by Rohit Gupta, Forbes Councils Member
September 12, 2023, 07:15am ET
When you’re driving your car and the “check engine” light comes on, your first instinct isn’t to keep driving and think the car will continue to operate without problems. So why do finance teams ignore the “check engine” light flashing on their shared inboxes?
Up to now, automation has helped finance and accounting teams in many ways, except in regard to the shared accounts payable and accounts receivable mailboxes. According to a recent survey by my company (we surveyed hundreds of U.S.-based financial professionals in spring 2023, with titles ranging from chief financial officer to finance specialist), one of the top three biggest pain points finance professionals face daily includes managing and taking action on the vast number of emails in the accounts payable and accounts receivable shared inboxes.
It’s time for outdated shared inboxes to receive some maintenance and a fresh coat of paint.
Now is the time to revamp shared inboxes.
The sheer volume of emails flooding shared finance and accounting inboxes poses a major challenge for finance teams. Our survey found that 35.6% of respondents receive anywhere from 100-500 weekly emails in their shared finance inboxes; additionally, almost 1 in 5 respondents receive 500-1000 weekly emails that require time-consuming research and follow-up.
Sifting through those emails is no easy task.
Without a systematic approach to managing and prioritizing incoming messages, locating specific documents, tracking request statuses, seeking approvals and identifying task priorities becomes increasingly tricky. The resulting inefficiencies lead to costly errors and delays in back-office processes.
Managing tasks and prioritizing the requests that require immediate attention is difficult in shared inboxes. The ambiguity surrounding ownership and responsibility for handling specific requests only adds to response delays.
Address security risks.
Not only do these accounts receivable and accounts payable shared inboxes inundate the back-office team with delays, but they also pose a significant security risk.
Shared inboxes contain critical financial information, such as payroll details, vendor contracts and customer data. However, the lack of proper access controls and security measures poses significant risks to the sensitive data that is present.
The human element is always the weakest link in security operations. Manual processes often lack stringent controls and checks to comply with regulatory standards and internal policies, increasing the potential for unauthorized access and data breaches.
Improved protection starts with automation. By automating repetitive tasks and implementing intelligent routing systems and security measures, finance and accounting teams ensure messages reach the correct recipients promptly and safely, eliminating bottlenecks and reducing manual effort. Automation enforces data security and access controls, ensuring that sensitive financial information is protected. By adhering to data protection and compliance standards, the finance and accounting teams help to mitigate the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access to confidential financial data.
Overhaul shared inboxes with automation.
The moment has officially arrived to revamp a legacy approach and adopt a seamless communication process, enabling effortless engagement with vital stakeholders, vendors and customers.
By implementing efficient systems, optimizing response times and automating routine tasks with advanced security, finance and accounting professionals can see an increase in productivity, leaving congestion and gridlock behind and driving toward a more agile, secure and efficient back office.
With automated workflows, emails are routed to the appropriate team members or departments based on predefined rules and criteria. This innovation streamlines the process and reduces the chances of messages getting lost or overlooked in shared inboxes. Moreover, automation facilitates better tracking and management of requests. Finance and accounting professionals easily monitor and prioritize their workload by implementing a system that captures and tracks request statuses.
This type of automation ensures that urgent matters are addressed promptly, minimizing response times and improving customer service. Faster response times and efficient handling of inquiries and payment-related requests contribute to improved relationships with vendors and internal stakeholders. Timely and accurate communication fosters trust and collaboration, positively impacting the company’s reputation.
Automation of shared inboxes can help allow teams to scale as they grow. Manual management becomes increasingly challenging as the volume of accounting emails increases with a company’s expansion or peak fluctuations due to market or economic conditions. Automation allows the finance team to handle larger volumes of emails without compromising on efficiency or accuracy, supporting the company’s growth trajectory.
Prioritize your shared inboxes: It’s now or never.
Our survey data reveals that almost half of respondents will focus on process improvements as the top priority going into the next year. These improvements need to start with shared inboxes.
With the advent of generative artificial intelligence (AI) taking the tech ecosystem by storm, Gartner Inc. has amplified the point that now more than ever CFOs need to take the reins in helping their back-office teams leverage advanced levels of automation in their shared inboxes to stay one step ahead of the competition.
As AI, especially generative AI, continues to advance and deliver tangible benefits, its acceptance is expected to accelerate further, paving the way for widespread adoption and integration across the finance back office. A recent report by McKinsey & Company provides further confirmation that while the era of generative AI is just beginning, the impact on individual productivity is evident with the “potential to automate work activities that absorb 60 to 70 percent of employees’ time today.”
By leveraging the power of generative AI and machine learning, automation solutions empower finance and accounting professionals to streamline their processes, increase efficiency and achieve unprecedented accuracy. Automating the management and organization of the shared email inboxes empowers the back-office teams with efficiency, accuracy, better collaboration and improved visibility. These advantages ultimately contribute to more productive and effective finance and accounting departments, benefiting the organization.
The benefits of revamping shared inboxes with advanced automation are numerous. From improving response times and task prioritization to protecting sensitive financial data and ensuring compliance with regulations, automation empowers finance teams to operate at a higher level of efficiency and effectiveness.
The “check engine” light is flashing. It’s time to take action.