Ensuring consistency and accuracy of payments during times of operational turbulence.

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When it comes to business continuity in an era of COVID-19, cash flow and working capital are more relevant and critical for businesses than ever. And unlike other financial challenges, recessions or slowdowns, the COVID-19 pandemic is not selective about the size of the company, the market(s) or the geographies most impacted.

Therefore, the manner in which businesses try and maintain some sense of normalcy when it comes to providing whatever services or products they can – and in turn being confident that they’ll receive compensation for those efforts – is paramount. And that means that businesses also need clarity in the actual operational processes and capabilities that are available to them to make payments to suppliers and providers as well as receiving payments from customers.

Given that we are now in an era of remote working and social distancing, the challenge for companies to maintain visibility, control and security of their payment processes is more important than ever. Businesses around the world rely on back-office teams of people – usually working in the same location – to manage legacy workflows that are highly manual and resource intensive to validate and process payments. This was never sustainable in the past, and now is becoming an even bigger problem with fragmented workforces. If companies can’t make or receive payments at a time where these steps are vital to the economy that’s a big problem for everyone.

As businesses adjust to what looks to be a very long road back to whatever normal might look like over the coming years, now is the time to come to grips with the fact that dispersed teams cannot just use workflows designed for when everyone worked in the same office. Companies need to consider several factors as they restructure their business systems and back office processes to deal with a new workplace dynamic:

  • What step(s) in my payables/receivables workflow currently require a human to perform it?
  • Are those steps truly necessary or could they be either eliminated and/or accomplished through another solution?
  • Do my technology applications support remote management of payables?
  • What step(s) in the process would I be willing to enable a technological solution to handle for me?
  • And how quickly am I going to need to answer the above questions, given my business may either be in remote mode for an indefinite period of time, or my CFO/board/CEO is going to expect permanent changes to reduce inefficiencies due to the crisis?

There are a number of payment-related applications and capabilities that have been deployed successfully in many organisations to help reduce friction and reliance on legacy processes and systems which are highly relevant to enabling a non-centralised workforce. They include:

  • Application of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) driven rules engines to help eliminate legacy processes that create friction and frequent errors when deciding how to process payments.
  • Utilisation of fully digital payment products – such as single-use virtual credit cards, peer-to-peer networks, and/or tokenised payments – to help cut down on mistakes and/or fraudulent activity.
  • Enabling APIs to help connect disparate systems together to cut down on the need to hand data off from system-to-system, which adds complexity and effort whilst continuing to open up opportunities for errors or risky transactions.

Technology of course is never a panacea; the best technology solutions are traditionally most successful when they are deployed iteratively rather than “big bang”. However, these are not traditional times, and businesses need to rapidly re-think the way they are doing things, especially when it comes to trying to keep as much capital flowing as possible whilst maintaining visibility and control over their business operations.

Businesses are already gearing up to prepare for what is going to shape the way of doing things for the next several years and beyond. All the more reason that now is the time to act to deploy new ways of working so that when things do start to pick back up that companies are ready with new ideas, new methods and new technologies.