AI-Powered Payments Platforms Put Paper Processes on Watch

We’re into 2022, but there are a few trends that continue from last year unabated.

Businesses continue to make their way through the pandemic, and they’re grappling with inflation.

As Beanworks CEO Catherine Dahl told PYMNTS, these trends, along with a pivot to hybrid work models, are accelerating financial automation.

“By the time we got to the middle of 2021,” she said, “it became obvious that the world was never going back to a state where everyone would be in the office every day — at least not for a very long time.”

Read more: How AP Automation Helps Fight Fraud

That shift has affected accounting departments, too, and having employees working from far-flung locations has spotlighted the need for automating back-office functions — and the challenges in doing so.

But automating payments can be tricky, Dahl said. Payables workflow and compliance, as well as banking systems, can differ widely from place to place. Platforms like Beanworks, she said, seek to streamline accounts payable (AP) using artificial intelligence (AI) to help firms process invoices and pay them with fewer errors in the mix.

Dahl told PYMNTS that automating approvals and compliance can eventually become so seamless that the only friction occurs when things don’t look right — when potential errors get flagged for further review.

The Future of AP

Automating those processes means that recurring payments such as utilities or rent can be set up to pass through from invoice (which may be standardized in its presentation and may be for the same charge every month) to payment with approvals of the purchase order already in place.

“You should be able to take the invoice all the way through to payment and have one person at the end make sure that ‘yes, all the dots lined up,’” she said. “There are dashboards on a daily basis where the accounting team is managing the process, but they’re not doing the process.”

See also: How AP Automation Can Lower Businesses’ Fraud, Processing and Labor Costs

The push toward payments automation, she said, may have begun in earnest during the pandemic — with tech companies at the forefront and with smaller enterprises (such as law firms) as relative laggards — but all firms have had to take stock and think about how they assign payments authority and approve transactions.

Reckoning With Technical Debt 

That introspection has forced a reckoning with technical debt and legacy systems. Dahl noted that in North America (where Beanworks started), automated clearinghouses can be challenging to work with, and know-your-customer (KYC) processes can differ markedly. The landscape of payments providers is a fragmented one, and traditional payments rails are ripe for updating.

“The technical debt is huge,” she said.

Dahl pointed to the eventual emergence of digital currencies as one way to help automate payments and speed cross-border transactions.

Looking ahead over the longer term, she said enterprise payments should move ever closer toward being as intuitive as consumer-facing transactions (and as easy as sending a peer-to-peer payment on a handheld device).

But over the near term, she said “there will not be dramatic changes in the short window of 12 months in this technology space.” There is a slew of regulatory and compliance mandates to address, but she said the U.S. can take a cue from international standards on that front.

Automating payments, she said, will be less about leap than evolution.

“The payments space needs to go through its own transition and transformation into something more modern,” she told PYMNTS.