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For many organisations, sustainability is not just about doing the right thing but also about ensuring future viability. Investors increasingly take environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns into account when determining whether to invest in a business. In turn, companies scrutinise the ESG performance of prospective suppliers before awarding contracts. Now more than ever, sustainability matters.

And while efforts to reduce a firm’s environmental footprint will look different across industries, there are some socially responsible initiatives that most companies can adopt. Digitising and automating accounts payable is one of them and will enable better performance across all ESG concerns. Here are some of the ways AP automation makes a positive impact:

Environment

  • Paper

Many organisations receive tens of thousands of invoices per year, with most being more than one-page in length. Therefore, if some of them are received via post – or if accounts payable prints off PDF invoices they receive – then the volume of paper used quickly becomes astronomical.

A paper-based accounts payable function has a significant environmental impact that needs to be addressed through process change. Planting trees may not be enough to compensate for this ecological footprint, given the time it takes a tree to grow and a sapling’s reduced capacity to absorb greenhouse gases.

With one tree supplying 8,333 sheets of copy paper, how many trees are mulched each and every year to meet the needs of your accounts payable department?

  • Transport

Most suppliers prefer to email PDF invoices to their customers than post hard-copy paperwork as this is quicker and more efficient for them. However, emailing invoices may not eliminate transport-related emissions on the buyer’s side.

This is because companies that have not digitalised their accounts payable store paper copies of their invoices in their offices and sometimes in offsite locations as well. As a result, invoices may be physically transported from site to site. This is not necessary with cloud-based AP automation software, where payables data is stored online and easily retrievable at the click of a button.

  • Energy use

With automation software deployed, an accounts payable department may become leaner with less office space, waste, hardware, supplies, equipment repair and maintenance required to run the department. As well as reducing office overheads, this increased efficiency helps lower a firm’s energy consumption.

Social

  •  Suppliers

Under the Payment Times Reporting Scheme, large enterprises and government entities are now required to report on their payment times to small businesses. Payment times will now be publicly exposed and are likely to be viewed as exploitative towards suppliers if they exceed 30 days.

Poor accounts payable performance could cause organisations real brand damage. With late payments typically caused by chaotic manual processes, automating accounts payable enables companies to process invoices in days, improve their financial control, and consistently do the right thing by suppliers.

  •  Employee

Manual payment processes are a headache for accounts payable staff because they are unreliable; errors create re-work and stress for staff. The time spent on data entry and invoice administration holds individuals back from developing in their careers and adding value to the organisation. Working with ineffective systems and processes can be thankless, difficult, and undermine employee wellbeing.

With an increased awareness of mental health issues, companies need to do more to support their people. In many organisations this means offering flexibility and supporting work from home arrangements. Automating accounts payable facilitates offsite work and enables business continuity in times of disruption. Users can log into cloud-based software from anywhere that has an internet connection to carry out their accounts payable and invoice approval tasks.

Governance

  •  Compliance

Automating accounts payable helps strengthen financial control and protect against fraud. Compliance checks are coded into the software, with the solution verifying the invoice comes from a genuine supplier who is registered for GST (if applicable), and that the invoice is not a duplicate.

  •  Financial control

With automation software displaying the entire invoice lifecycle and providing visibility of all upcoming payments, this enables finance teams to better manage working capital. With this insight into current spend, they can forecast cash flow more accurately and make informed decisions about whether to access early-bird discounts or utilise a supplier’s full payment term.

  •  Internal control

Procure to pay automation strengthens internal controls around spending practices. It also ensures full and accurate accounts payable records; the solution digitally logs every interaction with a payable, whether system or human. This means a comprehensive audit history is captured for every invoice and is retrievable at the click of a button.

Conclusion

Firms face increasing pressure to act in a socially responsible manner. Most Australians now see global warming as a serious and pressing problem that needs attention. Therefore, demands for change may come from investors, customers, or employees themselves. As a result, workplaces will continue to transform their operations. For many organisations, automating accounts payable will be an easy win with positive and far-reaching benefits.

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