Historically, the accounts payable workflow has involved paper processes. Invoices came in paper form via the mail, paper went from desk to desk for approval, paper checks and remittance were sent out to suppliers, and so on. But with the emergence of AP automation platforms , the AP workflow can be digitized, eliminating manual tasks and the associated forms of paper.
Despite these advancements, many accounts payable departments still rely on a combination of paper and technology. But it’s now possible to switch to a mostly or completely paperless accounts payable process. If you’re looking for ways to improve your AP process, going paperless and integrating an AP automation solution may be the answer. In this article, we cover the ins and outs of paperless accounts payable systems, including the benefits, and how to get there from here.
What is a Paperless Accounts Payable System?
On the surface, a paperless accounts payable system is just what it sounds like: a system in which all parts of the AP process are handled electronically without the need for paper or printed items in hard copy form.
But it’s important to note that going paperless requires the right technology to support the full invoice-to-process, including capturing and coding invoices, handling approvals, executing payments, and managing suppliers–all without needing to process paper, use a printer, or manually type in information from a document.
Being completely paperless also requires a certain amount of buy-in from suppliers, including agreeing to submit invoices electronically as well as accept electronic forms of payment. A good paperless system also proves its worth by leveraging automation and other tools to improve efficiency, reduce errors, and keep suppliers happier and in the loop.
The Benefits of Going Paperless in AP
While there is, of course, the obvious benefit that you are saving trees by not using paper, the real reasons for going paperless are the multitude of other benefits realized both from your improved efficiency and increased bottom line. These include the following:
Reduced Duplicate Payments:
Using a single electronic system to handle all of your AP processes means that duplicate invoices are automatically flagged, ensuring payments are only sent once. When the AP process is not electronic, it’s much easier for invoices to get paid twice–for example, If a vendor sends the original invoice by mail and then a follow-up via email. These errors can be costly to companies and can also strain supplier relationships.
Optimized for Hybrid and Remote Office Workspaces:
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid and remote work have become commonplace. In fact, 58% of companies noted that the pandemic was the catalyst for them to begin digitizing their back-offices.
AP departments that rely on paper processes will struggle with remote work if they have to physically receive and process paper invoices , as well as print and mail checks. Electronic AP processes, however, can be handled from anywhere. This is why the majority of companies who are looking to automate their financial functions say that AP is the highest priority to digitize.
Ability to Process more Payments with less Overhead:
By going digital and using automation, it becomes much easier to scale up and meet growing business demands. Processing more invoices and payments doesn’t require any additional overhead when done electronically. But processing more payments with paper-based processes requires more manpower, more paper, and more time. 64% of companies who have invested in automation can process more invoices with the same team. Companies need a solution in place that can scale and grow with the company.
Improved Vendor Relationships:
Electronic AP processes often happen faster and with better transparency. Vendors are often able to view where their invoices are in the process and exactly when and how they will receive payments. As a result, vendors are happier and the buyer-supplier business relationship is improved.
Increased Efficiency and Reduced Costs:
One of the biggest benefits of AP automation is the increase in workflow efficiency. When everything is electronic, there is no need for error-prone manual entry, payment approvals can happen automatically via email, and automated reminders are sent as needed. The entire end-to-end process of accounts payable becomes more streamlined.
The average cost of processing an invoice is $6.30. However, this cost is reduced to $1.45 when automation is in place. AP teams could also process two times as many invoices in the same time frame.
For organizations relying on paper checks or increased overhead to pay vendors, there are additional costs associated with these invoices. An automated payment process results in a more accurate and less expensive AP process.
How to Implement a Paperless AP Process
If you’re ready to implement a paperless accounts payable process at your organization, you can start by first assessing your current process, then reviewing what automation solutions are available.
Assess the Pain Points in your Current AP Process
By first understanding where you are, you can get a better idea of what’s possible and where you’d like to end up. Take some time to identify current pain points so that you can look for solutions that will address these.
Many of the biggest pain points revolve around manual processes, which are time consuming and error-prone, and the act of hunting down information. Vendors may call wanting updates, and you may or may not be able to answer their questions. Your department may be spending too much time hunting down approvals or tracking down physical copies of documents. Perhaps burnout from repetitive tasks is an issue. Look at your entire AP process and make a list of these issues.
Review Automation Platforms
Once you know exactly what problems you are hoping to solve in your current AP process, it’s time to review automation platforms. There are many to choose from, so make sure you take your time comparing features, prices, and service support.
As you make comparisons, ask yourself if the solution addresses your challenges, if it will grow with your organization, whether it is easy to use and learn, if it integrates with your ERP system, and so on.
Remove Manual Processes
Going paperless means reducing manual processes. This alone reduces errors, speeds up processing time, and helps eliminate fraud. The more processes that can be handled electronically and automated, the better. As a starting point, we recommend eliminating the following primary manual processes:
1. Data Entry:
Getting all data from an invoice into your accounting system and coded accurately is a huge task. Even small mistakes can lead to huge problems down the line. Automating invoice capture eliminates the time cost and errors. For example, MineralTree handles data entry by integrating directly with your ERP and syncing all automatically captured data over to your accounting system.
2. Invoice Approvals:
Collecting approvals can mean juggling a combination of emails and physically moving papers from one desk to another. But this makes tracking difficult and can be very cumbersome. By handling approvals electronically with automation, you eliminate these manual processes and the need for human intervention, as everything is automatically routed where it needs to go.
3. Invoice Payments:
Executing payment is one of the final steps in the AP process. Printing and mailing paper checks takes more time than sending an electronic payment and is far more expensive. If you automate payment execution instead, approved payments are scheduled and automatically sent out on the correct date, keeping vendors happy and opening the door for you to take advantage of early payment discounts as well as the greater savings and security from electronic payments.
Consider an End-to-End Automation Solution to Streamline your Entire AP Workflow
For many companies, the challenge is to automate the entire AP process. 77% of companies have some sort of automation in place. However, most companies do not even have half of their process automated.
An end-to-end solution is likely the most ideal because it allows for significant streamlining of the entire workflow. MineralTree’s end-to-end solution helps eliminate paper invoices in two ways. First, with a dedicated email box that triggers automated invoice capture, and second, by digitally routing captured invoices for approvals.
More paper is eliminated with our automated ePayments options. We also offer continuous supplier enrollment services to drive adoption on your behalf. A complete, end-to-end solution like MineralTree also creates a central digital repository of all invoices and data, which greatly simplifies audits and other records checks.
Case Studies: How Companies Implemented Automation for a Better AP Workflow
Many AP departments of all shapes and sizes have gone paperless with MineralTree to great success. The following are just a few examples:
Affinity Dental Management Handles Increase in Invoice through Automation
After rapid growth due to an aggressive acquisition strategy, Affinity Dental Management sought out MineralTree’s AP automation solutions to handle the significant increase in invoices it now had to process as a result. This not only reduced paper and improved efficiency, but it freed up their AP specialist to proactively communicate with vendors and focus on other higher-value work initiatives.
The Boston Celtics Reduces their Invoice Processing Time
The Boston Celtics struggled with their manual accounts payable processes during the season because the number of invoices would balloon. After a painless implementation of MineralTree’s AP automation solution, they significantly reduced their invoice processing time along with errors and have had a much-improved workflow ever since.
Complete Controller Reduces Risk and Gains More Insight into their AP Process
Software company Complete Controller struggled with risk exposure and lack of visibility in the previous AP processes. Implementing MineralTree eliminated redundant and tedious tasks, increasing efficiency and visibility, and reduced risk while enhancing security.
If you’re ready to start eliminating paper processes in your AP department, MineralTree has a host of solutions to help you out. Explore our accounts payable automation solutions today to learn more.