As B2B payments disruption continues to drive a rift in legacy, manual processes — from manual data entry to self-assessing Excel spreadsheets — businesses now have more ways than ever to pay their vendors, manage their accounts payable and accounts receivable and streamline expenses.
But as innovation works to improve these business processes, each of these areas often remains independent from the other, and corporations rarely ask the simple question of "Why?"
For Chris Farrell, CEO of expense reporting and management firm Tallie, these functions really shouldn't be thought of as separate.
"Issuing a payment to an employee through expense reports, and payments to a vendor, to me, as an accountant, it's one and the same," he told PYMNTS, reflecting on a recent integration with Bill.com. That integration, announced last week, means Tallie's employee expense management data and processes can now integrate directly into the supplier payments and AP processes on Bill.com.
Linking these two areas of corporate payments, Farrell explained, means "a nice, consistent workflow all the way through."
"A payment is going out, whether it's a check or through electronic funds transfer, what have you," the CEO continued. "By having a single workflow, you are simplifying accounting operations. Everyone knows exactly where to look. The processes are all the same. You're reconciling one system, not multiple. It's a consistency of processes and of practice. It improves the reliability and consistency of systems."
Plus, he added, the accessibility of data for professionals and auditors becomes far more simplified once information lives on a single platform and not just across multiple accounts payable, spend analytics and expense management portals.
Perhaps, then, the question businesses should be asking when considering merging all of their payments — to vendors and employees alike — is "Why not?"
After all, progress in automation means that small businesses can have resources once only understandable to CPAs and once only available to large enterprises at their fingertips.
"The point that I'm really excited about is that big, enterprise companies were doing this years ago," Farrell said of automated expense management and other accounting solutions. "But the price points and ease of use didn't apply to SMEs."
Today, that's changed.
Integrations, like between Bill.com and Tallie, he said, means small businesses can access services at a level of sophistication that, once, only major corporations could afford.
That's not to say that certified processional accountants are no longer needed. According to Farrell, it's not uncommon for a CPA to be brought into a small business and have to straighten the books out.
Disorganized and erroneous accounting could probably be attributed to small business owners' lack of professional accounting experience, as researchers have found that Google is a top source for many entrepreneurs when they're unclear about finances.
But automation has enabled small business owners without the knowledge, experience or — frankly — the attention span to stare tediously at financial data all day to manage cash flow and remain compliant. In short, automation and technology have made small business money management far more easy than it was before.
With Farrell highlighting the potential for SME finance to become even easier by integrating all spend activity, from supplier payment to employee reimbursement, on a single platform, cloud-based small business financial tools may begin to trim the fat of manual tasks even further.
Likely to help, he said, is that the industry has a bright future ahead.
"We're very excited about the technologies that continue to come out," he said. "Systems are becoming more open; banks are doing a lot to make their data more available."
"I think we're going to continue to see a lot of industry innovation and attention and focus on innovation," he added.