Outdated financial processes are hindering the growth of too many British companies. So says Anita Marsh, SAP Concur’s VP of marketing to small, medium- and national-sized businesses in international markets
If your firm is one of the 96 per cent of British businesses with growth plans, you’re probably considering whether all your current systems will work effectively in an expanded organisation. When it comes to reviewing your accounts payable (AP) process, you may find SAP Concur’s latest assessment tool useful.
Featuring a five-minute questionnaire, it guides you through the three phases of the process – the receipt of invoices, the approval cycle and payment optimisation – and helps you to spot any weak points.
Manual processing challenges
If you use a paper-based AP process, you are probably aware that your company will outgrow it sooner or later. A survey of 500 finance leaders by Vanson Bourne for SAP Concur last year found that their teams typically spent 60 per cent of their working day on tasks such as inputting invoices, checking for errors and chasing approvals.
If you’re not sure how well your firm’s finance team will cope when the business expands, you aren’t alone: the same poll found that 41 per cent of respondents were worried that the limited productivity of their teams could be a barrier to growth in the short term.
The average five-person finance team can save 40 hours a week on manual processes by adopting an automated AP system for managing invoices. Such tech enables accountants to focus on more valuable work and it can continue to support the business as it grows.
When we commissioned AMI-Partners to survey financial decision-makers in 420 SMEs last year, it found that the average annual cost saving achieved by firms adopting Concur Invoice to automate manual processes was nearly £29,000.
A survey of 150 SME decision-makers that we conducted with Oxford Economics this year indicates that a cost-conscious approach to business, with a clear view of spending across the venture and a close eye on cash flow, supports successful growth.
Yet the fact that paper-based AP processes aren’t as visible as they could be creates problems. When you can’t see your outstanding liabilities in one place, for instance, it’s hard to predict cash-flow requirements.
Then there’s the risk of fraud: checks may not be as thorough as you might like, especially when time is tight. It’s hardly surprising that Vanson Bourne found that two-thirds of finance leaders weren’t fully confident that their firms were protected.
Another weakness associated with the paper-based AP process is that everything takes longer than it needs to. It often means there’s a race against time to pay an invoice by the due date.
Indeed, more than 80 per cent of finance leaders admitted to Vanson Bourne that they had paid suppliers late at least some of the time. This often results in difficult conversations with suppliers chasing late payments, putting a strain on commercial relationships.
Furthermore, it means that you can’t negotiate, or take advantage of, early-payment discounts. Improving control of cash flow is crucial for a growing business, but you can’t optimise payment dates if you’re always up against deadlines.
Tips for modernising your AP process
Use our online assessment tool to find out whether your AP process is hindering the growth of your business. As well as receiving feedback on your questionnaire responses, you’ll also gain access to:
– Best-practice “cheat sheets” for the three phases of the process.
– A guide to building your invoice policy.
– Research comparing the cost and value of manual and automated AP processes.
– A guide to help buyers evaluate the AP systems on the market.