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Streamlining the Payables Process to Save Time and Resources

Streamlining the Payables Process to Save Time and Resources


Many institutions are being forced to find ways to work more efficiently and reduce costs. For Greenville University, a small liberal arts school about 50 miles outside of St. Louis, implementing a new credit card program provided significant savings to help alleviate budget pressure.

The following interview with Barb Sands, Controller at Greenville University, helps shed light on the challenges Greenville faced and how they realized efficiencies and cost-savings with the commercial card program through First American.

How did Greenville work to save costs and create efficiency?

"Some offices experienced restructuring and the finance office was one of those, so we went from seven employees to two. And in trying to rebuild, we had to figure out what is it we actually need to operate on a day-to-day business.
Then we began to look at our processes, accounts payable was the first to go through that and how do we make things easier. How do we streamline, how do we become more efficient, more effective in our roles, and that's when we started looking at credit card programs."

What were the most critical features when evaluating card programs?

"We started interviewing different vendors and First American presented a credit card option with everything completely online and that was exactly what we were looking for.
We also wanted a system where we could upload receipts into our account numbers and we could download transactions. When I first heard about the system, I was excited because I'm all about streamlining and making things more efficient because it not only helps me, it helps the campus as a whole."

How did you prepare the campus community for this change?

"I knew I would get pushback because there are a lot of employees who receive personal rebates that they would be giving up, but I met with the executive team and they loved the idea and so I started with them. Then we used the admissions team as our first pilot group which helped spread the energy across campus and allowed people more buy-in for that process. At first, a lot of the employees were a little unsure about the process and the program but now they have completely bought in.  
I met with the various departments on campus to talk through the credit card system as a whole, to get buy-in and explain that this was an advantage for them. This was not something that would create additional hardships, and that was very helpful.
We explained that the college was going to get a cash back rebate and the bigger rebate that we got, the more we could increase their budgets over time. So that was helpful. They could not argue with the numbers."

How did the new credit card program create efficiency?

"In previous years, our accounts payable department had a check request for every vendor and multiple reimbursements came through for employees every week. With the new system today, we streamlined processes because it's all online - the receipts are uploaded so there's no paper being turned in. Employees can add out-of-pocket expenses to the credit card expense report and that limits them to one per month.

We’re not touching the same piece of paper 14 times going from office to office and retrieving signatures with the electronic approval process. That helps eliminate trying to track down people if they're away, they can still approve expense reports online. We have eliminated nearly 1,000 transactions per month, which helped save one full-time employee filling cabinets full of paper."

Can you quantify the time savings that your office realized as a result of the card program?

"The accounts payable staff put in at least 40 hours per week processing accounts payable and vendor requests, and now she spends 15-20 hours per week just in accounts payable processing. Now our accounts payable staff has taken on additional responsibilities to help me with my workflow."

What advice would you give to other schools evaluating new ways to improve the payables process?

"It's extremely helpful to save time and resources by going with a credit card system, especially if other institutions are experiencing what we were. I can't stress how much time it takes to process and manually enter everything. There are no manual entries with this system, it’s completely downloadable.
Had we not switched, we would still be experiencing 40 hours a week of processing accounts payable, vendor check requests, and there would be no extra time to assist in any other fashion in the office. The best part about the credit card system is the efficiency of it all."


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