A call for accountants to go paperless

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Today, too many organizations haven’t grasped automation’s ability to significantly increase productivity and free up employees’ time to tackle more strategic and creative work. In fact, a recent report by Sage, a cloud-based provider of business management solutions, found that small and medium sized U.S. businesses still spend too much time on repetitive administrative tasks. Of the tasks analyzed in the report, accounting was the most costly, amounting to over 20 percent of total time spent on administrative tasks in a given year. Surprisingly, even with many organizations in the midst of a digital transformation, nearly 50 percent still lack a software solution.

Early on, my firm, Cherry Bekaert, recognized the need to embrace digital solutions and automation. Years of overflowing file cabinets, delays in the invoice approval process, and time wasted researching old invoices had become unacceptable and exhausting for employees.

So we decided to go paperless and get rid of those file cabinets once and for all. We tackled the expense reimbursement process first by going to an outside reporting program that allowed associates to input expenses, supervisors to approve the expense, and accounts payable to export the expenses into the billing and payables system. Once we realized how efficient this process was, we knew we had to push the firm to go 100 percent paperless. Here are the key findings from our experience:

Selecting a solution

Toward the end of 2015, Cherry Bekaert’s IT department approached paperless invoice processing as well, and began to vet potential solutions. We researched several products before narrowing the choice to three companies, and demonstrations were conducted for an internal committee comprised of IT and finance/accounting.

Beanworks was the final presenter and the one deemed most compatible for the firm from a cultural and technological perspective. The Beanworks representatives were well informed and seemed committed to providing a smooth implementation and responsive customer service. A key selling point for us was the ability to pre-code repeat invoices to substantially cut processing time. Additionally, Beanworks was compatible with Sage 500, Cherry Bekaert’s general ledger system.

This compatibility offered the flexibility to continue processing the payments in-house and still see all the information regarding payments in Sage 500 and Beanworks. Finally, Beanworks offered security features in terms of invoice access. Beanworks was asked to give a second demo for the CFO and provide a quote. In the meantime, several references were contacted, all of which provided positive feedback.

Implementing a new, firmwide model

Once Beanworks was selected, the real fun began. An internal team was set up to contact departments to determine an effective approval process and viewing rights. Beanworks helped set up the final structure and connection to Sage 500.

Next, Beanworks training was scheduled for system users and approvers. Access to anon-demand webinar that was recorded in-house and access to several pre-recorded Beanworks training videos were also provided. Six months before go-live, Cherry Bekaert piloted the approval process for its IT and marketing departments.

Lessons learned

While the transition went very smoothly, we did encounter a few surprises. For example, no one realized that once users were set up in the system, they would automatically receive emails from Beanworks about information that had been posted for them. Therefore, some associates unsubscribed or deleted the messages. In retrospect, this could have been avoided had it been included in the communication and training process.

The training could also have placed greater emphasis on how to find invoices. While this was covered briefly in the initial training, it would have been helpful to repeat this information after associates had used the system so they could view actual information immediately. Fortunately, the system was flexible enough with changes in the approval structure to ensure satisfaction by all users.

Since implementation, Beanworks has been very responsive in resolving any issues and helping to facilitate interactions with Sage .After working with the system for about six months, the firm contacted Beanworks about setting up a wholly owned subsidiary, Cherry Bekaert Wealth Management LLC, under a different tax ID.

Beanworks completed this easily and helped streamline Wealth Management’s processes and allowed them to become paperless as well. More recently, another wholly owned subsidiary, THIncIT LLC, was acquired and also moved to Beanworks for associate and vendor expenses.

No regrets

Now that Beanworks is fully implemented, we see multiple benefits to having made the transition to this system:

  • Accounts payable has more time for projects to help cut costs or improve other processes.
  • The approval process gives visibility to any invoices that may have been rejected and why it was rejected; whether for coding, an incorrect amount, or other concern.
  • Because Beanworks and Sage 500 can communicate with each other seamlessly, an associate can research the status of an invoice instead of redirecting a vendor to Accounts Payable for the same information.
  • Users are able to view invoices and payment information digitally, reducing the number of questions to finance and accounting when reviewing the month-end financials.
  • Approval time has been reduced, which in turn limits the risk of penalties and late fees while also reducing overall paper usage and storage fees.
  • Beyond the more efficient approval process, most of the firm’s vendors complied with requests to send invoices directly to the Beanworks email, which saves additional time.

We feel the firm made a good investment by going paperless. Using an accounts payable automation system can help streamline the overall approval process, which in turn increases the efficiency of the accounts payable team. In addition, the accounting department will have more time to devote to other cost-saving projects. On the whole, at Cherry Bekaert, we’ve been happy to end our era of papers and files.

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Automation Accounting software Cherry Bekaert