Offering bill pay as a service is a great way to expand your firm’s service offerings, better accommodate your clients’ needs, and gather accurate client data, faster. It can help you provide more timely business advice to your clients, and give them one less administrative task to worry about.
However, paying bills for your small business clients can be a complicated and demanding process, particularly when using old, paper-based methodology. Many accountants and bookkeepers see bill pay as low-value and time-consuming, making it difficult to build the business case for this type of service.
With some standardization and the right technology, however, bill pay can become part of your core service offerings, allowing you and your clients to experience a number of benefits. Let’s dig a little deeper into the “how to” of bill pay, and how you can make the whole process more efficient.
Why offer bill pay as a service?
At its core, bill pay is a straightforward concept. Any time a small business needs to pay a supplier – for goods, rent, utilities, etc. – a bill or invoice is created. Often these bills have set timeframes for on-time payment, called “terms”, which can come with penalties for late payments. Bill pay is the process of receiving a bill, allocating the funds from a bank account or credit card, and either paying the supplier directly or ensuring the supplier receives payment before the term’s end.
This is an essential aspect of every business – that is to say, every business must pay suppliers on a regular basis. As an advisor, owning the bill pay process will enable you to provide more complete information to your clients. You’ll know more about their accounts payable, which will give you a better understanding of their finances and stability. You’ll also gain access to more timely and relevant data, which in turn can help you become integral to their day-to-day operations, leading to better client retention.
The challenges of a paper-based bill pay process
A traditional, paper-based bill pay process typically has five steps: bill intake, processing, approval, payment, and reconciliation.
In this process, a staff member or courier must physically collect all your clients’ source documents, or rely on the client to send everything in the mail. Gathering physical bills is only half the battle – upon collection, your team would then be tasked with manual data entry and hard-coding, reviewing each bill for approval (with no audit trail), then finally, cutting a check to your client’s supplier.
It’s easy to see why this can be tedious, time-consuming, and limiting – from start to finish, the process can take weeks of your resources, mostly spent on low-value administrative tasks.
Fortunately, a standardized bill pay workflow, supported by the right technology, can make it easier to offer bill pay and unlock several benefits for both your firm and your clients.
How to streamline bill pay
As with many bookkeeping tasks, digitization and automation can make bill pay quick and easy to complete. Before introducing any automation, however, it’s also important to standardize your workflow.
Standardize your workflow
A standardized bill pay workflow will help you understand exactly how much time and effort each client needs, who is responsible for specific tasks, and when/how to involve the client. Better yet, it can help you set fixed costs, reduce document touches, increase visibility into cash flow, and remove ambiguity, which can all help you save time and focus on tasks that provide more value.
Standardization is especially important for bill pay because your clients will often have a variety of needs, such as different payment term lengths, methods, and suppliers (e.g., local versus international). A standardized workflow will help you ensure you’ve got every step covered for all of your clients.
One of the best ways to begin with standardization is by documenting your workflow. To help you get started, try working from the steps provided below:
- Document intake: Automatically collect all client bills, or ensure clients email or send all necessary accounts payable documents.
- Processing: Code each bill (either by entering the data manually into your general ledger or bill pay software, or implementing software with data extraction capabilities).
- Approval: Have your staff and/or client review and approve each bill to be paid.
- Payment: Once approved, either pay suppliers directly, or ensure the client has paid their suppliers accordingly.
- Reconciliation: Match the transaction and check or e-payment to the corresponding debit in your client’s bank or credit card statement.
For maximum efficiency, it’s important to choose cloud accounting tools that can support your entire workflow. There is a wealth of software options and apps which can take a workflow from the paper-based and manual method to a cloud-based and automated approach.
A typical technology stack for bill pay includes a document collection software (e.g., Hubdoc 😉), a payment processing software, and a general ledger. With a solid technology base, both you and your clients can utilize these same tools, and even set up pre-approved processes, which can help complete bill pay tasks faster.
One of the greatest benefits of leveraging technology is that it enables you to go paperless, which means you’ll no longer have to wait for clients to mail their documents, or physically pick them up. Combine these time savings with those you’ll get from pre-approved processes, and it’s easy to see why technology-enabled bill pay services can benefit your firm and your clients.
Introduce bill pay as a service!
Given that bill pay can add a lot of value for both your clients and your firm, and that a standardized, technology-based workflow makes it significantly easier to complete the bill pay process, it might be time to reconsider adding bill pay to your firm’s service offerings.
By introducing this service, you’ll not only add another valuable offering as a strategic business partner, you’ll also build even stronger client relationships, and move one step closer to being a true full-service advisor!
Learn how to standardize and improve your bill pay services with our free Bill Pay Workflow + Checklist.
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