These are truly unprecedented times.
Things that were our collective 'normal' only matter of weeks ago, now seem like distant memories.
Businesses, educational systems, entire governments—our routine daily lives—have all been disrupted by an invisible force that virtually none of us could've ever been completely prepared for.
But in the words of Albert Einstein,
"In the middle of every difficulty, lies opportunity."
We are very much in the middle of a time of great difficulty. But there is no doubt that out of this difficulty will come innovation. Innovation bread from times that force us all to look at how we do business, how we educate, how we govern, how we live; and make the improvements that we may not have otherwise made. It is how we evolve. It is how we move forward.
Now, before we go any further, a quick disclaimer…
This is a business blog. One specifically focused on payment processing and integrated receivables technologies. Here we discuss how businesses can consolidate and streamline their accounts receivables (A/R) and payment processing operations to eliminate legacy systems and labor-intensive, error-prone, manual processes.
We fully understand that there is a lot going on in the world right now. But this is what we know and do best. This is how we can help businesses evolve and move forward during this highly disruptive time.
So, let’s jump back into it…
Disruption is a natural part of business. Whether it’s your competition, new technology, customer preferences, or other internal or external influences, you always have to be prepared to deal with new challenges that influence the success of your customers and ultimately your business. However, very rarely (if ever) have we seen the type of abrupt disruption we have seen over the course of the past several weeks.
Times of disruption such as we are currently experiencing require flexible technologies and solutions that can support rapid changes in your existing processes and business requirements. Now is not the time to halt progress. This is a time to move forward, to innovate, to lead.
The businesses that take this opportunity to evolve and become nimbler through this time will not only succeed in the near term, but ultimately emerge better prepared for the inevitable disruption of the future as well.
We’re in the business of software—specifically integrated receivables software—and we’ll be completely honest with you, no software will solve your problems straight out of the box. Especially enterprise, receivables management and payment processing software. And really, would you want it to?
If it did, that would mean you did something the exact same way as everyone else. You’re unique, you need a partner who can deliver solutions based on your unique needs.
Even as some vendors increasingly preach the miracles of things such as AI and machine learning, it’s important to remember that in order for enterprise software to truly be successful, it requires a strategic blend of collaboration between people and machines.
Below, we’ve described five ways you can quickly address some of the challenges you might be experiencing within your daily A/R and payment processing operations during this time of social distancing and remote working arrangements.
Not only will these potential changes help you evolve with the rapid disruption we’ve seen since the start of the global outbreak of COVID-19, but they can also help position your organization (and ultimately your customers) for the future, should another scenario such as this strike again.
How to maintain (and perhaps even accelerate) your A/R and payment processing operations in this time of COVID-19, social distancing and extended period of remote work:
A cloud-based platform has never been more important
As more and more teams are moved to remote work environments, the flexibility and rapid deployment of cloud-based payment processing platforms and solutions has never been more relevant or valuable.
Since cloud-based platforms can be easily accessed from any location, employees should have ready, secure access to internal user interfaces from any PC or laptop. Additionally, solutions that leverage a secure desktop application for internal access and oversight of all payments across your enterprise deliver additional security benefits over many browser-based solutions.
Meanwhile your customers should have convenient access from virtually any device (PC, laptop, tablet, smart phone) depending on the payment options and channels you make available to them.
Not already operating from the cloud? It's easy to get started and there's no better time than now. Best of all, cloud-based platforms typically come with low barriers of entry when it comes to costs associated with getting started, and those costs should conveniently fit within the OPEX category of your budgeting processes since no dedicated hardware is required on your side to host cloud-based applications. After that, you can enjoy easy-to-understand billing based on your monthly usage on the platform.
Businesses that commit to progress, not stagnation during this pivotal time will succeed in the long run. Sure, it would be easy to put a hold on all projects at a time like this, but those will be the businesses that emerge from this time having missed opportunities to evolve and improve.
Check scanning, unchained
While we’ve all heard the buzz that checks are rapidly fading from existence, the reality is that checks still represent a large piece of the payments mix for most businesses. Over the years, many enterprises have made the move to remote deposit capture (RDC) to facilitate their check scanning processes and eliminate the labors of filling out deposit slips and taking checks to the bank for deposit.
But now, as many organizations have responsibly moved to remote work environments as they respond to COVID-19, checks still need to be collected and scanned for deposit. If you’re stuck with an on-premise RDC solution, you or your employees have no choice but to head into the office and brave the uncertainty of social distancing and the natural anxiety that comes with it.
Contrast this with cloud-based solutions that can easily adapt and support check scanning operations from remote locations. Cloud-based RDC solutions allow you, and your employees that are responsible for collecting and depositing/scanning checks, to scan from anywhere. All that is needed is a desktop check scanner, a PC and an internet connection. What’s more, all items scanned—regardless of location—are available for review in real-time, allowing for effective and auditable separation of responsibilities across your A/R operations.
Not able to relocate check scanners to remote locations? No problem. Now could be the perfect time to get started with mobile Remote Deposit Capture (mRDC) solutions.
Many of us have become familiar with the ease of mRDC within our own consumer lives, readily eliminating the time and inconvenience of trips to the bank to deposit checks. Now you can leverage this same technology (with a few added bells and whistles built specifically for businesses) to even further streamline the mobile check capture and associated cash application efforts within your business A/R operations. All you need is a mobile device (iOS or Android smart phone or tablet) to get started.
The current state of the world also presents a great opportunity to convert loyal check writing customers to highly-convenient, low germ transmitting, electronic payment channels such as online or automatic debit payment options.
Quickly and easily extend new electronic payment channels
Chances are, if you operate within one of the many industries that continues to see a high-volume of check payments from your customers—distribution, insurance, property management, utilities, manufacturing, just to name a few—now might be the perfect time to introduce your customers to the ability to go online and make payments on their open invoices/bills/statements.
Here are just a few reasons why now might be the perfect time to introduce online payment capabilities to your customers:
- Customer convenience – Pay online anytime and from anywhere. 24x7x365 access.
- Fewer “touch” points – Encouraging customers to pay online can significantly reduce the number of checks that have to be handled for both your customers and your employees. This ultimately equates to less germs and decreased chances for potential infections during this global pandemic.
- Streamlined cash application – with the adoption of electronic invoice presentment and payment (EIPP) functionality, your customers can select the invoice(s) they are paying and have that data automatically be associated with the payment for posting into your back-office system(s). You could think of this as customer-assisted cash application.
- Security & Compliance – Leading online payment solutions bring best-in-class security and compliance at multiple layers—allowing you and your customers to rest assured payment data protection is top priority.
- Recurring and autopay (automatic debit) opt-in – Could you further simplify billing cycles and payment options for your customers by allowing them to opt-in for autopay (automatic debit) and recurring payments? If so, select a solution that can facilitate adding these options directly within the online payment portal based on your unique payment terms and billing cycles.
While online payments may be a great self-service option for your customers, many businesses still have employees in the field needing to accept facemask-to-facemask payments remotely.
- The addition of a mobile payment application for your field representatives to securely (and compliantly) accept checks, ACH and credit card payments remotely may be just the solution you need. Similar to online payments, complete EIPP capabilities within the mobile application not only accelerate cash application processes, but also significantly reduce DSO for check payments accepted in the field via mRDC.
Streamline and automate cash application
Up to this point, we’ve discussed how to more efficiently accept payments across numerous channels (RDC, mRDC, online, mobile). But once a payment has been accepted and sent to either your bank (checks, ACH) or merchant processor (credit cards) for processing, you’re still left to make sure that those payments are accurately and efficiently applied to customers’ accounts across what can sometimes represent multiple downstream back-office systems.
What good is it if you can efficiently accept and process payments, but are left to endure manual, error-prone processes surrounding the posting of payment data to close out the order-to-cash lifecycle? Short answer: it isn’t.
If you are researching an integrated receivables solution that cannot support all three stages of the payment lifecycle (acceptance, processing AND posting…AKA straight-through processing) from a single platform, it is not truly integrated.
As you look for a solution that will support your unique business needs and the requirements of your back-office and downstream systems, make sure you select a platform that is agnostic in nature and can adapt to your processes, workflows and perhaps most importantly, can be configured for use with the systems you already have in place. Ideally through the support of batch-file or real-time integration capabilities.
Some examples of key back-office or downstream systems that your chosen payment processing solution should support flexible integration with are accounting systems, CRMs, ERPs, Donor Management systems, Policy Management systems, Route Accounting software, and many more.
When it comes to accepting payments and ultimately applying funds to customers’ accounts in an accurate and efficient manner, no software will ever be perfect.
Yes, you read that correctly. No software (not even ours) will ever be 100% perfect.
The simple reason? The system will never know what it doesn’t know. Translation: there will always be exceptions within your A/R and payment processing operations. Short-pays, over-pays, payments on account, credits, past-due accounts—all of these classifications represent potential exception handling scenarios. And each of these scenarios can be handled differently on a business-by-business and even customer-by-customer basis.
The strategic goal should be to automate as high-percentage of the payment acceptance and cash application processes as possible, while streamlining the exception handling of all the others. As we’ve already made clear, there will ALWAYS be exceptions. How you prioritize those items so that your resources spend more time on items that actually require their valuable time and attention is the difference between transformation and the status quo.
Whether you’re interested in batch or real-time cash application capabilities into your downstream, back-office systems, make sure your chosen solution can map to your unique specifications and requirements. Leading providers are limited only by the constraints of your back-office systems, or in some cases, the third-party vendors that help develop, manage and maintain your back-office systems.
Build a partnership that transcends banking
When it comes to supporting the financial needs of your business, there is no one better equipped to help you than your banking institution(s). Especially now as banks play an important role in helping businesses access loans from the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those relationships are important.
But, those relationships through your bank also are unlikely to help provide you with SaaS software and solutions that help you transform your day-to-day needs surrounding mission critical areas such as payment processing and A/R operations.
Sure, your bank can probably provide you with RDC and maybe even basic online payment products. But guess what? You’re likely getting the same exact product all their other corporate customers are getting, with little-to-no configuration options based on your unique business workflows and processes. It’s even less likely that those basic products will support flexible batch or real-time integrations with your back-office systems based on your specifications and requirements.
What you’re left with is the prospect of several additional silos and all the manual tasks, time and costs that come with them.
Again, in order to be fair, and as we’ve mentioned before, a growing number of forward-thinking community and regional banks are developing partnerships that help them to deliver their corporate banking customers with the type of integrated receivables offerings they really need.
If you do decide to seek these advanced solutions from a banking partner, we highly suggest taking a good long look behind the curtain.
Does the bank own the IP to the software or solutions you’re interested in using? This is highly doubtful. But if not, all is not lost just yet.
If the bank doesn't own the IP and the services are offered as part of their partnership with a third-party FinTech provider, will you have ready-access to the SMEs behind the technology? The brainpower of, and collaboration with, those who actually create and evolve the technology you'd be investing in is what you’d really be paying for, isn’t it?
If the bank doesn’t own the IP and wouldn’t be granting you direct access to the FinTech provider actually delivering the solution(s), go direct to the source. You can plug into virtually any bank...that's the easy part.
Banks are not technology providers. Technology providers are not banks. But corporate customers require both in order to succeed. Now more than perhaps ever before, banks and FinTechs have the opportunity to create game-changing partnerships that ultimately deliver the solutions that corporate banking customers need. A win-win-win for all parties involved.
Companies have to keep moving forward, even in times of hyper disruption such as we’ve seen over the course of the past 30-45 days as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Your customers and employees depend on it.
But the highly-manual processes and legacy systems that support day-to-day operations (in the case of this blog post, payment processing and A/R operations) for many businesses can add complexity and take time and resources away from what matters most: providing for, and supporting your customers when they need you most.
It's not always realistic to solve the problem when you're in the thick of things, especially at a time in history as such as we are living right now.
But sometimes it takes periods of adversity and disruption to give you the perspective and incentive you need to make the improvements you've known are there to be made. All you need to do is start.
Originally published April 21, 2020.