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The Challenge Ongoing: AP Staffing and Utilization

The economy is complex. Economists and financial experts try to read and forecast it with complex models that work until they don’t. Something is always messing with the models, from the tech boom of the 1990s to the financial crisis of 2008. The pandemic brought another twist to challenge forecasters, its impact continuing to reverberate three years on.

Supply chain disruptions gradually got sorted out. Meanwhile, the “great resignation” was actually a “great reshuffle” as people, evaluating their lives and work during the pandemic, moved to different and better jobs. The economy started picking up, but inflation took off, threatening recovery. Yet rate increases by the Fed have so far failed to cool things off, and there is still a shortage of workers.

The Federal Reserve is trying to read the tea leaves on the next rate hike vis-à-vis inflation, now made more complicated by a few specific bank failures. And the labor market remains tight.

Challenge for Managers

So what does this all mean for shared services and accounts payable managers? They must manage hybrid or remote work arrangements and are feeling the effect of the tight labor market. Tech giants’ layoffs notwithstanding, there were still nearly two job openings for every unemployed person in January, according to the latest data from the Labor Department. 

Financial workers are not in the lowest wage group, which was hit hardest in the pandemic but has seen the most wage growth. But the personal reassessment brought on by the pandemic affected many beyond the lowest-paid workers, AP employees among them. Many people stopped for a look around and decided to pursue other opportunities.

As a consequence, managers already navigating hybrid and remote work may also face staff shortages and lack certainty about finding new staff. The labor market has provided leverage to workers regarding wages and remote and hybrid work arrangements. Companies have had difficulty requiring a total return to the office, many settling for three days in/two days out as another “new normal.”

A Force Multiplier for AP

To address these challenges, managers must determine where and how to deploy their staff best. Canny managers ascertain where their teams are spending time and, given AP’s mission, deciding where to make changes to maximize effectiveness.

A place to look? Vendor inquiries.

According to survey data from Financial Operations Networks, companies receive questions from vendors on anywhere from five to 20 percent of invoices. That’s a lot of inquiries, and someone must reply to them. It might be the entire AP staff, invoice processors, or a small dedicated “customer service” team. But someone must address the inquiries.

The survey revealed that employee responses to calls and emails take one-to-five minutes for 67 percent of organizations. For 22 percent, it requires six-to-ten minutes. And for 11 percent, 15 – 30 minutes! That’s per inquiry. And except for specialized customer service staff, it takes additional time for employees to refocus on their other work.

The point is that vendor inquiries consume staff time. Yet most inquiries are straightforward questions: “Did you get our invoice? When will our invoice be paid?”

Accounts payable can save the time it takes to respond to vendor inquiries by implementing a self-service vendor portal where vendors can find the answers to their questions.

Self-Service Vendor Portal

And an online vendor self-service portal can handle more than just inquiries. It can also:

  • electronically onboard new vendors
  • verify vendor bank account information
  • securely digitally upload W-9 and W-8 forms
  • validate TIN and automatically check vendor against OFAC and other watchlists
  • enable vendors to securely submit updates to their contact information and banking details

Further, for growing businesses, a vendor portal allows the reassignment of staff without the need to hire. With a cloud-based vendor portal system, it’s easy to increase your scale of operations successfully. Given the still fluid work environment amidst economic uncertainties, now is an opportune time for a quick return on a piece of automation that is often overlooked yet can yield significant time savings.

AP staff can focus on more significant value tasks rather than answering “Did you get our invoice” for the umpteenth time! Moreover, more challenging work is engaging and a valuable morale booster.

So, whether you are fully staffed or currently understaffed, implementing a self-service vendor portal can be an inexpensive, quick win. You can implement a discrete portal in weeks with limited IT staff involvement.

To find out even more benefits of a vendor self-service portal, contact us.

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