AP Automation Is Going for the Ecosystem Play to Take the Hassle out of Hybrid Work

Even as digitization roared through 2021, it wasn’t at all unusual to find firms still sending paper invoices and appointing staffers to print checks, bringing them to someone to sign and putting them in the mail too.

The shift to hybrid, remote-hybrid and remote work compounded the problem for finance teams — adding unwelcome and potentially risky workflow snags that slow down money movement.

“Traditionally, it’s really on rare occasion to find a company where the finance team is remote,” said Beanworks CEO Catherine Dahl. “It’s very rare. I think prior to COVID, it would only have been found with companies that started their systems remote.”

Dahl told PYMNTS that automating accounts payable (AP) has taken on a new sense of urgency for clients, and the company plans an ambitious slate of innovations to achieve that goal.

“Europeans are a little bit better at this, but definitely in North America, more than 60% of companies were still printing physical checks in an office that had to be signed by somebody [in 2021],” she said. “That’s where we found the biggest complaint from people who are like, ‘OK, we need your payments module now.’ That’s the impact COVID has had. It’s not a pleasant one to an already challenged group of people,” namely accounting teams.

Noting workarounds being used in the absence of digital tools, Dahl pointed out that such ad hoc measures pose compliance and security problems — ones her company’s platform and others like it are particularly suited to overcome.

Since its acquisition by Quadient last year, Beanworks has introduced more bots and artificial intelligence (AI) into its cloud-based AP automation solution. Dahl said Beanworks and Quadient’s YayPay accounts receivable (AR) solution are all fusing into a new kind of accounting ecosystem in 2022 that closes the loop on end-to-end accounting automation.

Read more: Quadient Purchases AP Tech Firm Beanworks

“One of the things that we’ve been progressing towards and we’re going to go deep into this year is [capturing] the details of line items, which is not a new thing per se, … [the key here is] getting that information into an intelligent system,” she said.

It’s effectively predictive AP and goes further, offering the potential for touchless management unless the system raises an exception.

“That’s where we’re headed by the end of this year with our new platform,” she said. “We have a new [user interface] coming out in about two weeks.”

Managing AP/AR by Exemption

Noting that Beanworks and the other Quadient-owned companies are driving the new platform ecosystem to accelerate the creation of feature sets for pandemic-era challenges, Dahl said accounting workflow and visibility are prime beneficiaries of their 2022 platform push.

She called it a more “progressive, proactive way to doing accounting workflow versus a passive historical way, which is kind of what we’ve been doing for forever.” Rather than connecting digital to everything and hoping it does the job, “we want to advance that completely and be the first AP platform that does predictive coding for you and gives you an exemption report.”

In big (but not unexpected) news, Dahl said in 2022 that Quadient’s AR subsidiary YayPay and Beanworks would be unified to build a more perfect beast.

“A big project this year for us is to get those two platforms talking to each other in a very tightly integrated way so that anyone using both has the cash management system in between that says, ‘I know how much is coming in this week. I know how much is going out this week,’” she said. “It’s in real time, and it’s before it even hits the accounting system. It gives you a much, much [clearer] picture of your cash flow and gives you an ability to manage your cash better if you have both.”

Combined with budgeting capabilities, Dahl said she thinks this can vastly improve AP and AR for the mid-market companies that make up most of its growing base in North America and now, Europe.

See also: Taking a Communications Approach to AR-AP Connectivity

Going Global, Starting Now

Saying “the mid-market gets ignored a lot when it comes to software, at least in the finance world,” Dahl told PYMNTS that Quadient’s Intelligent Communication Automation (ICA) software division, to which Beanworks belongs, “is trying to build one platform solution that does hybrid mail, AP automation, AR automation and customer communication automation.”

It’s an ambitious approach to improving the cash conversion cycle for Beanworks’ clients.

Comparing the vision for 2022 to what companies like Atlassian are doing for Agile development platforms, she added, “We’re going to aim towards having a single sign on to see all solutions [in the ecosystem]. It’s going to end up like that, but more for financial and communication automation for businesses,” with core solutions managed by Quadient.

Noting that paper still represents a big piece of Quadient’s business, Dahl said, “Vendors, suppliers and customers are swapping out paper. That obviously is a dying business. So Quadient is rejuvenating with this software division where they put all the pieces of the digital version of that together … taking it all the way into the finance team with the AR and AP side.”

Saying that “these solutions would not have logically come together if you didn’t have COVID,” Dahl added that 2022 would see the company double down on “touchless processing and localizing to the point that our new user interface will be fully globalized. We’ll be in every language and every currency; we’re going to be expanding our payments arm into Europe as well.”

The new platform launches in France in February, in the U.K. in March, then in most parts of central Europe before making its entry into Germany later in the year.

See also: Quadient Rolls Out Upgrade to Help SMBs Shift to Digital