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3 Ways AP Automation Helps Protect Your Business

September 21, 2021
Man with earphones having conference call online sitting at home office with laptop.

Your company has overcome countless disruptions in recent years and you’re undoubtedly better for it. Now it’s time to protect your business from future disruptions so you can focus on accelerating growth.

But that’s a challenge. So much has changed.

The work-from-home trend – a major structural shift in how companies operate – appears here to stay. Cyberattacks and threats will continue to keep leaders up at night. And the massive digital transformation of businesses remains in full swing.

What should you do to not just survive, but thrive?

We want to help answer this question and share ideas for how you and your company can utilize accounts payable (AP) automation to come out stronger in the days and months ahead by thinking about these changes and opportunities in new ways.

3 Ways AP Automation Helps Protect Your Business

1. AP automation solutions empower your hybrid workforce

Since early 2020, unprecedented numbers of employees have worked remotely all or most of the time.

Here’s some timely data that shows the magnitude of this trend:

  • Gartner reported 94 percent of organizations are allowing more flexibility in where and when employees work even as they return to the workplace.
  • Accenture research found 83 percent of workers said a hybrid model (working from home 25-75 percent of the time) would be ideal. And nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of high-growth companies have embraced the trend and enabled work-from-anywhere models.
  • A 2021 AvidXchange survey of 500 middle market businesses revealed 64 percent have the right technology in place to enable a fully remote workforce now compared to only 37 percent in March of 2020. That’s a critical shift considering 77 percent plan to allow at least some employees to work from home permanently.

Given these trends, what does this mean for how your business processes invoices and pay bills?

It means that performing these tasks securely, quickly and accurately at any time is no longer a “nice-to-have” – it’s a “must have.”

AP automation solutions allow businesses like yours to eliminate paper and continue paying bills on time whether employees are plugged in at the office, working from  home or any place else.

2. AP automation solutions help protect againt cybersecurity threats

Since the pandemic began, cybercriminals have taken advantage of this fluctuating work- from-home situation to hack into the home computers and smartphones of employees.

Frequently, these home networks aren’t as secure as corporate office networks.

For a sense of the extent of these problems, consider this: Nearly 72 percent of respondents to a Deloitte survey indicated cyber threats against their organizations have increased during the past two years. More than one-third (34 percent)  said the threat has grown even more during the pandemic.

Impacts of ransomware, payment fraud

According to a survey of 5,400 business conducted by Sophos, a cybersecurity provider, 37 percent of organizations were hit by ransomware in 2021. That’s down from the 51 percent who said they were hit in 2020, but there’s more to the story.

“The reduction in the number of attacks could be due in part to evolving attack approaches,” Sophos said in its report. “For instance, many attackers have moved from larger scale, generic, automated attacks to more targeted attacks that include human operated, hands-on-keyboard hacking. While the overall number of attacks is lower, our experience shows that the potential for damage from these targeted attacks is much higher.”

The pandemic and the workplace fluctuation also sparked a rise in payment fraud.

According to an Association for Financial Professionals survey, the pandemic accelerated these attacks. Polling revealed nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of treasury finance pros point to the pandemic as the cause for the uptick in payments fraud at their companies.

The survey also found business email compromises (BEC) remain the primary source for attempted or actual payments fraud.

In one prevalent BEC scam, the criminal sends an email to an employee pretending to be a senior executive with the company. The emails instruct the employee to approve a payment or release client data. Often, employees fall for the scam.

Remarkably, the AP department is the corporate group most often vulnerable to BEC attacks, cited by 61 percent.

So if you work on an AP team, know these cyberattacks are real. If not protected from them, the financial stability of your business could be jeopardized. Time consuming and costly business interruptions could occur.

6 AP automation features that help protect your business from cyberattacks

 Luckily for finance department, AP automation enhances security and protects businesses from attacks with several features including, but not limited to:

1. Security Monitoring: When you automate, you can gain a 24/7, 365-days-a-year, on-call rotation of security operations staff dedicated to protecting your data. The software is also capable of:

  • identifying important missing invoice details
  • tracking unforeseen rises in invoice volumes
  • tracing after-hours logins
  • controlling specific payments so your team can check invoices and payments within a secure system, and
  • making it difficult to forge documents.

2. Identity Access Management: Automation ensures the right individuals have the right access to resources at the correct times and for the appropriate reasons. To ensure this happens, the technology offers “separation of duties” benefits that assign several different internal employees to perform different financial tasks.

Using this system, no one person performs all the duties, making it harder for anyone to steal from the business without others noticing.

3. Data Security: Automation helps protect many different data types and information such as customer names, invoice amounts and payment dates. So you don’t have to worry about unprotected paper checks floating around the office anymore or storing sensitive information in a filing cabinet.

4. Central processes: AP automation centralizes processes in safe, electronic formats. AP and accounting information become merged into a single dashboard, providing clear visibility and making it easier to detect and prevent fraudulent activities.

5. AI-powered protections: Artificial intelligence  can be used for fraud protection, malware and intrusion detection, scoring risk in a network and user and machine behavioral analysis.

6. Cloud computing: AP automation uses cloud computing technology to help protect your corporate data and assets. In the cloud your invoice and payment information get more securely stored electronically than on paper documents, making it more difficult to fraudsters to penetrate.

3. AP automation solutions increase visibility, promote business continuity

A survey revealed 96 percent of CFOs plan to digitize AP and AR functions within the next year.

Why so much interest in digitizing AP? One big reason is visibility – or lack thereof.

Finance pros often can’t find invoice and payment information as quickly nor as easily as they would like to. And there’s evidence that the majority want this access.

A Grant Thornton survey of CFOs found 74 percent agree they’re seeking access to the right data to make decisions quickly.

AP automation software helps solves these visibility problems. Whether it’s the status or amount of an invoice, the date payment was sent or the number of invoice exceptions outstanding. You can find this information swiftly and reliably using AP automation.

As you might expect, gaining quick and simple visibility tends to be much more difficult using manual processes. Using paper-based methods, you have limited ability to see invoice and payment data, which may be haphazardly organized and hard to find.

But that’s not all. You’ll clearly see valuable information such as spending analysis, cash flows and working capital to make more insightful short- and long-term decisions.

With all information quickly findable in the same consolidated platforms, tasks such as cross- referencing and audit trails happen faster with fewer mistakes without having to go to the corporate office.

AP automation’s greatest ability is reliability

A major goal in protecting your business is to avoid business interruptions so you can operate an efficient and reliable business. AP automation excels at reliability, which translates to operational flexibility and easier visibility.

AP automation solutions help solve “tribal knowledge” problems that often hamper manual processes.

These knowledge obstacles occur when only one person in the AP department, for instance, has a large amount of expertise handling invoicing and payments but then goes on vacation, gets sick or resigns.

The remaining employees rush to get up to speed. They’re helped by AP automation solutions that house historical information, in one place, where they can quickly find relevant communications about invoices and payments.

AP automation allows for custom workflows

Automated AP processes also help protect your business from inefficient and insecure workflows.

Automated workflows can be set up by approver level and dollar amounts. This way smaller invoices don’t get always sent to finance leaders unnecessarily.

You’re able to automatically route invoices to approvers under certain conditions. For example, if an invoice exceeds $15,000, administrators can add a step to the workflow that automatically routes the invoice to the CFO for approval.

And if your CFO cannot approve the invoice, someone within the CFO role or group can approve instead.

And cloud-based AP solutions allow you to approve invoices from anywhere – the office, your home, the beach, the gym, anywhere.

What does all this mean?

Optimizing the critical operation of paying your business bills isn’t just a band-aid fix or passing fad. It’s a solution for today that will better equip your business for uninterrupted scalable growth tomorrow.

Final thoughts

Protecting your business in these new market conditions has become crucial. With so much change in workplace structures, with so many needs to ensure security, with digitalization becoming so widespread, now is a great time to make sure your business remains safe and secure from interruptions.

Now is a great opportunity to take back control over your operations and the way your company serves customers and have fewer protection concerns in these dramatically changing business conditions.

To achieve these goals, we offer three final suggestions:

First, empower your hybrid workforce with tools that set it up for success. 

AP automation solutions allow your business to run smoothly regardless of your employees’ physical location. Not only will this promote healthy, happy employees, it can help protect your business from late payment issues that make your company more vulnerable to late payment penalties and strained relationships with vendors and suppliers.

Second, defend yourself against cybersecurity threats. 

Cybersecurity presents a real challenge for finance pros and businesses overall. It will persist. Your business should do all it can to protect against an attack. This can’t be done using manual AP processes nearly as effectively as automated AP.

Third, grant your business greater visibility into cashflow.

They want to know what’s going on with invoices and payments quickly and easily so they can make more informed and insightful business decisions. Help them gain more visibility. This is much easier using automated AP software rather than manual processes.

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