By Nasreen Quibria
Association for Financial Professionals
As the financial malady permeates the economy, corporate businesses are seeking ways to deal with the changing times. One strategy is to get back to basics. Finance executives are taking a closer look at core activities, namely leveraging the payment process - advancing receivables while moving to lean payables.
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A large source of pain in payments is reconciling incoming payments with open invoices. Companies often work with a patchwork of information technology (IT) systems with lackluster capabilities and manual, error-ridden procedures that bog down the accounts receivable process. Such inefficient processes can delay accurate customer account balance data and inhibit the resolution of underlying payment discrepancies.
Liquidity constraints, however, have focused corporate attention on working capital efficiencies, prompting businesses to re-evaluate their payment processes. Comp-anies are introducing technology to accelerate incoming cash flow.
One solution is the integration of the accounts receivables process to facilitate automatic matching of invoices and enable consistent exception processing of mixed payment methods. Implementing such technologies can further automate expensive and slow workflow models.
Another technology companies are turning to in accounts receivables is remote deposit capture (RDC). With most business-to-business payments continuing to be made by check, image exchange is gaining popularity. RDC, which allows business customers to transmit scanned checks for deposit to their bank accounts, can streamline check processing, reduce operational costs, enable scalability and, more importantly, expedite payments.
An increasing number of companies are also working with corporate customers to move accounts online. Electronic payment methods like direct debit (via automated clearing house) move funds more quickly from customers to corporate business bank accounts with lower cost.
Faced with heightened bill pressures, companies are closely scrutinizing the accounts payable process as well. Eliminating paper in this process can cut costs, increase productivity and reduce errors. However, in the face of a stagnant economy, set infrastructure costs and rising expenses, additional capital expenditure is not practical.
One strategy gaining traction is to focus on core competencies and outsource the payables process entirely. Maintaining paper documents tends to be inefficient and presents liability issues; an outsourced solution eliminates the need for costly software or hardware purchases and frees up existing staff and IT resources.
Some companies are seeking new ways to leverage existing or less expensive technology to stay competitive and improve operating margins. One such approach is e-invoicing. A major cost component of accounts payable is labor - handling paper and exceptions. More companies are encouraging suppliers to move from paper to electronic invoicing, which can improve dispute resolution and customer relationship management.
E-invoicing also offers financial visibility, reduces invoice cycle time, increases on-time payments and enhances cash flow management.
A more holistic approach is to streamline the entire procure-to-pay process. The straight-through processing of business payments allows accounts payable departments to send a single file to the bank or payment processor for least-cost payment routing via ACH, wire, card or check.
As accounts payable processing becomes more streamlined and accelerated, companies can also take advantage of early-pay discounts. Further, accounts payable can be leveraged as a potential revenue source incorporating automated payables and purchase card rebates, while enabling suppliers to enjoy the flexibility of speeding up cash flow through dynamic discounting.
The volatile economic conditions combined with a rapidly changing competitive landscape have many firms facing a challenging future. But businesses have opportunities to pursue immediate, high-impact initiatives that will help them survive - and even thrive in the turbulent period ahead.
Nasreen Quibria is the Director of Payments at the Association for Financial Professionals. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 301-907-2862. To learn about the solutions mentioned in this article and other measures companies are taking to succeed in the current business environment, attend the 2009 AFP Payments Forum - Achieving Economic Gains Through E-Payments. It will be held in New York from April 29 to May 1, 2009 (www.afponline.org/pub/pay/pay.html).
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