Moving from Paper Trails to Information Superhighway

January 10, 2022

By Jim Norton, CPA, GRF CPAs & Advisors

Another year has come to a close, and a new one starts. Trends and countless surveys are showing that forcing a return to 100% in-office work will not bode well for organizations.  

“The great resignation” is happening in part because talented team members know that they can find employee-first organizations who understand there’s no reason to force them into an office when their work can be performed just fine (in some cases, better) remotely.

Indeed, there has never been a worse time to blaze forward with an attitude of “we’ve always done it this way.” Still, firms and organizations need to continue operating in the most efficient and fiscally responsible way they can.  

So, how can we create an environment where everyone wins? Operationally, the cornerstone of success in the new normal is technology. To solve this quandary, we need to break the organization into pieces and figure out how to achieve a win for each piece.  

This article is the start of a series of pieces that aims to help firms and their clients embrace cloud technology to help them get their “win.” Given where we are in the year, we’ll start with a very timely and key function that no organization can get away from – accounts payable and vendor management.  

By the time you add up all the costs that go into accounts payable processing – labor costs, infrastructure costs, supply costs, and transaction fees – it can cost anywhere from $14 to more than $75 to process a bill.  

That doesn’t account for the intangible cost of potential strain on vendor relationships due to how long processing takes or the risk involved with reaching out to vendors for W-9 or banking information and asking them to share potentially sensitive data over email.  

The accounts payable function is a fact of life, but ideally you want to drive costs down as low as possible and process bills with as close to a zero-touch process as you can get. Your AP function shouldn’t be held hostage because someone who needs to approve or sign is not physically there.  

The Process

The accounts payable process has historically been manual and paper-intensive. Bills are mailed to an office, someone opens them, stamps them with “received,” handwrites coding on them, passes them around to different mailboxes or desks for approval (where they inevitably wait in paralysis while someone in the approval chain is away or unavailable), and then are  finally keyed into an accounting system so that they can go into the next printed check run (but not until we have confirmed that we have a valid form W-9 on file for the vendor).  

After all that, we neatly file bills into a filing cabinet and staple the check stub to each paid bill. People try to get around some of this by emailing bills around or tracking in Excel/Google Sheets; there’s no end to the workarounds we have seen to try to put a bandaid on this age-old function.

Managing 1099s and W-9s

Filing and issuing IRS Form 1099s is another inescapable task for most U.S. organizations. Most are probably e-filing 1099s with the federal and state governments at this point, which could be a chore depending on the technology in place. When it comes to distributing 1099s to recipients, many are still printing forms, stuffing envelopes, and sending those forms out in the mail.  

This means buying new forms each and every year, paying for supplies and postage, and spending team members’ labor hours to do the work. Before you can even file or issue these forms, getting the information to file presents many challenges.  

Usually, you don’t want to process payments to a vendor until you have a properly completed W-9 on file. Many organizations might have already gone ahead and processed any number of bills and payments for the vendor, thinking, “I’ll get the W-9 at some point.”  

This is risky because if vendors never send you that W-9, you are potentially on the hook for backup withholdings on payments you made to those vendors. You want an intake process where any new vendor you work with goes through a relatively standard, digital, and maybe even white-labeled onboarding process. Manual outreach or intervention is almost never needed.  

The Path Forward

How do we go about taking the AP and vendor management functions out of the dark ages and into a modern era? We are fortunate that the marketplace for technology solutions in this area is densely populated – some might even say saturated. There is a right answer out there for nearly every organization, but not all organizations will have the same right answer.  

In the AP automation space, the name Bill.com is probably most familiar. For organizations who are looking for a system that is easy, has mobile capabilities, and gives you various predefined workflow options, it’s a good place to start.  

When you create vendors in Bill.com, you can send invites to those vendors to manage their own “intake” type information – name, address, 1099 information, and so on. You can receive bills electronically via a dedicated accounts payable inbox, scan and upload bills, and route them around for payment based on some predefined (albeit relatively simple) rules.  

There are a host of payment options available, including ACH, wire, printed check, and virtual card. If your vendor has a Bill.com account, they can see at any moment where their bill is in the processing stages.  

While jumping on the best-known option may seem appealing, you may be doing your organization or your clients’ organizations a disservice if you charge forward with the “best known” option instead of stopping to understand what they really need.  

What if your organization needs to choose a pre-defined allocation split for line items on a bill? What if you are splitting up a bill between different departments or engagements and need line-level approval? What if you need digitized tax form capture, validation, and withholding?  

Maybe you want vendors to get an early payment option where they can go draw their payment for a discounted amount. These are just a few more “advanced” requirements we’re rattling off here, and they point to looking at multiple options.  

If you’re looking for flexible, configurable workflows at as granular a level as possible, look to a solution like Yooz. If you’re working on a global scale and/or want tight compliance capabilities around vendor management, maybe Tipalti is the way to go.  

Looking for something with more than 200 integrations that is white labeled by a multitude of financial institutions? Avidxchange won’t let you down. Whatever the organization’s needs, there is almost always a right fit; there’s no need to settle for just good enough.  

For 1099 processing, it’s hard to beat the power and convenience of Tax1099. There’s virtually zero setup time, and the platform has a plethora of integrations. Even without integration, it’s exceedingly easy to import data from Excel. It handles not only the filing of your 1099 forms with government entities, but will also distribute the forms to recipients either electronically or by mail, eliminating the need for your team to spend a second of their time doing so.  

It even has the ability to let you electronically prompt for and collect W-9 forms from your vendors. Pricing is available on the website. In our experience, the cost is nominal and always results in savings.  

Embracing cloud-based tools like the ones mentioned here will help engage resources regardless of physical location and create a better, more cost-effective experience all around. Organizations with tools like these will thrive and confidently navigate the new normal.  

 
________________________________________________________________________

Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Society of CPAs. 

Jim Norton leads the Accounting Technology Services division of GRF CPAs & Advisors. His combination of public accounting, private industry, and outsourced internal accounting expertise have afforded him a unique perspective that makes him capable of intimately understanding business challenges from various stakeholders’ perspectives. He helps clients leverage software in developing the creative, functional solutions they need to address their business’ process and reporting challenges. He can be reached at www.linkedin.com/in/jamesanorton/ or jnorton@grfcpa.com

← View All News