Survey shows accountants prefer digital bill payments yet struggle with standardization
Third Annual Bill Payment Trends Survey, from CPA.com and Bill.com, pinpoints rise of bill payment efficiency for cloud users and how large and midsize firms are leading the charge to digital payments
Palo Alto, CA – Nov. 29, 2017 – While accountants urge their clients to pay bills digitally, they still rely on paper checks to pay their own bills, according to the results of the Third Annual Bill Payment Trends Survey. The survey, from CPA.com and Bill.com, analyzed the responses of more than 540 accountants and bookkeepers to pinpoint the latest bill payment trends.
Half of the respondents said that they wish their clients would eliminate paper checks. Fifty-nine percent use computer-printed checks to pay client bills (down from 73 percent in 2016), and 28 percent use handwritten checks (down almost 10 percent from last year).
Rising in place of checks are digital payments. Sixty-five percent said that they recommend their clients pay bills online, and a majority of practitioners said paperless payment makes them feel efficient.
“Digital payments are a significant improvement over paper payments when it comes to efficiency,” said Michael Cerami, vice president of strategic alliances and business development for CPA.com. “There are distinct advantages – automation, built-in audit trails, mobility, collaboration – that lead to increased productivity and better service for clients.”
However, the preference for clients to pay bills electronically clashes with how firms pay their own bills.
“When you see 28 percent of firms using handwritten checks to pay clients’ bills and then 42 percent using the same to pay their own bills, it suggests a disconnect. The awareness is there for the benefits of digital bill payments, but the processes have not fully infiltrated internally,” remarked Pete Potsos, CPA, strategic account manager and client accounting services strategic advisor for Bill.com.
Midsize and large accounting firms lead in digital bill payment adoption.
Midsize and large accounting firms display an assertive push for digital payments. While 65 percent of all respondents recommend digital bill payments, 78 percent of midsize firms and 75 percent of large firms do the same. These firms also responded that their clients more often request to pay bills online – 65 percent for large firms and 44 percent of midsize firms.
Efficiency and technology drive down time spent on bill payments.
While the number of clients is growing for firms, time spent paying bills has declined. Firms with more than 150 clients show the most significant decline in time spent on bill payment, with 38 percent spending less than an hour per client per month on it. In 2015, only 7 percent of firms with the same number of clients did the same. The efficiencies manifest more assertively in firms that use cloud-based bill payment solutions.
“According to the survey results, firms that actively use cloud-based bill payments for their clients show more effective operations. They often have more clients with the same number or fewer employees,” commented Potsos.
There is a need for bill payment standardization across client portfolios.
The survey reveals that firms use a variety of methods to pay their clients’ bills, including online banking (47 percent), auto-pay (34 percent) and accounting software integrated payments (25 percent). However, diversity in payment methods across all clients suggests that firms must adopt different processes for each client or even each bill.
“Standardization of a process across all clients gives you the ability to optimize resources, cut costs and improve realization,” explained Randy Johnston, executive vice president of K2 Enterprises. “When you pair technology with standardization, you accelerate all of these results and provide client service benefits such as mobility, collaboration and access to real-time data.”
To access a free special report sharing the survey results, please visit http://cashflow.bill.com/Bill-Pay-Trends.html.
Bill.com is the leading business payments network with over 2.5 million members processing over $50 billion per year in payment volume. Bill.com helps businesses connect and do business by saving them more than 50 percent of the time typically spent on financial back-office operations. Bill.com partners with four of the top-10 largest U.S. banks, more than 50 of the top-100 accounting firms and major accounting software providers including Intuit and Xero. It is the preferred provider of digital payments solutions for CPA.com, the technology arm of the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). Bill.com is headquartered in Palo Alto, California.
CPA.com offers a growing list of products and services for practice management, client advisory services and professional development. The company has established itself as a thought leader on cloud technology and has been a driving force around the reemergence of virtual CFO/Controller services by firms.