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SMB CFO Buyer’s Guide: Automation beyond your Accounting Software

By Sagar Velagala, published on Sep 11, 2020
SMB CFO Buyer’s Guide: Automation beyond your Accounting Software

Automated accounting platforms, like Quickbooks and Xero, began taking over the small business market almost a decade ago by offering the market greater ease-of-use and accounting process automation than competing enterprise relationship platforms like NetSuite and SAP. Although these new platforms have greatly simplified processes within small business accounting and finance teams, they have not directly addressed sources of friction between the finance team and the rest of the organization.

What they did provide was a set of robust open APIs, which has fostered the growth of a rich ecosystem of add-on and complementary software that tackle these inter-departmental challenges. In this guide, we'll help you navigate the expanse of software solutions, specifically focusing on the needs of small businesses finance teams, including:

  • AP automation
  • Budgeting and forecasting
  • Spend management

A quick mention: accounting software for SMBs

If you haven’t implemented a cloud-based accounting platform yet, do it now. Modern platforms assist or automate many manual accounting tasks like auto-mapping transactions to general ledger accounts, generating simple invoices, tracking sales taxes, generating financial reports, and a little bit of almost everything else.

If you have a solution in place, you should strongly consider bringing on a fractional accounting service to support you. Even with the automation and ease of use provided, there will still be enough bookkeeping, data entry, and a somewhat steep learning curve, that could distract you from your more important responsibilities as a small business CFO (strategy, revenue growth, analytics, culture, etc.)

To spare yourself some serious headaches down the line, stick to Quickbooks Online, Xero, or FreshBooks. If you are running a SaaS company, take a look at Sage Intaact as well. Do not try to implement an ERP like NetSuite or SAP at the start. You don’t need the customizability yet, nor do you have the time to deal with their implementation and sales process.

AP automation software

Most corporate spend happens in 2 ways - as an expense (credit card and cash expenses), or an invoice. AP automation software simplifies the invoice management process by:

  • Collecting all invoices in a centralized location (usually via an email inbox lika ap@yourcompany.com)
  • Automatically mapping invoice data to general ledger accounts via an integration with your accounting platform
  • Giving finance visibility thru a pre-payment approval process
  • Automating the actual payment of vendors thru multiple channels (check, ACH transfer, and direct payments)

This software will save your team valuable time and money by automating data entry, reducing data-entry errors, and providing earlier visibility into invoice spend. If the software is employee-friendly, it can help you avoid the dreaded “surprise” invoices during your financial close.

There are many enterprise software solutions built for in the space that technically solve the problem, but do not provide the ease of use of modern software solutions. If you are a small business with a significant volume of spend occurring thru invoices, we recommend checking out Routable, Roger.ai, or Bill.com if you’re looking for a more traditional solution.

A somewhat related category is purchasing and procurement software. For most small businesses we do not recommend implementing this software or introducing purchase orders into your workflow. Unless managing a complex supply chain is critical to your business, this extra layer of administration will simply slow your teams down.

Budgeting and forecasting software

Budgeting and forecasting software simply integrates with your accounting platform, and provides tools and reporting to simplify:

  • Reporting on cash flow and budget-to-actual in real-time
  • Forecasting what-if scenarios

On the one hand, you can do all of this in Excel thanks to the simple transaction export features in most accounting software, and have greater control over every aspect of your models and reporting. On the other hand, the process of collecting and cleaning raw data, plus building and maintaining these models takes time. The consequences of late budgets are significant, and the trade-off of using slightly less flexible, but more automated planning software may be worth it.

Our recommendation is fairly simple - if you are not currently struggling with your days-to-close (or you don’t have a goal for this yet), don’t spend money on these solutions and stick with Excel. If you are struggling, we recommend taking a look at solutions like Float, Vena Solutions, or Planful.

Spend management (and virtual cards)

Spend management software does what you wish your expense management software could do - it eliminates the need for the expense reporting process entirely, and gives you (and your budget owners) real-time visibility into their total budget-to-actuals in a single platform.

Spend management solutions achieve this in 3 ways:

  • capturing rich transaction data via virtual cards
  • automatically mapping transactions to general ledger accounts and budgets (automating the expense report)
  • Reducing out-of-pocket spend (and reimbursements) thru easy to use software and an accessible corporate card program

With the ability to grant and revoke access to corporate cards instantly, deny over-budget transactions, and provide real-time visibility into both paid and pending transactions, finance teams gain the ability to control spend without restricting their employees’ ability to spend when they need to.

Airbase, Spendesk, and Divvy are leading spend management software solutions in the market today. Note: There are many excellent corporate card solutions available today that provide the benefits of virtual cards, but do not provide the software needed to manage your spend. If controlling spend is not an immediate concern, Brex and Amex are well worth your consideration.

To recap...

As a CFO in a small business, you are too busy to just be a back-office bookkeeper. With the right software, you can build on the functionality of your accounting software and gain real-time visibility into your company’s total spend against budgets, run financial statement reports at any point in the month, and spend less time on repetitive bookkeeping tasks.


About the Author: Sagar Velagala
Sagar is currently the Director of Acquisition & Growth at Lola.com. As a long time finance, operations, and analytics professional, Sagar brings insights from years of experience working closely with finance teams across a variety of industries and stages of growth.