These Finance Teams Built Better Accounting Practices in the Year of a Pandemic Shutdown
March 11, 2021
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
There was a 72% surge in the use of fintech apps shortly after the pandemic hit last year, and finance professionals were amongst the top three job functions that went fully remote. Many businesses struggled to perform critical tasks such as paying vendors from home. They looked for technology to replace traditional processes such as paper invoices, spreadsheets, and checks.
Despite the sudden shift in the work routine, these savvy finance teams are getting ahead of the curve in their accounts payable (AP) management by using automation. From managing risks such as errors and duplicate payments, to reducing the cost of labor-intensive manual processes, these teams have set themselves up for success in the future. Let’s take a look.
No room for errors
In the wake of the global pandemic, businesses are facing many new challenges. Accounting teams have felt the pinch more than others with 51% saying that detecting and preventing risks during COVID-19 was slightly more challenging.
“Now if a manager asks why we purchased something, we have the backup – Beanworks shows us who approved an invoice – that’s the beauty of it.” – Bernadette Mukuka Ceant, AR/AP Manager
Frenchman’s Creek Beach & Country Club in Florida was processing up to 5,000 invoices per month, with each one taking an average of five minutes using manual coding. “We really had to look for mistakes. It just wasn’t working out,” says Bernadette Mukuka Ceant, AR/AP Manager. It was too easy to enter an invoice into the system twice when working on paper or coding data manually. Ceant says she really had “to make sure that we weren’t putting duplicate invoices in the system,” – a challenge that had frequently come up in the past.
The club wanted to improve visibility over its AP process and increase controls to prevent these mistakes from reoccurring.
By using Beanworks AP automation, Frenchman’s Creek has significantly reduced the possibility of errors going unnoticed. “Beanworks automatically catches the duplicates,” Ceant says. Invoices can quickly be traced thanks to Beanworks’ digital audit trails. When a vendor calls to follow up on a transaction, Frenchman’s Creek can simply enter the vendor number in the system and determine if the payment has been made.
To improve controls around spend, they’ve also customized their approval channels, for example, all invoices above USD $5,000 are routed to a senior approver. “We are transparent. Now, if a manager asks why we purchased something, we always have the backup – Beanworks shows us who approved an invoice and when – that’s the beauty of it,” Ceant sums up.
Businesses that cut costs the deepest during a recession, don’t usually rebound well. In fact, a study by Harvard Business Review found that 37% of companies that deployed an “offensive investment” approach outperformed in a post-crisis economy. This pattern of a tech-based offensive strategy is becoming more apparent in the COVID-19 crisis. And companies like Athabasca Catering are shifting gears fast.
“Reconciling expenses now takes 30 seconds.” – Robert Cremers, Director of Finance and Administration
“Before, everything was on paper: all our invoices, and our check stubs and payment advice [slips] were stored in filing cabinets,” explains Robert Cremers, Director of Finance and Administration. Moving to AP automation software has reduced Athabasca’s spend on paper by about 75%. It has also cut costs on printing and copying from CAD $400 per month to CAD $100 per quarter. Storage costs will eventually be reduced too.
The other big change was their expense management. Athabasca caters to over 400 people per day – and this was not work that could be done from home. It made their paper-based expenses process even more complicated than before. With limited access to the office and part of the admin staff working from home, submitting expense claims became “very challenging.” Cremers says, “When we found the Beanworks expenses module, we just said, aha, there’s a way to solve that problem.” Now, he can approve expenses through the Beanworks mobile app or the web browser. Staff can take pictures of their receipts and upload reports through the app. “Reconciling expenses now takes 30 seconds,” says Cremers.
Winning the work-from-anywhere culture
As remote work segues from an emergency measure to a more “desirable” new normal, companies are making big changes fast. A survey of remote workers found that over half of employees want to work remotely three days a week or more. For finance teams, this means ensuring secure access to data from anywhere. Thankfully, for Vancouver’s beloved landmark, Science World, their AP process complements the needs of both in-office and at-home models of work.
“It’s very rare that an electronic payment gets lost. With checks, there’s always the risk of them getting lost in the mail or delayed during a crisis like COVID-19.” – Douglas Chow, Finance Supervisor
“The pandemic is forcing everyone to change their business model. Every single vendor is asking for electronic payments,” says Douglas Chow, Finance Supervisor at Science World. Before automation, Science World’s AP was managed entirely on paper. “Our CFO was always surrounded by a growing stack of invoices and checks to approve – more than 250 every week.” Now working from home, Chow can just type in the invoice number, or vendor name and track all data within Beanworks.
“The biggest benefit is the ease of finding invoices,” Chow says. He can pay vendors directly through Beanworks in their preferred method of payment such as EFT/ACH. “With Beanworks, making these payments is much easier. “It’s very rare that an electronic payment gets lost. With checks, there’s always the risk of them getting lost in the mail or delayed during a crisis like COVID-19.”
Hitting the fast lane in accounting
It took a pandemic to shift remote work from an abstract idea to a common practice, but more companies are hitting refresh fast to stay relevant in this extraordinary time. For accountants, the switch to automation has welcomed more time for quality work, leaving all the heavy lifting to the cloud.
See how your company can solve the top AP challenges in managing POs, invoices, payments and expenses
Why AP Teams Will Continue Working From Home in 2021 – And That’s Okay
At the start of the pandemic, 88% of businesses worldwide made their employees work from home and many are still there. Accountants are unlikely to head back to the office. It is a challenge to process paper invoices and check payments when your team is at home.
Accountants Are Returning “Back to Normal” And That’s a Problem
A survey conducted with 250+ CFOs during COVID-19 found that seven in ten accounting teams were spending 520 hours per year on manual accounts payable.
Top 5 Key Performance Indicators for Accounts Payable Departments
It can take up to 25 days for invoices to be approved. However, organizations with more mature AP processes are able to shrink this time down to 3-5 days.
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