A/P Ain't What It Used to Be

Several weeks ago, I processed about 100 bills for one of my customers in a matter of about two hours.  It would’ve taken a lot less time, but I wanted to make sure everything was accurate and had proper support before finalizing payments.  But two hours is about how long it took me to enter the bills, code the transactions, obtain approvals, schedule payment, and file the bills.  Shout out to Xero and Bill.com for making it possible.

When I was done, I took a moment to sit back and reflect on how far we’ve come in the past couple of decades.

My first foray into the field of accounting was working for a small family-owned business which sold and raced horses.  I started as the receptionist but quickly moved into the role of Accounts Payable Clerk, and that’s where I first started dipping my toe into accounting waters.  At that time, Accounts Payable consumed most of the time in my full-time job.  Here’s how the process looked then:

  • Gather bills from the mail and start making a pile of bills to pay
  • Check the physical files to make sure the bills hadn’t already been paid
  • Make phone calls to vendors with any questions – waiting days for calls back since few people were using e-mail back then
  • Enter bills into computer software with appropriate coding
  • Load triplicate paper check stock into printer
  • Print checks
  • Attach checks to supporting documentation with paper clips
  • Track down an owner and schedule a time to drive by his house to sign checks
  • Drive to house with a giant stack of checks
  • Wait for an hour while checks were signed
  • Drive back to the office with the giant stack of checks
  • Separate checks
  • Stuff envelope for mailing check (make sure address could be seen through envelope)
  • Staple check copy to supporting documentation and file in the vendor file
  • File second check copy in a numeric check file

I would rinse and repeat the cycle every two weeks, and like I said, it consumed the bulk of my time.

As it is now, so much of this work can be systemized, computerized, and performed online.  Finding past payments is a click of a button instead of digging through paper files.  It takes a fraction of the time and doesn’t result in paper cuts.  Filing is practically automatic.  Paying people can also be done with a click of a button instead of printing checks and stuffing envelopes.  Vendors can collaborate and keep their payment information up to date directly.  And tracking down copies of endorsed checks is instantaneous as well.

There’s also no way I could’ve easily done this job from anywhere in the world.  I had to spend my (unpaid) time commuting to and from the office to do this manual work.  Now my team and I just log onto the internet wherever we are.

When I compare the systems side by side, I realize that if this technology had existed when I was an A/P clerk, there’s so much more I could’ve done for my employer, and that’s one of the things we try to emphasize when customers onboard with us.  The goal isn’t to keep your employees busy.  Your goal is to keep the accounting matters in order with as little effort as possible.  That way, you can free up your trusted employees to handle more customer-facing tasks… sales, marketing, and business growth.