Customer Stories

SFJAZZ Simplifies Their AP With BILL for a Winning Trio of Greater Control, Accuracy, and Visibility

From the Barbary Coast to North Beach and beyond, jazz has found a home in San Francisco for over a century, enriching the cultural life of the city. And for the past 40 years, no organization has done more to nurture this relationship between jazz artists and the community than SFJAZZ. This nonprofit has grown from what started as a two-day jazz festival in San Francisco, to presenting over 400 shows per year in its state of the art, purpose-built building — the SFJAZZ Center.  In order to keep up the demands of that growth, SFJAZZ chose to automate its financial operations by partnering with BILL.

Financial processes out of tune

Founded in 1983, SFJAZZ is a recognized international leader in jazz creation, presentation, and education. The nonprofit organization is the West Coast’s biggest jazz presenter, serving over 200,000 fans and students every year and hosting several award-winning resident jazz ensembles. Their educational programs reach 35,000 underserved kids in the Bay Area. And their all-ages musical venue, the SFJAZZ Center, which opened in 2013, provides an intimate cabaret experience for the public to experience both emerging local musicians and well-established names like Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Cecile McLorin Salvant and many others.

The organization and its partnerships are built on a foundation of trust. A key component of that trust is keeping payments to vendors flowing smoothly. Their annual operating budget includes payments for artists as well as hundreds of vendors supporting everything from facilities to marketing. In short, SFJAZZ has a lot to manage, which is why it’s essential that they avoid unnecessary hiccups in their accounts payable (AP) process.

“BILL has been liberating for our finance team.”

— Judy Gum, Chief Financial Officer, SFJAZZ

Its legacy financial processes were challenged to keep up with the growth of the organization. Communication was a problem in terms of knowing where to send invoices. Payments took a long time to go through. And they had a manual routine for managing checks which led to their finance team being overworked and stretched thin.

Then COVID hit. In addition to the pandemic putting a strain on their business model built on live performances, it also exacerbated their issues with AP.

“The pandemic exposed the weaknesses of our manual processes,” recalls Emma Moon, Director of Development at SFJAZZ. “We had long-time vendors who weren't getting paid on time.”  SFJAZZ needed an automated finance solution that was faster, more efficient, and resulted in fewer errors. Cue BILL.

BILL and SFJAZZ equals a beautiful combo

“We engaged with BILL in October 2021, and we fully implemented it a few months later. It's been incredible,” says Judy Gum, Chief Financial Officer at SFJAZZ.

In short, says Gum, “BILL has been liberating for our finance team. Not only has it provided transparency and collaboration with our internal business partners and vendors, it has made our team much more efficient. All I can say is BILL reduced a lot of our time spent on AP.”

Gum continues, “With BILL, there's no more paper, there are  significantly fewer checks. 90% of our payments are now through BILL via ACH.”

A happy trio: greater accuracy, more visibility, and increased control

Automating AP with BILL has yielded other great results, including more accuracy around payments. “We have many, many fewer errors with BILL because now we can invite our vendors to access the system,” explains Gum. “Because they input their own ACH information, we know they're double checking their account number, and their ABA number, which reduces mistakes.”

And thanks to two-way sync between BILL and SFJAZZ’s accounting system Sage Intacct, they can reduce duplicate manual entry and errors. “The BILL Sage Intacct integration is beautiful. It was a very smooth transition to integrate the two systems,” Gum shares. Integration with Sage Intacct and BILL has also improved the efficiency and timing of their monthly close."

“No more phone calls and emails to finance asking ‘where are we on this one?’
Thanks to BILL, all of the information is now at our fingertips.”

— Mount V. Allen III, CVE, Director of Operations, SFJAZZ

Besides helping SFJAZZ navigate the immediate challenges of the pandemic, BILL has also been transformative in more long-term ways. SFJAZZ now enjoys greater internal and external transparency into financials, which results in greater control over the end-to-end payment process.

“The transparency is what we’ve been missing,” says Mount V. Allen III, CVE, Director of Operations at SFJAZZ. “BILL provides insight into where the organization is with AP and AR. No more phone calls and emails to finance asking ‘where are we on this one?’ Thanks to BILL, all of the information is now at our fingertips.”

Explains Gum, "Payments are now completely transparent because our managers, our directors, and our vendors can all go into the BILL system and see exactly what the status of their invoice is.”

Bonus tracks: other benefits of BILL

SFJAZZ also appreciates BILL’s extended network, with its 4.7 million vendors. “If a vendor is in the BILL network, payments go right through,” says Moon. Adds Gum, “We love the breadth of the BILL network. So many of our vendors are already on the network, so we don’t even have to take any extra steps to get them paid.”

BILL’s AI offers great benefits as well. Explains Gum, “BILL AI auto-populates vendors. It gets to know the vendors and can automatically code invoices for you. So that's a huge efficiency boost that has saved us a lot of time in terms of data entry.”

With the mobile app, the finance team can easily work remotely. Says Gum, “If someone needs something paid yesterday, my AP person can do it remotely in BILL and pay it immediately.”

“We love the breadth of the BILL network. So many of our vendors are already on the network, so we don’t even have to take any extra steps to get them paid.”

– Judy Gum, Chief Financial Officer, SFJAZZ

And the efficiency of AP automation is driving increased productivity and, ultimately, better business decisions. “Our full-time AP person now spends just 50% of time on AP, with extra time to devote to monthly close, budgeting, and variance analysis,” says Gum. “That’s one of the things that BILL has helped us with: we’re providing input to managers and directors to help them make better business decisions."

And the bands play on …

SFJAZZ celebrates jazz as a living art form, built on a constantly evolving tradition. This ability to continually evolve was made clear early on in the pandemic: when live shows were canceled indefinitely, SFJAZZ quickly pivoted to digital, one of the first organizations to offer digital shows.

Recalls Moon, “People from everywhere around the world could join in. I heard from so many people ‘SFJAZZ digital saved my family!’ The opportunity to gather on Fridays at 5 p.m. to watch a live show was incredible.” Similarly, SFJAZZ credits BILL with helping them through a difficult time. Says Gum, “Having everything integrated with BILL is a lifesaver.”

At its heart, SFJAZZ is all about sharing music. “Which is why,” says Amy Heiden, Director of Production at SFJAZZ, “it has been so helpful to have BILL integrated into our workflow. Now we spend less time reviewing and approving our invoices and more time supporting our shows.”

So whether it’s the upcoming performance and live puppet movie of Kid Koala in November or the return of Rosanne Cash in March, SFJAZZ continues to let the music play on, with a little help from BILL.

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