When it comes to accounts payable, best-in-class companies continue to forge ahead, streamlining processes and cutting costs. In fact, a recent study, “Global Payments: Maximizing Cash Flow with Electronic Payments and Process Automation,” by Aberdeen Group found that top firms need less than five days to process a transaction. That compares with more than nine days for average performers, and nearly 16 for laggards. The top performers also have seen their AP processing costs drop by more than 14 percent annually, versus an average decline of 3.3 percent, and a slight increase in annual processing costs among the bottom 20 percent of companies.

Several attributes are common to many high-performing AP departments. For starters, they are 21 percent more likely to have established centralized processing or a shared service center for accounts payable than other firms. In addition, these firms are 37 percent more likely to have fully automated their procure-to-pay processes.

To move forward on these initiatives, nearly 60 percent of best-in-class companies conducted internal assessments of their AP and AR processes and technology. Similarly, 48 percent have integrated their electronic payment solutions with their accounting or ERP systems.

To be sure, payments at all firms continue to shift electronically, driven by the need to cut costs and operate more efficiently. Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the study indicated that they had increased their use of ACH, while more than 40 percent had boosted their use of both commercial cards and wire transfers. Conversely, 57 percent had decreased their use of checks.

Even so, checks continue to account for the bulk of business-to-business payments. They make up 70 percent of payments from major suppliers and 78 percent of payments from other vendors. While many companies have made great strides in automating their payment processes, much work remains.