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The pragmatic approach to reaching higher touchless rates in Accounts Payable

May 2024

3 min read

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Joining Max Whyte, Commercial Director at Xelix, in The AP Arms is finance fanatic Mihaela Cretu, Shared Services Director at Puratos. The pair come together to discuss why touchless processing is vital for the modern AP function and the pragmatic steps teams can take to get there. 


Watch the episode ▶️

 

Mihaela’s background 

Finance has always been Mihaela’s passion, and her resume shows it! Starting her career as an Accountant, Mihaela worked through the ranks within Corporate Finance, getting exposure to internal audit and GBS throughout her 33-year career. She became Director of Global Shared Services at food manufacturing company, Puratos in 2019. 

Unfortunately, The AP Arms didn’t have Mihaela’s favourite Belgian delicacy - coconut beer - on tap, nethertheless, she couldn’t turn down the opportunity to check out the hottest venue in town and share her wealth of experience in the AP world... 

 

Delivering the (baked) goods 

Founded in 1922, Puratos is an international group that offers a full range of innovative food ingredients and services for the bakery, patisserie and chocolate sectors. 

During her 27 years at Puratos, Mihaela focused on process optimisation and continuous improvement. As Shared Services Director for five years, she expanded Puratos' Shared Services to cover 60% of the group's finance operations across three global centres. 

 

Pause, assess, automate 

“As a function, Shared Services should be obsessed with automation” she explains. However, teams get too bogged down by reactive work and daily distractions such as addressing system failures and maintaining process discipline, which mean they lose oversight of what’s important. 

"Often, we (Shared Services and GPOs) forget or don’t find time to keep track of STP percentage or delve into the details around what the problems may be. 

"It is important to find the time to get that holistic view and see where we are in relation to achieving touchless AP processing.” 

 

The challenges of chasing touchless 

The push for STP may unearth some uncomfortable processes says Mihaela, so be prepared. 

“What we need to do above all is find what we are touching and why” she explains. 

“There are endless reasons - sometimes we might touch the same document four, five times… for we may need to chase up a Purchase Order which could have another error like a quantity difference that we need to solve with local stakeholders.”  

Getting a comprehensive list of exceptions should be a priority Mihaela stresses, but this is not a straightforward task. Common issues such as missing PO numbers on invoices and OCR accuracy can make things complicated.  

From Mihaela’s experience, the absence of receipt dates is a frequent problem, which highlights a lack of process discipline within the workflow.  

Her advice is to take an initial step back and assess the situation holistically, rather than addressing problems individually as they arise. It is crucial to categorise types of exceptions, prioritise them, and tick them off one by one. 

 

The P2P pillars to success 

To achieve a higher touchless rate, Mihaela refers to two “pillars” teams should look to as the foundations for improvement: 

  1. Technological investment 
  2. Process optimisation 

She explains that both pillars require complete buy in across the business.  

For new technology, this requires a strategic implementation with clear steps laid out that everyone follows. Something Mihaela has seen in practice is procurement catalogues which can provide value but only if you are attentive to the solution best suited to your existing systems. 

When trialling new processes such as “No PO, No Pay”, discipline needs to be set for vendors and internal stakeholders to ensure procedures are being followed. Therefore, investing time into communicating new processes and being patient is just as important as implementing the processes itself. 

Mihaela strongly believes if these pillars are applied to reaching a higher STP rate, businesses should notice a notable decrease on invoice touches.  

 

Hop, sheep, and a jump

As is the AP Arms tradition, Max and Mihaela combined to caption an image relating to achieving touchless AP, here is the final product...   🥁🥁🥁

AP Arms - memes (1)-2

 

Mihaela’s not just talking the talk, she’s walking the walk. We really appreciate the knowledge, passion and enthusiasm she brought to The AP Arms, as well as the time she puts into broader community learning and networking. If you’d like to connect with Mihaela and dig into this topic a little more or explore other subjects, please reach out to Mihaela on Linkedin. 

If you’d like to feature alongside some of the industry’s finest at The AP Arms, please get in touch – we’d love to share a tipple with you down the pub! 

 

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