Could automated invoice collection tools spell the end for OCR?

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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.

Competitive landscape

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.”


About Tom Herbert

Tom is editor at AccountingWEB, responsible for all editorial content on the site. If you have a story that might interest us or wish to comment on the site's coverage get in touch via the site's private message function or Twitter DM (@AWebTom)


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26th Jul 2018 10:46

how does it work with th e likes of , say, amazon business? and other 'major' platforms which SME's buy from, from whom obtaining an invoice [ vat or otherwise] is fraught

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By SXGuy
to kiwilondon99
26th Jul 2018 11:10

It won't. Uness they sign up to the same process.

For those ocr would still be needed.

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26th Jul 2018 11:46

Most UK companies are pretty small and in many trades predominantly buy from an interesting combination of either huge nationals - e.g. Builders merchants - or v. small locals - e.g. circular saw sharpeners.
The difficult bit is in allocating the [monthly] invoice lines to the jobs.
VAT accounting is relatively trivial once this allocation is done.
I have yet to see a tool that actually makes that process any faster.

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By ShayaG
26th Jul 2018 12:03

Interesting. OCR is more flexible but more resource intensive and more prone to error than "fetching".

The future will likely be an internationally agreed XML messaging standard (unlikely to be block chain) for transmission of invoices. You can already directly raise purchases in Xero and Clear Books from the sales invoices raised in another Xero / CB account respectively. Standardisation will be resisted for the same reason that, for example, the US electricity market resisted standardisation on AC/DC/ Voltage/Frequency in the 1890s, or computer monitor leads used to be proprietary back in the 1980s - in the end government will intervene in the public interest to force standardisation.

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to ShayaG
26th Jul 2018 12:50

ShayaG wrote:

... - in the end government will intervene in the public interest to force standardisation.

Nope - the public interest is irrelevant - we have all seen the outcomes of "consultations".
It will step in, however, for its own interests ... which can only be around taxation - and that will, sure as eggs is eggs, force a 'standardisation' designed to increase costs and inconvenience foer everybody except Joe Public..
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By ShayaG
to dgilmour51
26th Jul 2018 14:48

Pretty sure the UK electricity supply is standardised on 240V/50Hz AC to everyone's benefit. Likewise, the widespread custom is to drive here on the left hand side of the road.

There is a word for the ideology which believes that absolutely everything the state touches turns brown, and that is "anarchism."

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26th Jul 2018 12:09

Not yet. My current OCR converts 500 pages of PDFs in to word document and excel in less than a minute.

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By ShayaG
to Cantona1
26th Jul 2018 14:49

Correct, but that would work on highly structured pages like bank statement - less so on a grubby receipt from the staff christmas party at a restaurant down the road.

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26th Jul 2018 15:03

So many things wrong with this. So they automatically pull invoices from suppliers . The likes of BT , Heat and Light companies , mobile extra. Never overcharge not.

So it just blindly puts Credits cards in no checking and no checking of bill. This month I have 5 bills sent to my company incorrectly out of 10. All find errors in company credit cards.

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By ShayaG
to sarah douglas
26th Jul 2018 16:40

I do think there is Canute like quality in bemoaning the transfer of unskilled data entry tasks from humans. The data interpretation and executive decision making will still be our domain - for the next few decades - however the invoice is entered.

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to sarah douglas
27th Jul 2018 18:39

I think you misunderstand. The purpose of Fetch is to automatically fetch all of the invoices from companies that do not email them out and, instead, require you to log into their portals to collect them. This will save you time, as you no longer need to log into myriad different portals whenever the utility suppliers email you. Instead, you need only log into one portal - at Receipt Bank (or whichever receipt processing system you choose) - and ALL your invoices will be there, in one place. Whether or not you choose to automatically then push those receipts into Xero or QBO etc. without first reviewing them is up to you. If you want to check them, you can do so.

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By Robbo
27th Jul 2018 08:41

Does this give an extra opening to online fraud?

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02nd Aug 2018 16:57

Hey Tom, Damien Greathead here - I don't think fetch spells the end for OCR. OCR is the critical first step in the bookkeeping automation journey. Machine learning and AI needs the initial information before it can work it's magic - and OCR is what recognizes the data to be processed. The key benefit of fetching technology is it gets the information from the vendor sooner, meaning the OCR machines can get to work and make it G/L ready sooner. It's an exciting time to be in the accounting industry!

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