People and business owners – pretty much everyone – is confronting the reality that the world has changed in ways that we can’t yet fully comprehend. But as a second wave of COVID-19 cases accompanies reopenings, this much is becoming clear: Time-honored traditions of going to the office, working in live teams, and having a nexus of commerce and comradery have been trampled.
There are some, like OnPay Solutions President and CEO Neal Anderson, who feel that COVID-19 has reshaped the working landscape permanently. In a recent Trend Talk with PYMNTS, Anderson noted that even phased reopenings can’t be relied upon to contain COVID-19.
“At OnPay Solutions, for example, we followed all the CDC guidelines and state and local requirements here in Florida, and we [closed the main office] in March,” he said. “As things progressed through May and into June, here in Jacksonville we got the go-ahead, the all-clear to begin reopening. We did that in a phased approach, reaching out to each individual to first find out if they were comfortable coming into the office.”
The staff was on board and the office reopened, only to have new infections hit Florida hard. Anderson has now closed the office a second time, and OnPay staff is working from home again. That’s a model available to any organization, he noted, to minimize a different kind of risk.
“In accounts payable, you have to get the payments out and you have to print and mail checks. That means staff is going into the office. The staff is at risk within that office, and it just takes one person to become ill to have a whole department quarantined,” he said. “From our standpoint, we're all about no-touch payments. You should be able to move your money from your desk at work, your smartphone or your kitchen table. That's what it's all about.”
Payoffs Of Automating AP
The differences between those who had undergone a digital transformation pre-pandemic and businesses hustling to do so now are palpable. Anderson informally canvassed several of OnPay’s CFO clients in July, discovering that going digital early helped them dodge a bullet.
“One large grocery chain [client] in South Florida who had made the digital transformation from paper to electronic payments a year or so ago couldn't have been more glowing,” Anderson told PYMNTS. “It's one area of the company he does not have to worry about when [concern] about his employees is No. 1, because they're on the front lines of servicing consumers.”
Anderson is pragmatic about the rough shape that tens of thousands of businesses are in at present. Many will not survive. He pointed to the rebuilding of supply chains that will result from the closings, and how automated AP streamlines this potentially onerous process.
“Unfortunately, we are going to see companies that aren't going to fully recover, if at all, so finding new vendors is critical, [as is the ability] to pay those vendors with a preferred electronic method as opposed to setting them up to receive paper checks. That’s the last thing you want to do.”
Rather, onboarding new vendors in a post-pandemic climate that rewards efficiency is best kept in the digital domain. “You want to be able to onboard [new vendors] into your system to be able to accept electronic payments, so the very first invoice is paid electronically. It’s really key to kicking off that new relationship,” Anderson said.
Going deeper into optimizing new vendor relationships, he continued, “When setting up a new vendor and being able to think holistically about that relationship with regard to payment terms and method of payment, when you combine those, a CFO has a lot of power at their disposal to enhance that relationship from [an internal] improvement standpoint.”
New Opportunities, New Risks
CFOs and CIOs are notoriously controlling about financial data; it’s in their job description. New work-from-home access points to sensitive and heavily regulated client information is a cause for concern among corporates, and even those who have digitized are again solution-shopping.
“My message to the CIO is that they’re absolutely right to be nervous” about the explosion in remote access to protected information for which fraudsters are hunting.
“[CIOs and CFOs] are now dealing with remote employees on a scale that they never planned for. If a company has 5,000 employees … and now they're all remoting into the network, all of a sudden there are all sorts of vulnerabilities,” said Anderson. “The good news is that there is technology to help provide that protection, and to ensure the access to the network and the integrity of the network.”
Relating this to payment systems, he added that “the cloud-based environment that we operate in is bank-grade. Once a CIO understands all of the layers and steps that are involved with protecting their data, they get very comfortable, very quickly” with the platform.
And while reflexive reactions to pandemic disruptions are to be expected, a calm can be found in digitization for corporate treasurers and their various counterparts.
“From a CFO’s standpoint, it's never been easier to make a digital transformation from paper-based accounts payable processes, both invoices and payments,” Anderson said. “It's never been more secure, and the needs have never been greater. The pandemic has been an accelerant for companies making that digital transformation, but disaster recovery and continuity plans really didn't account for remote work for this long of a time period.”
That last part – about how no one knew (or could have known) how bad the COVID-19 episode would be, or how long-lasting – is the clincher. Anderson’s underlying point is that companies with automated AP are proving to be more resilient and capable of recovery. It’s a message he hopes will reach many more struggling businesses while there’s still time to save them.