When it comes to accounts payable automation, the facts do not support massive layoffs, and that’s what we’re going to dive into today. By the way, we’ve written a few other posts about how automation is likely to affect the accounts payable industry you might also want to check out:
- Will Accounting & AP Be Automated Completely? Here’s What We Know
- What Will Your Department Look Like After AP Automation?
- Five Ways to Build Your Finance Dream Team
Just because automation isn’t likely to lead to large-scale downsizing does not mean Accounts Payable (AP) employees and leaders should rest on their laurels; quite the opposite, in fact. AP automation has the potential to revolutionize the way we handle accounts payable and presents a tremendous opportunity for organizational growth driven by AP.
Today, we’ll break down the role automation plays in the AP industry, what that means for jobs, and how it might affect the future of accounts payable work. Let’s get to it.
Accounts Payable Automation Won’t Replace Accountants
If you’re not deeply familiar with the function of AP automation, the first thing you have to understand is that it’s not designed to take over the entire department. You can’t just fire all your staff, clear out their desks, drop in a huge computer and expect all your bills and invoices to be paid accurately and on time.
Instead, what AP automation actually does is enhance the entire AP process by automating the time-consuming repetitive functions.
- Invoice data capture? Automated.
- Three-way matching? All the legwork is done automatically for you.
- General ledger coding? Automatically synchronized.
We recently wrote a more in-depth post about how AP automation is like a slice of pie—delicious on its own, even better as part of a bigger whole.
Here’s an example from a different industry. In 2005, a software company called HubSpot was founded and helped popularize the category of marketing automation. Did marketers start losing their jobs due to this new software? Hardly. New positions like Demand Generation Manager and Marketing Automation Specialist arose seemingly overnight. A quick search on Indeed for “marketing automation” within 25 miles of San Francisco currently yields hundreds of job listings.
Automation doesn’t eliminate jobs. It just eliminates menial tasks that suck employees’ time away from value-add tasks like analysis, forecasting, and strategy development.
3 Ways Automation Will Change AP Roles
Just because automation won’t reduce the amount of AP jobs doesn’t mean the prototypical AP employee doesn’t have to be mindful of its effect on the industry. Here’s how we see automation changing the game.
1. AP staff have the opportunity need to evolve
One thing AP automation platforms are really good at is automating redundant, menial tasks like data entry, sending approval notifications, three-way matching, sending data to and from financial systems, etc.
What AP automation platforms don’t have is the ability to make judgment calls or put things into the context of operations, business planning, or negotiating the same way humans can. AP employees will need to grow and be able to think strategically to add value to their department. Think of it this way:
What’s more valuable for an experienced AP staff member to spend time on?
- Combing through paper invoices, manually keying in data, or
- Analyzing vendor contracts looking for cost-saving opportunities, review departmental stats looking for efficiencies, and providing better financial reporting to the CFO?
The first task is perfectly suited for software, while the other tasks require the human touch and they add value to the organization.
2. Interdepartmental collaboration will become more important
At Stampli, our AP automation platform is designed for both accounts payable practitioners and the 96% other users outside of AP. The majority lies in approving the invoices paying for their projects and flowing through their departments. We built Stampli with communication and control in mind so AP teams can better collaborate with the rest of the organization and its vendors.
Rather than chase down approvals via email, text, voicemail, and the good-old’ fashioned office pop-in, AP automation platforms allow conversations and invoice actions to happen naturally right on top of the actual invoice, which is also searchable and auditable. This connects all stakeholders and provides the necessary context and accountability as to what project or the required approvers are needed, or general ledger code the bill belongs to.
Look for AP employees to become more empowered and integrated into the rest of the organization through increased (and enhanced) collaboration opportunities brought on through automation.
3. Tech-savvy accountants will become more valuable
As we mentioned, automation simply facilitates invoice processing from start to finish and isn’t likely to reduce the number of AP jobs because there will always need to be human oversight. But the humans who understand how to use the new tools to increase efficiency, find cost savings, and manage processes better will become far more valuable from a talent perspective than those who lagged behind technologically.
Expect to see a lot more job postings featuring attributes like “experience with AP automation platforms” or “experience with Stampli a huge plus“ in the requirements. Don’t forget—if you’re more valuable to the company, you’re worth more compensation, as well.
The Future of AP Jobs and Teams
The future of accounts payable is actually happening right now. Firms that embrace AP automation are not only maximizing their efficiency, reducing cost per invoice, and enhancing their vendor relationships; they’re changing how AP is viewed at their organizations.
Here’s what you can expect in the (near) future.
The number of things that the average accountant or AP clerk can get done with the help of automation will skyrocket. With no more data entry, decreased back-and-forth communications through multiple mediums regarding approvals, and a slew of other assistance with tedious and time-consuming tasks, AP professionals will fly through their backlogs and spend more time on work that matters.
If your organization’s ability to scale the business was limited by the ability to pay vendors on time, that is no longer an issue. You won’t need to staff up your department if you suddenly take on a lot of new vendors or bills—overall, the automated processes align to your workflows and allow your current staff to handle a much larger volume of invoices without increased headcount.
File this under ‘money saved for the company’ if you’d like because decreasing the amount of duplicate payments you issue does just that. AP automation platforms have features built-in to specifically combat this issue, raising the red flags to the right people who can make the judgment calls to stop duplicate and fraudulent payments before they happen.
Businesses need the guidance of financial professionals, yet they can sometimes be relegated to a more tactical role simply because of the volume of tasks that need to get done. By automating the majority of processes—especially the repetitive, time-consuming tasks—AP teams can do a lot more with less time and shift their focus from manual tasks to strategic thinking. AP team members will be looked upon to use their interpersonal skills like communicating complex requirements and developing strategies for their organization or clients to use their money wiser.
So what do you think? Is the future of the AP industry a doom-and-gloom scenario full of robots and no jobs available, or is it closer to a streamlined, efficient, and modern working environment for financial professionals?
At Stampli, we tend to think it’s the latter. Take a closer look at our approach to accounts payable automation and let us know what you think.