By Kim Lockett.
The pandemic has been difficult for everyone in different ways, and while the end is in sight, we are not there yet. But, as we approach a year and a half of work from home, we can look back with some perspective and maybe a bit of pride in how we have adapted and changed. During this time, many people and organizations have discovered that they are much more agile, creative and resilient than they previously imagined.
I can see this in the accounts payable organizations that I have worked with. The double challenge of figuring out how to get payments out in a different way and learning to work remotely has been daunting, but people have found ways to get the job done.
Perhaps more than any other function, AP was a strictly office job, mainly because of all the paper-based processes they had in place. Invoices arrive by mail. They must be opened and entered into the accounting systems. Some companies have machines and OCRs (Optical Character Recognition) to facilitate this process, but many always follow manual processes. Checks should be printed, wrapped in envelopes and put through a postage meter before being mailed. Security and controls are often paper-based as well – safes are kept for blank checks and sensitive information.
It seems incredible to think that a year and a half ago it was business as usual for the vast majority of organizations, and few of them intended to change. But they have changed.
A new way of thinking
No one had a durable remote work plan. They may have had a short-term disaster recovery plan – for one or two people to work off-site or to cover the absence of a key employee. But no one expected the entire AP team to be indefinitely out of the office.
The initial difficulty was being able to continue processing payments on time. People have brought home their laptops, but not all of their setup. They continued to send backbone teams to the office to handle paper-based processes. The idea was that we had to hang in there for a short time. We all know how it happened.
Towards the end of April 2020, we started to see people planning for the longer term. Businesses are setting up home offices and all the security and connectivity they need. They had to find new ways to communicate and collaborate. They had to figure out how to be productive at home, in many cases while juggling child care and homeschooling.
At the same time, they started switching providers for ACH payments for good. According to recent data from Nacha, the National Automated Clearinghouse, ACH B2B payments to suppliers jumped 11% in 2020. They had to find new processes and new ways to secure information. Both of these are heavy loads, which is a big part of why paper has persisted for so long.
It has been difficult to say the least, but I think the AP teams should be proud of how they have adjusted.
Where to go from here
Probably not back in the office – at least not five days a week. According to to a recent Upwork report, about one in four Americans will work remotely in 2021. By 2025, 36.2 million Americans are expected to work remotely, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that given the option, more than half of employees say they want to continue working from home even after the pandemic is over.
Employers feel comfortable with the idea and even find some perks, including access to a much larger talent pool and the ability to offer flexible working hours as a perk. This could help AP address the long-standing talent shortage.
The most significant opportunity, however, is to continue to think differently. I would be surprised if very many AP services decide to go back to the paper-based processes of the past. The main reason people stayed with them for so long was because they were âworkingâ. It’s hard to say that now. It’s also hard to say that accounts payable work can only be done in the office because we have been doing it out of the office for a year. The significant delay in processing payments that some people expected never materialized. AP had to find a better way, and they did.
They shouldn’t stop there. PA organizations should seize the moment to call on technological partners to automate the entire payment workflow, meet growth fraud and security risks associated with ACH payments and ensure the resiliency of payment workflows in a remote working world. They should look to automate the ingestion and processing of invoices and integrate with other transactional systems, eliminating manual labor once and for all.
No one likes to be forced to change, and that is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the experience we have all had in the past year. Now that AP teams have proven that they have the resilience and ability to manage any changes imposed on them, they should seize the opportunity to become drivers of change and key players in leading their organizations towards success. to come up.
Kim Lockett is Vice President of Customer Success and Services for Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company. She has over 30 years of experience in the payments industry, with a strong focus on back office operations and customer engagement. Prior to Nvoicepay, Kim held operations management and leadership roles at Comdata, Crestmark Bank and Regions Bank.