It seems like there’s a built-in habit among accounts payable teams to plug away with current processes and tools, no matter how cumbersome they might be. It’s admirable, given that often neither the processes nor the technology in place is up to snuff, but with every passing year and every set of new AP challenges, doing things the way they’ve always been done becomes less feasible.

This is an open secret, one every AP team should be thinking about and discussing. Recently, Bottomline worked with a third party to objectively survey current Paymode-X customers to get their sense of the AP landscape. We wanted AP professionals to share the challenges they face and the benefits they realized from AP automation, specifically with Paymode-X.  Along the way, we found that appreciation for automating the way out of a slow and fraud-prone past is increasing, no doubt spurred by the extra strain COVID-19 has put on businesses.

Let’s start with the reasons that make AP professionals want to digitize payments and processes in the first place.

The challenges

When we speak to businesses about their current accounts payable processes, they often describe processes that would have been more at home in the 1970s than today. Indeed, 59% of those we surveyed said an overreliance on paper checks was a top challenge and 50% told us “manual processes which were slow, costly and error-prone” was a consistent trouble spot. Further, 38% of respondents indicated they were overwhelmed by the volume of processing and 35% weren’t realizing enough rebates to offset their costs meaningfully. Finally, 23% have about as much visibility into their accounts payable as you or I might get looking through a ceramic bowl.

If any of this sounds familiar—certainly if all of it sounds familiar—that’s because it should be. These challenges have persisted for years, with the only thing changing is how urgent each obstacle is at a given moment.

The benefits

Similarly, the benefits of AP automation are probably not surprising, but the survey results reinforced them. Our customers told us by using Paymode-X to digitize and streamline their accounts payable processes and payments, they were able to realize tangible improvements.

Here’s a sampling of what customers experienced:

  • 90% saw improvements to straight-through processing
  • 8 out of 10 benefited from a 50% or more uptick in rebates from AP spend
  • 80% realized an increase in visibility, access to data and quality of reporting

We also received feedback that rolling out our accounts payable automation solution made it “seamless for AP to work remotely,” and that while “2020 was challenging,” the fact that “everything is electronic” made a massive difference. Business continuity didn’t top the list of concerns among the AP professionals we surveyed, but it’s clear they’re thinking about it.

These results apply specifically to Bottomline’s Paymode-X solution, but the larger benefits that come from accounts payable automation tend to track to efficiency, cost and time savings and security, as you’d expect. That’s particularly true for industries overwhelmed by the scale and sprawl of their AP function, like real estate. Accounts payable automation has been an outsized need for a long time. That need has only grown, regardless of the industry you’re in, as remote work and security concerns have only increased, yet at times it still seems like a tough sell owing to the perceived costs and challenges of adoption.

If every AP team recognizes the need to digitize and streamline, the only question left to ask is how long they’ll stick with legacy processes in the face of such evident drawbacks and easily attainable benefits. For their sake, I’ll hope the next time we survey our customers and they tell us their top challenges, they’re not the same things that have been plaguing finance professionals for decades.

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Posted by Paul McMeekin