Four Steps to a Paperless Accounting System
Experts have been talking about a paperless accounting system since computers went mainstream, but in most offices, filing cabinets stuffed with a decade’s worth of receipts, invoices, printed-out emails, and who knows what else are the norm. According to the Workflow Management Coalition, companies can experience a 30% productivity bump simply by eliminating printing costs, reducing hours spent searching for lost documents, and implementing digital workflows.
In the early days of going paperless, businesses (or the accounting firms they hired) would complete the physical paperwork, scan it and store it all digitally. The metadata around specific documents (the data that describes a file, such as tags, categories, type, etc.) was minimal, making it difficult to search through those digital files. In a way, going paperless didn’t offer any advantages beyond moving your file storage system to the cloud.
Modern-day tools have not only made digitizing documents easier than ever, but they also include powerful search functions because enhanced metadata and optical character recognition (OCR), which transforms a scanned file from a mere picture into a searchable document.
If you want to reap the benefits of going paperless, your accounting system is a great place to start. Not only does digitizing your accounting system make it easier to find what you’re looking for, but it also automates a variety of data entry tasks that make your life easier.
Plus, says Damien Greathead, vice president of global accountants’ programs for Receipt Bank, digitizing documents reduces the risk that they’ll be lost to theft, flood, or fire. “The documents sitting in the cloud are infinitely more secure than if they’re sitting in your back office in a filing cabinet,” he says.
The key to going paperless is to have the right tools to make capturing, searching, and filtering physical documents easier. We spoke with Damien about the best ways for a company to go paperless.
Step 1: Start small
Rather than trying to change all your processes at once, pick one paper-based process and start from there. For example, you may choose to use an app like Receipt Bank or Expensify to begin digitizing your receipts, Timely to digitize your employee timesheets, or Bill.com to digitize your accounts payable.
You might choose based on how much time savings or waste reduction you’ll have in a certain area, or choose something that seems simplest to tackle. Once you’ve mastered one new process, begin with another from your list.
Damien recommends that business owners who are concerned about a purely paperless system try running two systems in conjunction with each other for the first few months. “You’ll see fairly quickly that it works,” he says. “But if that’s what you need to give yourself a little bit of confidence, go for it.”
Step 2: Pick your tools
Whichever process you’re planning on digitizing, you’ll find dozens of tools designed to help make it easier. How can you choose between them? Damien recommends looking for providers that make it easy for you, such as giving you a mobile app that allows you to collect documents on the road and options to collect documents from email.
“Some paperless providers will just have a scan option, and I think that’s quite limiting,” says Damien. “Make sure that the provider offers a broad way to get information into the system, and that all of the fields can be tagged to make filtering and searching within the document easily.”
Make sure that whatever tool you choose integrates with your core accounting platform, as well.
Step 3: Draw a line in the sand
Going paperless can seem daunting, especially if you have a backlog of paper documents. But Damien cautions business owners not to let a backlog gold them back. “You can draw a line in the sand and say as of August 1 we’re paperless,” he says. “But most businesses we work with will digitize the whole particular financial year.”
To make the project less daunting, look for a tool that enables you to do a high-speed batch upload. For example, Receipt Bank allows users to scan 50 documents at a time, then the tool will automatically split the information apart.
Step 4: Think beyond the individual process
This isn’t just about reducing paper in a single process alone. Instead, think of your paperless system as interconnected, and look for ways that digitizing documents can create workflows and save you time.
“The best thing about going paperless is that as soon as we’ve captured the image, we can get to work recognizing all of the information and doing the first part of the accounting,” says Damien. “That lets us more quickly prepare the monthly financials, which means you can have a much more valuable insight into how the business is performing.”
Go paperless with confidence
Interested in paperless accounting? Talk to the accounting experts at MBS ATA about the tools, systems, and procedures that are right for your business. Learn more about how we help our customers save time and reduce waste by implementing paperless accounting systems.