B2B Payments

A Simpler Vision For Accounts Payable Tech

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The heat of competition has hit record levels in the financial services and technology space. Advancements in FinTech are enabling corporate payments tools to become not only more efficient but a strategic part of the enterprise. If corporate treasurers and CFOs want to help their businesses grow, they must now think strategically and use the technologies to support their goals.

It places a lot of pressure on corporate money managers to keep up with the latest innovations and maintain a competitive edge. But here's an idea: Not every financial function of a business has to be strategic, groundbreaking and advanced; sometimes, it just has to work.

In accounts payable, for instance, the industry may not be at a point where it can perform as a strategic function of the enterprise, because many businesses — small and large — are still lagging in the most basic upgrades, said AP firm Anybill's chief strategy officer, Sander Mueller.

"What we're seeing in AP, what our clients need, is they want controls," he said in a recent interview with PYMNTS. "They want it automated. They're still just looking to automate the process, to get rid of paper, that nature, and then have the convenience of a tool they can sync up with their legacy accounting or ERP software."

It seems simple enough. But if an accounts payable solution can help a company achieve the basic task of ditching paper and be able to integrate data from the AP function into other financial management tools in the company, it can provide more value to a business than expected.

Anybill recently announced that data from its accounts payable services integrates into the accounting platform of QuickBooks. It may not appear to be the most groundbreaking development, considering the corporate finance space is now blooming with blockchain-based solutions and sophisticated data analytics technologies.

But it is a feat, Mueller explained, that businesses don't always achieve, especially among corporations that feel uncertain about handing off accounts payable processes from a human to an automated machine.

"I still consider our market a little complacent," the executive said. "You still have folks who want to keep that control in-house. You still have a lot of paper, and organizations of different sizes still have controllers or VP finance who like the wet ink. They like to sign the check."

Mueller was frank when reflecting on whether an automated AP solution can be a strategic service.

"I think it would be humorous for me to say that AP, from our perspective, would be very strategic," he said. "We're just trying to find a better way to help businesses manage this function."

Of course, not everyone in the AP space will agree. Earlier this year, Coupa VP of Strategy and Product Marketing Donna Wilczek told PYMNTS she believes AP certainly is strategic: "Disruption is happening faster than ever, and I think what's happening with accounts payable is that AP organizations now see themselves as a way to deliver value for a business," the executive said.

Mueller may be muted about the strategic role of the AP function, but he said he agrees AP can provide value.

For some companies, he continued, it's about managing cost. For others, it's about accessing a convenient way to manage payments, whether by integrating data into existing systems or having mobile support for AP professionals to continue working while away from their desks. These certainly aren't worthless objectives, either.

"The big thing used to be selling a lot of different software to companies then coupling them via an in integration strategy with best-of-breed software," Mueller said. "What we're trying to do here is something completely different. It's really about providing value for AP, to allow other individuals not doing AP to move on to a higher-level activity."

And the AP solutions market is seeing progress, he added, pointing to the acquisition of Concur by SAP and other mergers, plus plans by other AP companies like AvidXchange to expand.

"I think we're seeing the right movement, from a Michael Porter competitive model perspective, in terms of what's happening out there," he stated. "Some consolidation is good. It's healthy. It means greater adoption."

One of the biggest accomplishments that accounts payable tools has been to hand companies the capabilities of sophisticated software. That in itself, Mueller explained, is impressive, considering where the market was at years ago, when the cost of software licenses was "prohibitive," especially for smaller firms.

"The market right now, we can offer the same technology to a small client that we offer to a large, publicly registered, publicly traded company, which is a great thing, being able to share that technology," he said. "It brings value to the client. It helps lower cost. It helps them adopt technology without the high costs."

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NEW PYMNTS STUDY: LEVERAGING THE DIGITAL BANKING SHIFT – SEPTEMBER 2020  

The September 2020 Leveraging The Digital Banking Shift Study, PYMNTS examines consumers’ growing use of online and mobile tools to open and manage accounts as well as the factors that are paramount in building and maintaining trust in the current economic environment. The report is based on a survey of nearly 2,200 account-holding U.S. consumers.

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