Could automated invoice collection tools spell the end for OCR?
Receipt Bank has hailed its introduction of an automated invoice collection tool as another step towards real-time accounting, but could the move eventually spell the beginning of the end for the technology from which it built its reputation?
Accountants and bookkeepers are now able to use the new Invoice Fetch capability to connect their clients' Receipt Bank accounts directly to suppliers, instead of having to regularly login and download invoices from portals.
While the move is designed to integrate systems and save customers and their clients time (and money), it also represents a nod to the future for the vendor that built its reputation off the back of optical character recognition (OCR) technology.
What is Invoice Fetch?
Fetch is designed for suppliers that hold their invoices behind a portal (for example mobile phone or utility providers). The tool connects an accountant’s or bookkeeper’s clients to their supplier’s web portal, pulls new invoice(s) into the client’s Receipt Bank account, reads the data and populates their cloud general ledger or accounts payable system.
Commenting on the release Receipt Bank VP Global Accountants' Programs Damien Greathead said that the tool reduces friction between the client and the accounting firm.
“The biggest friction point is getting information off the client in a timely manner,” said Greathead.
“Typically to facilitate a P&L, end of year accounts and so on the firm is waiting on the client. The Fetch feature is another way we’re eliminating a wait point between the client and the firm. If we can collect that mobile phone bill when it’s issued into the general ledger in a much shorter time period, that means we close the gap on delivering on real-time accounting.”
Invoice Fetch is now available to all Receipt Bank users at no additional cost. It can be found via the program’s Add Items tab. Clicking the Fetch Invoices button presents users with a drop-down list of available suppliers. Users can select their preferred suppliers, and will be prompted to add their information to access the account.
Once Fetch has permission to go into that account, it select new documents and scan them into the client’s Receipt Bank account.
There is currently a list of 2,000 or so suppliers that users will be able to connect with and sync invoice data with cloud accounting systems including QuickBooks Online, Sage Business Cloud and Xero.
Receipt Bank plans to extend these integration options and includes a request form for users who want suppliers to be added to the Invoice Fetch list.
According to Receipt Bank, credit card and bank statement data will also be available later in the summer, mainly due to the increased levels of security banking data sits behind.
Receipt Bank Fetch arrives at an extremely competitive moment in the data and expense management landscape, with competitors entering the market with similar data extraction tools and the likes of Xero, IRIS and Sage all rolling out their own expense tools within cloud bookkeeping systems.
To help users get a better handle on this marketplace, AccountingWEB will shortly publish a new Software Review section covering these products. For the time being, Fetch represents just one of the ways in which Receipt Bank is trying to steal a competitive advantage on its rivals.
“One advantage Fetch has over similar features is that it opens up the accounting firm to our superior processing capabilities,” said Receipt Bank’s Greathead. “For example, in the UK we can pick up the VAT, whereas a lot of our competitors only do a calculation. We can offer better accuracy, better turnaround times and better tools that sit within Receipt Bank. It’s one fewer app that firms have to worry about.”
Increasingly the processing and manipulation of this data is being handed by artificial intelligence and machine learning tools within Receipt Bank itself, other data management systems and the big accounting engines.
Does Fetch and similar tools spell the end for OCR?
The arrival of Invoice Fetch and other, similar features from HubDoc, Soldo, Datamolino and Auto Entry (among others) poses a number of interesting questions about the future of OCR technology.
Such tools remove another requirement that somebody has to do something to facilitate the flow of information – so will these developments eventually erode the value of OCR?
If all the information is already held in the transaction and can be seamlessly transferred across to a general ledger or accounts payable system without the need for a receipt, will OCR technology become redundant?
For Receipt Bank’s Damien Greathead this scenario is a natural progression, but one that will take a long time to fully come to pass.
“Fetch will probably erode into our email, mobile and scan and upload submissions because we’re taking out the step that requires someone to forward an email, snap a picture or scan it,” said Greathead.
“With full deployment I think Fetch will eventually account for 20-30% of our submissions, but it’s difficult to say at this point in time.
“In the long term it will erode, but right now there is an enormous friction point between the accounting firm and their clients in terms of getting information from them in a timely manner. Making Tax Digital and everything that’s happening in the marketplace will have an impact, but I don’t see paper or PDF statements going away in the next three to five years.”