrated supplier

The bottom line: a strategic relationship with the right AP automation partner should focus on more than just clearing away mounds of paper. The one you choose should make it possible for you to achieve the next level of automation and efficiency; focusing only on the things that matter and leaving the tedium in the past.

Now that’s a change worth pursuing.  

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Posted by Justin Corum

Justin Corum, Senior Director, Partnerships at Bottomline. A self-professed payments nerd, he loves nothing more than chat about payments with anyone willing to engage. Prior to joining the Paymode-X team at Bottomline, he was Vice President of Business Development at Billtrust and spent just over a decade at the wholly-owned subsidiary of U.S. Bank, Elavon, as Vice President of Global Payment Facilitator prior to that.