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8 Ways your AP Process Leaks Spend – and How AI can Prevent it

AI

8 Ways your AP Process Leaks Spend – and How AI can Prevent it

Today’s companies put huge efforts into negotiating the best terms with their suppliers. Procurement teams regularly spend weeks or months going back and forth on contract terms and volume discounts to get the most bang for their buck.

Too often, these savings aren’t realized. Suppliers may ignore the negotiated terms when invoicing, and AP teams, faced with a deluge of invoices and limited time to get payments out the door, only sample select transactions and only do basic 2 or 3 way matching of volume and price. This inevitably means costly invoice problems fall through the cracks — from mismatched invoice and contract terms, to unapplied discounts, to completely bogus charges, and more.

Optimizing your AP process may seem like a big undertaking, but it’s much easier than it might seem, and worth the effort. According to The International Association of Contracts and Commercial Management (IACCM), companies that work to improve controls over invoice payment will see a return of more than 4 percent of invoice value.

Even if you’re ready to improve your AP process, one pesky question remains: How do you actually do it? Once upon a time, it would have been necessary to hire more people to check every transaction. But today, technology can provide a crucial and cost-effective assist for overstretched AP teams.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more common in business contexts. Nearly 90 percent of companies planned to increase AI spend in 2019, according to a Deloitte survey. However, the idea of actually using AI may feel a little unrealistic for some. While more and more corporations are automating AP processes, 30 percent of businesses still rely on manual invoice processing, according to The Institute of Finance and Management.

If you’ve already implemented other technologies in your workflow, AI can fit in seamlessly. AI-powered spend automation software integrates with existing expense management, invoice automation, contract management, and ERP systems to augment rather than disrupt your status quo.

8 common (and costly) invoice problems

Here are just a few of the problems AI-powered solutions can help your team avoid during the spend audit process:

1. Fraudulent invoices: When it comes to invoice fraud, if you can dream it, chances are fraudsters have tried it: From inflated invoices, to completely made-up charges, to shell companies, to vendor impersonation, and more.

Too often, the calls are coming from inside the house. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that occupational fraud (fraud committed by employees against employers) resulted in more than $7 billion in total losses in 2018. AI systems with a compliance component can spot risk factors commonly associated with fraud so your team has a chance to review these invoices manually before they’re paid out.

2. Duplicate invoices: Up to two percent of the average company’s invoices a duplicates, according to AuditNet. This may seem like a relatively small number, but for businesses doling out millions or billions on business activities, the figure is far from trivial.

Some vendors might double up charges on purpose, but often duplicate invoices are mistakes (after all, your vendors’ finance teams are overworked too). While some invoice automation systems try to catch these double charges, they usually only succeed if the invoices are labeled with the same number or have the exact same total — which isn’t always the case, particularly if there’s someone scheming behind the scenes.

3. Missing discounts: You fought hard for volume discounts, but how often are you checking invoices to make sure they’re applied? AI-based systems can often  compare contract and invoice terms automatically to make sure you’re not missing out on early payment, loyalty, or quantity discounts. You’ll be notified of any missing discounts so you can remedy the situation before you pay. In the case of early payment discounts, this software notifies you that the invoice should be prioritized to get payment out in ample time.

 4. Mismatched service levels: You signed up for the standard package, but you’re being charged for the premium offering. This type of mismatch is all too easy to overlook amid your monthly deluge of invoices.

The correct AI solution can compare agreed-upon service levels in your contract with every invoice you receive to make sure that this type of costly problem doesn’t fly under the radar. When it comes to physical items, it can ensure you receive all the items you’re being billed for before you pay, by double-checking shipping documents against inventory systems.

5. Double payments: Double payments can happen as a result of vendors submitting duplicate invoices, but the problem can also originate from your own team. Accounting systems hold up an invoice for all sorts of reasons, e.g., it requires further approval or it failed a match. In many cases, an employee might intervene to get the invoice paid manually (to meet a deadline or because they’re being pestered by a supplier or don’t want to damage a relationship). Meanwhile, the invoice is still in your system and when the hold is later cleared up, it’s processed and paid… again.

This is another one of those sources of spend leakage that most companies never become aware of. AI-powered systems constantly cross-check invoices and payments and flag any duplicate payments before you send them out, so the money never leaves the front door.

6. Exorbitant pricing: It can be difficult and time-consuming to keep track of the market rate for all the various services and products your business requires. AI can regularly compare your current costs to thousands of other sources to determine whether your invoices reflect the market rate for the goods or services provided. It can also flag individual invoices where your price exceeds the market rate.

Knowledge is power, and this information helps your business negotiate more effectively with existing suppliers or look to new ones if there’s an opportunity for cost savings without sacrificing quality.

7. Unsatisfactory work activity: When it comes to hiring contractors, there are situations when it’s particularly difficult to understand and assess whether they’re fulfilling their agreed-upon duties, like professional and IT services. AI-based tools can ingest nearly unlimited data to build a profile of what comprises satisfactory work activity — e.g., regular activity in Slack or over email — and highlight changes in the typical patterns. This helps you verify that you’re paying contractors fairly for the work product they’re providing.

8. Overpaying for software: Are you licensed for seven software seats, but only using three? It’s not uncommon for organizations to overpay for software licenses without ever realizing it. AI-based software keeps tabs on your organization’s software usage and compare it to the charges on your monthly invoices to help alert you to savings opportunities.

How AI can help

Implementing a best-in-class AI solution can support a consistent process and add an additional layer of scrutiny. These solutions make it possible to audit 100% of invoice spend prior to payment, automatically and near-instantaneously checking every invoice in your system for risk factors before they’re paid, and flagging the highest risk items for your team to review. This will help your team get ahead of problems and potential leakage, rather than try to recover it afterwards.

Below are the critical requirements for considering an AI solution for AP spend management:

1. Audit 100%, prepayment. Automatically audit 100% of invoices before reimbursement with AI.

2. Understand documents. Instantly scan every line of every invoice to understand charges and track the correct spend category.

3. Enrich with intelligence. Check online sources to identify better prices for similar goods and services.

4. Assess and refine risk. Flag suspicious addresses or billing changes to avoid fraud. Spot duplicate charges from other invoices, other invoice systems, or from expenses.

5. Streamline process. Integrate into your existing AP automation system to audit every invoice in real time to spot errors, waste, and fraud.

Conclusion

The best AI software can help your team regain control over your spend by checking every single transaction to identify high-risk invoices in your pipeline — saving time, streamlining processes, and ultimately reducing spend leakage.

If your AP team’s efforts to find problematic spend feels neverending, you’re not alone — but it doesn’t have to be that way. AI has changed the paradigm for modern finance teams, giving them greater visibility into their AP process and the time they need to address the highest risk issues. Not only can AI transform the way finance teams operate, it also saves them business money by spotting problems consistently and before invoices are paid. By implementing a leading AI solution, your team can audit 100% of spend, make sure that every invoice complies with its contract terms, and ensure you’re receiving every savings opportunity you’re entitled to — all while paying your bills on time.

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Anant Kale founded AppZen in 2012 to bring AI into back offices around the world. As CEO he is responsible for the product vision and execution of the company’s broad mission. Previously he was the VP of Applications at Fujitsu America from 2009-2012, responsible for product management, and delivery of Fujitsu’s applications and infrastructure for enterprise. He has 15+ years of experience in software development. He has an MBA and a BS in Finance and Engineering from Mumbai University.

AR

How to Create an Enduring Workflow for AR

Please note: Vocabulary in the payment automation world varies. While customers (i.e., clients, buyers) and their suppliers (i.e., vendors, beneficiaries, sellers) are both considered customers to payment automation companies like Nvoicepay, this article will use the terms “customer” and “supplier” to distinguish between them.

Imagine having to switch out old railroad tracks while a rusted steam engine thunders across. Adopting modern electronic payments runs about as smoothly for banks.

When you think about how old banks are in the U.S., it’s an understandable plight. They’ve been running on the same tracks since the first bank’s founding. Additional features, like wire payments and credit cards, were added over time as a complement to the old system. But the rise of nimbler financial technology (fintech) companies has lit a fire under them. Now they face the challenge of converting their processes to electronic means without disturbing their clients’ day-to-day business.

In a way, fintechs have it easy. Their very nature makes competing against banks a breeze, primarily because banks were built to last, and fintechs were built to adapt. They can easily shift gears to meet demand and immediate needs. Meanwhile, banks are frequently caught up in bureaucratic processes that make it virtually impossible to react quickly to problems.

Financial and fintech industries feel the contrast most often when tackling payment security—specifically when it comes to cards. Even though check payments incur 25% more fraud instances than card payments, according to the 2019 AFP Payment Fraud and Control Survey, many companies hesitate to make the switch to more electronic means.

Kim Lockett—the Director of Supplier Services at Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company—offers a glimpse into why companies are hesitating to shift gears: “Fraud is not a new issue to companies,” she states. “But what we’ve learned is that fear of change overrides the fear of potential fraud loss, even among companies who have already incurred those losses.”

With almost 30 years of experience in payments and financial services, Lockett possesses a holistic perspective on supplier expectations for seamlessly receiving payments, with payment fraud protection listed as one of the highest priorities. She’s heard all the horror stories, from a small business whose checks were stolen out of their mailbox and cashed, to a company whose employee tried to use business deposit information to clear her personal checks.

That’s not to say that errors and fraud don’t occur for card payments as well. But they occur significantly less and are much easier and faster to resolve than check, ACH, and wire payment issues.

What’s the Holdup?

In the last decade, fintech companies have improved the tracks on which many accounts receivable (AR) teams function. From providing lower processing costs for card payments to offering user-friendly portals for reliable payment retrieval, fintechs transform painful AR workflows into a functional process.

Meanwhile, banks have just begun to offer pseudo-solutions that appear to be tech-friendly but still run on old tracks. An excellent example of this is lockbox technology, where banks mitigate the processing of check payments and their data for their larger customers by taking on the work themselves. This sort of offering likely extended the life of check payments. Still, it didn’t eradicate the underlying problem: that even though work has been lifted directly from their customer’s shoulders, someone at the bank still has to process checks and submit data for manual reconciliation. The process is hardly automated, and the advent of payment processing technology has all but made the entire process impractical.

Embracing the Future

Of course, the best way to avoid check issues is to avoid checks. These days, electronic payment methods offer higher levels of security. But if electronic options like virtual card numbers are such a fantastic option, why are so many companies avoiding them?

Lockett states: “In general, I think companies are afraid of handling credit card numbers because they feel there is risk involved.”

It’s not the dangers of check payments, but misconceptions about electronic payments that cause companies to refrain from accepting them. Many AR teams rationalize that they’d rather respond to the inevitable check fraud cases they understand than walk unprepared into the relatively unknown territory of card fraud.

When checks are stolen and cashed, there’s very little that can be done. At the end of the day, someone will be out that money. Other electronic payment types like ACH and wire are significantly safer, but can still experience fraud, especially internal instances, such as when a company’s employee submits their personal bank account information to receive company payments. Whether these issues are reversible is dependent on each unique scenario.

Card payments, particularly the virtual card numbers provided by fintech companies, are typically protected by two-factor authentication. Whether this means that AR is supplied with a login to access secure details or a portion of a card number, the information is much more difficult for bad actors to access, securing the payment process and reducing the risk of fraud.

In the end, not every company will have the capacity to accept card payments, so leaving alternate options open like check and ACH truly boils down to how much individual payment providers value customer service.

Taking Suppliers Along for the Automation Journey

In many cases, banks have rushed to cater to customer’s needs, leaving suppliers in the dust when it comes to follow-through on electronic payments. Despite these efforts to change, most larger banks still follow their old tracks, and their customers and suppliers experience the same lack of customer service they always did.

With over 10 years of support development behind them, fintechs have expanded their offerings to suppliers, catering to their specific needs, whether they require something as simple as customizable file formats or a more significant request like payment aggregation. Fintechs that follow through with supplier support are truly delivering on their promise of offering an end-to-end solution. They are building tracks that support the advanced bullet trains that companies have become.

“Ten years ago, companies were reluctant to add virtual card payments to their list of accepted payment types,” says Lockett. “Education, experience, and word-of-mouth have established virtual card payments as a mainstream and relevant way to conduct business.”

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Alyssa Callahan is the Content Strategist at Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company. She has five years of experience in the B2B payment industry, specializing in cross-border B2B payment processes.

Accounts

How to Overcome the Struggle of Multiple Account Reconciliations

How does a company end up with dozens, or even hundreds of
bank accounts? It’s not an uncommon situation for a large
enterprise, especially in industries such as hospitality, construction, or healthcare, where there are multiple locations and business entities under one umbrella. Or, maybe the company has grown by acquiring other companies, as is common in high tech, and they centralize accounts payable but retain the separate bank accounts. According to the 2019 AFP Payments Fraud and Control Survey, 83% of companies with over a billion dollars in revenue have more than five payment accounts, and 46% have more than
25 accounts.

No matter what the reason, making payments from multiple bank
accounts creates a lot of complexity in AP. It makes cash management difficult, increases the risk of errors and fraud, and
creates an ongoing nightmare when it comes to reconciliation.
Fortunately, new payments automation technology can help
address the challenges of making payments from multiple
accounts.

Multiplying by Four

Most companies are contending with four different payment
workflows—check, card, ACH and wire, or five if you’re doing
international payments. Basically, you can multiply the number of bank accounts by four or five, and that’s how many processes you
have to manage.

But at least those processes are pretty standard. A check is a
check; a card is a card; NACHA sets the standard for an ACH file;
and a wire is a form fill on a bank portal. With payments
automation technology, you can wrap all of those workflows
together in a single dashboard. Payment is intelligently routed
from each account by the most advantageous means—you no
longer have to care what type of payment the vendor accepts. It’s
all taken care of for you.

Exponentially More Convoluted

The big win though, is on the back end, when it comes time to true
up the payments leaving each account with the general ledger. The
dirty little secret, known only to accounts payable professionals, is
that there is no standard for a reconciliation file—or even a
requirement to send one.

Each bank and card provider can send it in a different format, with
different information, or not at all. That makes reconciling
payments data with the accounting or ERP system—or multiple
accounting or ERP systems—exponentially more convoluted. It’s no longer X number of payment types times Y number of bank
accounts. It’s a different procedure for almost every type of
payment and/or bank or payment provider.

That amount of complexity and manual work inevitably leads to a
higher error rate. And, it opens you up to more instances of fraud.
According to the AFP survey, 72% of organizations with $1 billion or more in revenues and more than 100 payment accounts
experienced attempted or actual payment fraud.

Since daily reconciliation is cited the top defense against fraud at
companies of all sizes, consistently receiving standardized, easy-to-
digest reconciliation reports would help mitigate the fraud risk
associated with multiple payment accounts.

Filling the Data Gaps

Now there’s an opportunity to partner with Fintech companies in
order to help with that transfer of data. Up until recently, the only
way to reconcile multiple accounts was by throwing a lot of people
at the problem, or by bringing in a shared services provider.
Fintech business payments providers are leveraging the cloud,
APIs and online supplier networks to fill the gaps in workflow
automation and data transfer that have been left by banks and
traditional financial services firms.

You can easily make payments—including international
payments—from multiple bank accounts, and push a standardized
reconciliation report back to each, all in one easy process. Some
payment platforms can even push card rebates back into the right
accounts.

This is all possible when your payment provider stores payment,
bank, and vendor data in one cloud platform, and can use
technology to automatically match all the data up, pour it into a
uniform report, and push it back out to the payee. That’s
impossible when you’re working directly with lots of different
banks and payment providers, because no one entity has visibility
into all of the data.

There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense for a company to
have multiple payment accounts, but nobody thinks much about
the pain it’s going to cause in accounts payable. It’s one of those
hidden back office problems banks and traditional financial service
providers have never been able to solve, so accounts payable
professionals have found a way to live with it. Nowadays though,
there are ways to live without it.

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Mike Fortmann is the Vice President of Sales, Southwest Region at
Nvoicepay. He is an accomplished payment industry expert with more than five years experience in delivering scalable payment solutions.