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THE OUTPERFORMER’S APPROACH TO FINANCIAL PROCESS AUTOMATION

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By Michelle Trapani, Director of Product Marketing at Kofax

 

Achieving more with less is the mantra of our times. C-suite leaders demand greater efficiency. CFOs are looking to reduce costs. Customers and employees expect stellar experiences. The ability to outperform these expectations hinges on your financial operations, a vital area impacting every facet of your business.

For instance, if vital master data is incorrect, it’ll have a negative impact on service level quality, as well as the reputations of the finance and purchasing departments. Without accurate and timely visibility into processes, transparency is reduced, and it’s more difficult and time-consuming to manage compliance. The combination makes it harder to please executives, CFOs, customers, and vendors.

That’s why financial process automation is the key to operational efficiency and the overall success of your business. Even small- and medium-sized businesses are investing in process automation to optimise the financial processes within enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, such as SAP.

For many, accounts payable is the first financial process to be automated. Like many other financial areas, Accounts Payable (AP) is mired in paper and consumed by highly manual tasks. For these reasons, once AP is automated, the benefits become quickly apparent, leading firms to immediately consider which other financial processes they can optimise. However, outperformers know the approach that yields the greatest return is automation of the entire purchase-to-pay process chain.

Why? Let’s consider what benefits can be gained from automating document-driven and transactional processes tied to an SAP ERP system – in AP and beyond.

 

Why a high-level of automation is an advantage

We don’t have to look far to see how end-to-end automation eliminates labour-intensive work, reduces costs, and increases process efficiency. Organisations with high levels of automation provide indisputable proof of the advantages of the outperformers’ approach.

According to research by Shared Services Link and Kofax, just 12 percent of organisations with high levels of automation manually process their invoices compared to 74 percent of those with low levels of automation. In addition, only 41 percent of highly automated companies experience problems with purchase orders, 24 percent have poor visibility into spend, and 8 percent fail to capture early payment discounts. By comparison, those with low-level automation report these same problems significantly more often: 68 percent, 23 percent, and 24 percent, respectively.

In an age when process automation has become table stakes, there are clear advantages for organisations that optimise processes across the business. “Best-in-class” firms – those with high levels of automation – don’t only become more competitive, they save time and resources as well.

Comparing “best-in-class” organisations to others illustrates the sharp differences. According to Ardent Partners, a “best-in-class” organisation processes 57.1 percent of all invoices “straight-through,” in just 3.9 days at an all-inclusive cost of $2.87 per invoice. By contrast, the gap with other organisations – those with low levels of automation – is wide: Only 16.1 percent of invoices are processed straight-through, and a single invoice takes 17.1 days to close and costs $15.38. Further, “best-in-class” organisations experience 81 percent lower invoice processing costs and 77 percent faster invoice processing cycle times.

 

Why ERP optimisation?

Another reason to follow the outperformers’ approach is to increase the return on investment of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. Many organisations haven’t fully leveraged their investments in ERP software, like SAP, giving them plenty of hidden opportunities to exploit.

“ERPs are not optimised for all the complex activities occurring today, such as matching printed or electronic invoices with supplier master data, purchase orders, shipping, tax and discount data,” says consultancy The Hackett Group. “Since it can be cost-prohibitive to replace a legacy ERP, companies often augment them instead with document management systems.”

When processes are paper-driven and manual, financial teams struggle to meet the volume-based performance requirements set by their CFOs. Meeting the high bar for raw numbers of invoices and payments processed is exceedingly difficult without automation. Think back to the pain points listed above. Every time the process is interrupted because the PO number is wrong, there’s an invoice exception or an early pay discount is missed, the process slows appreciably – or breaks down entirely.

One option is to use a certified add-on solution providing a single software platform to automate a series of processes directly within the ERP system. For SAP users, this type of solution offers more than integration with the ERP system; it provides the exact same look and feel as any other SAP transaction. It can be presented inside of the SAP GUI, providing non-SAP users an intuitive interface, and offering a real-time view of workloads, pending tasks, document inflow, ongoing transactions, and up-to-the-moment validation against SAP data. Solutions like this are proven to help users become more cost efficient, improve control over financial processes and shorten total processing times.

 

How to dominate your financial process

As the examples above show, expanding process improvement from AP to the entire purchase-to-pay process chain allows you dominate your financial processes in SAP, realise maximum efficiency and take your current ROI to the next level. Whether you’re just starting your automation journey or want to expand past AP, a full-scale strategy for end-to-end financial process automation will enable you to begin working like tomorrow, today.

 

About the author

In her role as Director of Product Marketing, Michelle Trapani delivers market positioning, strategic narratives and go-to-market strategies driving awareness, preference, and growth – bringing an increased level of insight, leadership, and overall execution discipline to Kofax’s growing business. Michelle was most recently with Cinch Connectivity Solutions where she reduced product launch times from eight months to eight-12 weeks. Previously, Michelle was with Adobe, Equinix, IBM, Infogix, iPass, Macrovision and Vision Solutions. Michelle earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Illinois State University.

Finance

FAILING TO PREPARE, IS PREPARING TO FAIL – IS YOUR FINANCIAL DATA READY FOR AUDIT INSPECTION?

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Comments by Andrew Hayden, senior product marketing manager at Winshuttle

 

The looming prospect of an audit is enough to send a shiver down the spine of any CFO. With external regulators trawling through reems of transactions and statements, comparing internal and external records, reviewing accounting systems and processes, and evaluating data storage procedures, all to ensure that company information presented to the public and stakeholders is correct, and the risk of fraud is prevented.

 

Audit reform proposals announced by the UK government are set to bring more change to the audit industry after a series of scandals have reared their heads in recent years. Café chain, Patisserie Valerie, is just one stark reminder of the impact of inaccurate financial reports. Extensive misstatements of its accounts, manipulation of balance sheets, thousands of false entries in its ledgers and overstated profits and cashflow were just some of the accounting irregularities revealed, leading to a number of store closures and mass redundancies; not to mention a £20 million pound handout in order to survive.

 

According to The FT, these failures are a result of a long list of problems within the auditing process including confusion over auditing powers, regulators lacking necessary statutory powers and insufficient competition within the industry – 97% of FTSE 350 audits are conducted by just four firms. Tougher rules and regulations to bring visibility to accountancy ‘black holes’, will mean business leaders are held to account and will bring new powers to regulators. While it’s expected that there is still some way to go before these reforms are implemented effectively, there are immediate measures that organisations can put in place to ensure their data is ready for inspection. There’s no reason to wait.

 

With ever-increasing amounts of data to capture, coupled with the limitations of ERP and accounting systems, it’s clear that late and inaccurate reporting remains an issue for enterprises, especially since the markets are likely be unstable for the foreseeable future due to the impacts of the pandemic. In 2017, 73% of finance teams were still collecting and processing all this complex information using manually intensive, spreadsheet-based systems, making it difficult for them to run an efficient and effective operation. This slow and laborious process consumes precious time that finance executives just don’t have when working to an imminent deadline, causing a huge 87% of them to work overtime. With strategic, business-critical data rising exponentially and manual processes impacting productivity levels, the risks from data errors are increasing in severity, leaving many businesses susceptible to failed audits.

 

To remedy the challenges associated with poor data quality, while improving compliance, and reducing business risk, a good place to start is by investing in automation software with inbuilt centralised data stewardship capabilities and process management. These combined features help ensure that audits are passed, and penalties can be avoided. Automation systems, such as these, deliver governance and process compliance so that files, like Excel spreadsheets, are not only managed centrally but workflows are tracked across the entire financial process, increasing visibility, and eliminating the risk of errors.

 

This level of compliance is particularly important for organisations that are now operating with a fragmented workforce because of Covid-19, as it enables employees to seamlessly access files with little disruption. To ensure this is implemented effectively, finance and accounting professionals need to be mindful of the accuracy of the data being processed.  In our experience companies that started their automation journey without re-engineering the processes that were creating poor data have subsequently struggled with quality issues at a later stage. Instead, a combination of data cleansing and automation will help ready companies for inspection.

 

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Finance

HOW FINANCIAL SERVICES BRANDS CAN TRANSFORM THE MUNDANE INTO MAGIC

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Ben Williams, Global Chief Experience Officer at R/GA London

 

We are living through an era of generational change. The last twelve months have been defined by uncertainty, and as we stepped into uncharted territory we witnessed society shift and consumer behaviour change occur at breakneck speed.

For businesses, the speed and scale of this change has felt at times daunting. There are questions at every corner. How do we navigate working from home? When will we return to normal? How are the lives of our customers changing? How are the lives of our employees changing?  What are the rules of the new normal? How does this affect our proposition? Are we changing fast enough?

But just as uncertainty creates anxiety, change creates opportunity.

To help financial brands and the commodities industry navigate this uncertainty and focus on opportunity, we at R/GA have highlighted five key areas of focus. These pillars allow financial services and commodities brands to transform the mundane into magic, adapting to surpass consumer expectations and rise above the competition.

 

View your brand as an operating system

The core DNA of a brand shouldn’t just be a poster in the cafeteria, or slapped onto a brand’s website and as a message to the world. The brand’s active purpose should truly inform all the different ways a brand shows up, across physical and digital and inform things like service offerings, business decisions, as well as marketing messages. Those words in a mission statement should mean something, and be proven in how a business operates and engages with people. With consumer expectations at an all-time high, people expect it. The world expects it.

 

Understand the power of experience and use it to differentiate 

Don’t underestimate the power of an elevated experience – regardless of industry. By focusing on the needs of your people, customers and employees, challenges quickly open up and become areas of opportunity.

Creating a category defining experience often means looking outside of your own category – just as consumers will do. When a service or experience is elevated in any category, it has a huge impact on expectations of people. This experience sets the bar, and consumers will then expect similar levels of service, innovation and thoughtfulness to be applied to all aspects of their life from any brand they interact with. When people see something better, they want everything to be better. This is the concept we call ‘Service Transference’ – and it is defining how brands are experienced in the modern world.

Commodity based industries have a huge opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors through an elevated and differentiated experience when engaging with the brand, product or service.

For years, computers were a commodity, some were a little faster, some had better/minor features, but for the most part the differences were minimal. Apple changed the game by focusing on the experience. It differentiated itself beyond the speed of chips and processors. Insurance and other commodity-based industries should look to do the same. Insurance companies, as an example, could look to understand people dynamically through technology, and respond with services and experiences that can tailor solutions to serve their individual needs.

 

Innovate at all scales and for all people 

Innovation has become a term thrown around as a catch-all for teams or people thinking about what is next. Too often however, teams fall in love with the idea of being credited and becoming famous for the next idea that changes the world.

Instead, brands should focus on elevating some of the smaller things. This means taking a deep-dive into the fundamentals, giving time to the less sexy things, because these are often the factors which have the most impact on people’s experiences with brands and their lives.

Beyond the emotional value, there is a functional value insurance companies can, and should be delivering. The experience of engaging with an insurance brand should go well beyond filling out a form. It should know me, who I am, my goals, my personal or family situation, and adapt accordingly over time. It should respond to the world around me, and to my life as it happens. Enabling your service offering to be tailored and customized will provide real functional value that what they are paying for is exactly what they need and want. Responding to real human needs and events as they happen is the clearest way to show you care.

 

Recognise that life has changed.

Brands that can adapt and be there for people will ultimately win. Insurance is an industry founded on the principles of being there for people when life happens. And life is happening right now.

Insurance brands have to deliver emotional value by supporting customers. To do this, brands need to strike the right balance between being active and present in a customer’s life, and knowing when to get out of the way. Beyond the annual insurance payment reminder, ask yourself, “When are the other moments throughout a year, or in someone’s life that they should feel supported?”

Insurance brands have a huge opportunity to shift what they are famous for and how they show up in the world. Given the changes we have seen in consumer expectations, the industry itself and the technology landscape, insurance brands that want to win should be focusing on delivering peace of mind and offering customers agency over their own solution.

 

Always dream big and act small

For commodities businesses, the opportunity for blue sky thinking is massive. But don’t forget that often the most meaningful change comes from innovating some of the smaller, more foundational pieces of your business and experience. The impact you can have on someone’s life, especially at times when they most need support, should never be underestimated – or mismanaged from an experience perspective. Listen to people, their needs and what they want. Your customers, and the world will thank you.

 

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