Automating financial workflows in your online business could be a game changer.
With the current manual processes, business owners and finance teams get stuck in a rut. Rather than focusing on value-adding tasks to grow the business and keep customers happy, you end up digging through Excel sheets and other files to find the financial information you need.
Over ten years ago, we created an automation tool for invoicing and tax compliance because we experienced the need ourselves, as an online business and a SaaS business, to save time and reduce errors. We knew something needed to change.
Software automation is already streamlining workflows and improving efficiency in other areas of business, such as marketing, inventory services, and even HR. So why not finance, too?
We’ve taken our experience in automated processes to create this guide on how to optimize your financial workflows. In it, we’ll cover:
- What is finance automation?
- Benefits of finance automation for your business
- Which finance processes should be automated?
- How to implement finance automation in 5 steps
What is finance automation?
Finance automation is using technology to execute financial processes and operations in your business. By leveraging various automation tools that are integrated with your sales channels or e-commerce platforms, you can automate repetitive tasks and reap several benefits for your business – which we’ll cover in the next section!
To optimize efficiency, each automation tool helps you set up a series of tasks (called workflows) which trigger set a pre-defined steps or actions that mimic what a human would do in the same process. You can customize automation tools to your business, and in rare cases, you may need to adjust your operations to fit the tool. Picking the right software is a big part of finance automation, and we’ll cover that in a later section, too.
You can automate your finance processes without your customers even knowing. Rather than create any business disruption, it actually helps your business run more smoothly. You just have to handle the transition to and implementation of the tool correctly, and we’ll get to that at the end of this article!
Benefits of financial automation
Automating your finance processes could meet a few challenges, such as resistance to change or unfamiliarity with new technologies. But once you and your team understand the benefits, the choice is clear.
The main benefits of financial automation are:
- Reduces human error
- Saves time and therefore saves costs
- Optimizes cash flow
- Boosts transparency of business operations
- Increases employee satisfaction. Because people can do work that’s actually more interesting and rewarding!
The goal is to digitize as many processes as possible so that humans are free to use their time on more valuable and strategic parts of the business. We’ve already covered 7 tasks that your business should automate, such as email marketing and customer support. But let’s take a closer look at examples of finance tasks specifically.
Which finance processes should be automated?
Wondering where to start? The first step is to identify the parts of your business operation that are good candidates for automation. Here are 6 to consider:
- Accounts receivable
- Accounts payable
- Automated invoicing
- Reporting and analysis
- Tax solutions
Read about each one to see if automating this area could be right for your business!
1. Accounts receivable
Accounts receivable (AR) are the funds that customers owe your company. To stay on top of this, you can automate AR tasks like generating recurring invoices, sending overdue payment reminders, and processing recurring credit card payments. You can also implement automated messages that encourage customers to pay online, thus eliminating manual data entry.
Automation is already an established tool in communication services; for example, a call center may use a VoIP telephone service from Vonage to efficiently handle customer inquiries, automate call routing, and improve the overall customer experience.
2. Accounts payable
Accounts payable (AP) refers to money owed by a business to vendors or suppliers. Keeping on top of your debts is crucial for avoiding strained vendor relationships, late payments, and reputational damage.
It makes sense, then, to automate processes to ensure bills are paid on time every time. Invoice capture, coding, approval, and payment can all be automated. If you need automatic reminders sent for payment, automation can handle this as well.
Payroll is another accounting process overdue for automation. Take some of the burden off finance personnel and general managers alike by automating tasks like adding employees to the system, setting different rates and wages, and processing payroll on a predefined schedule by also monitoring their days off and attendance.
Ideally, you want to be able to make tweaks and updates without risking disruption to the employee pay cycle.
4. Automated invoicing
Automatic invoicing and billing can have a huge benefit for your accountancy team and across your business. It frees up a lot of time for your accounts payable team as well as helping to reduce the risk of errors, especially as invoice data can be automatically extracted and updated in your database.
On top of this, by being able to consistently handle your invoices and payments efficiently and accurately, you’ll strengthen your partner relationships as you demonstrate your reliability and trust.
5. Reporting and analysis
Successful finance departments run consistent reports for in-depth analysis, drawing out crucial insights to benefit the firm. The more you digitize this process, the easier it will be to make speedy business decisions based on real-time data.
Automated analysis tools consolidate financial data from various connected apps and systems. They also track key performance indicators (KPIs) like conversions, departmental performance, cash flow, and more.
You can set reports to be delivered to your inbox, or to specific staff, on a predetermined schedule.
6. Tax solutions
Gone are the days of checking tax rules and rates in all the places you sell. No more manually tracking your sales against tax registration thresholds. Instead, there are great tax solutions to help with every step of the tax compliance process.
The first big benefit of automating your tax compliance is that the software or e-commerce plugin will automatically calculate taxes in the checkout process and apply them to the sale. Plus, as your business grows, you will be notified if you become liable for taxes in a new place!
Sales, expenses, returns, input and output taxes – all of these transactions and finances will be clearly, and securely stored in the app. So you won’t have to sift through masses of unorganized documents or crunch any numbers to file returns.
How to implement finance automation
In our experience as a SaaS business that tries to automate as many operations as possible – and since we built a SaaS tool that helps other businesses automate their taxes – we have learned that the transition from manual to automatic usually follows 5 basic steps.
The 5 steps to implement financial automation are:
- Identify and define the workflows to automate
- Select the right automation tools and software
- Assign an owner
- Set up new workflows
- Test the new automation
1. Identify and define workflows to automate
Don’t try to automate everything at once; it’s best to be specific and intentional about your priorities.
We’ve already listed some examples of finance processes to automate. They have a few things in common:
- They don’t require a high level of human touch or personal connection.
- They don’t require creativity or strategic thinking.
- They are repetitive tasks.
- They are tasks that typically waste employees’ time!
Pick a process that fits this criteria according to how you run your business, and what would have the biggest impact.
2. Select the right automation tools and software
Automation relies on having the right technology in place for the job at hand. For example, if your goal is to optimize the way you share and store documents, you might go for a virtual fax software to streamline the process of sending and receiving electronic faxes and eliminate the need for physical fax machines and copious paper documents.
On a broader scale, dedicated automation platforms such as Quaderno can help to connect all the systems before you begin financial automation, linking together existing apps and letting them ‘talk’ to each other to achieve cohesion across the board.
3. Assign an owner
In our experience, it’s helpful to assign someone (either one individual or a team) to oversee and generally be in charge of the process. Their job is to maintain workflows, streamline operations, ensure everything is running smoothly, and address any errors.
On an ongoing basis, they are responsible for learning about any software updates or product releases from the software tool. They should also adjust the workflows to match the business as you evolve.
4. Set up workflows
Now for the main event: setting up your workflow automations. Each workflow should have the following components: a trigger, an action, and a result. Let’s run through what these mean, with examples of each.
A trigger is a predefined event that kickstarts the automation. It is the first domino in the line, so to speak.
- An invoice is received.
- A payment due date is approaching.
- An account balance is below a certain threshold.
The action is what happens in response to the trigger.
- The automation system initiates an invoice-processing workflow, verifying invoice details, obtaining necessary approval, and scheduling a payment.
- Automatic reminders are sent to ensure the responsible party is aware of the impending payment due date.
- The system generates notifications to alert the relevant parties of a low account balance.
The result is the goal, or intended outcome, of the trigger and subsequent action.
- The invoice is processed and paid.
- The responsible party clicks on the link in the reminder message and pays their bill before the due date passes.
- Human agents or customers are alerted to the situation and can take timely action.
5. Test the automation
The final step once you have everything set up is to test the workflows internally. Make sure that they work properly and everything flows seamlessly. This prevents customer-facing mistakes or disruptions. Your team then has the peace of mind to step back and focus on more valuable work.
With careful strategy, your business can embrace the possibilities of automation – in finance and beyond! The most important step is to actually get started.
Take your first step with Quaderno, a tax compliance software for businesses who want to scale without memorizing all the tax policies at home or abroad. From sales tax calculation and automatic invoices to registration alerts and comprehensive tax reports, Quaderno automates the tax compliance process for US sales tax, VAT, and GST around the world.
Quaderno will track your sales around the world and alert you when your business might be liable for taxes so that you can register on time. The app also applies the correct tax amount to each sale and sends automatic invoices every time you get paid. Thanks to instant, easy-to-read tax reports, you can file returns in minutes. Ultimately, the app keeps your business tax-compliant and saves you hours of manual accounting so that you can get back to doing what you love.
See how Quaderno can give you peace of mind with a free trial, no credit card necessary.
Note: At Quaderno we love providing helpful information and best practices about taxes, but we are not certified tax advisors. For further help, or if you are ever in doubt, please consult a professional tax advisor or the Tax Agency.