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E-invoicing game changer for Singapore professional services

Article, Lilia Guan, CIO Tech Asia

Improving efficiency of the invoicing cycle.

Singapore’s Beaufort Corp believes the value proposition in e-invoicing is the ability to improves efficiency of the invoicing cycle from issuing the invoice to getting it digitally delivered straight to the customers’ accounting system.

Beaufort Corp is a group of companies which provides professional services to guide clients through the maze of company ownership. It specialises in serving the business needs of local entrepreneurs as well as foreign investors who would like to set up their presence in Singapore in the most cost-effective way.

David Lim Tien, digital transformation advisor and strategic direction at Beaufort told CIO Tech Asia, the company’s services includes the incorporation of the Singapore company, accounting service, payroll outsourcing, tax compliance and advisory service to nominee directors and registered office address.

Beaufort Corp is an early SME adopter of e-invoicing, having activated it into its Xero accounts in January 2020.

“We have since used the e-invoicing platform to transmit our invoices to our clients, provided our client’s accounting software are e-invoicing-ready,” he said. Our e-invoices, be it those annual retainer invoices or job-based ones, are now sent directly into our client’s accounting software, ready to be paid on time in their next payment cycle. Days of excuses such as non-receipt of invoices or missed payment cycles are now over.

E-invoicing at Beaufort has helped:

  • Reduced occurrences of invoice lost in transit,
  • Timely arrival of the invoice at our client’s premises,
  • Ability to monitor if the invoice has been received and viewed by our clients,
  • Our clients enjoy the reduced duplication of work of entering the invoice details into their accounting system,
  • Inter-company balances now tally since the likelihood of omitted invoices have now been eliminated and thus disputes over balances are also minimised,
  • Punctual payment by the client since it is already in their line-up of bills payable,
  • Cumulative savings on paper, postage and reduce storage costs.

Beaufort’s Xero journey also consisted of:

  • Adopting cloud-based accounting software to help Beaufort Corp manage our business processes more efficiently by utilising its functionalities such as repeating invoices for our annual retainer invoices, sending invoice reminders and statement of accounts automatically, linking to real time bank feed,
  • Making XERO certifications compulsory for all our current accountants and new recruits,
  • Linking accounts to HubDoc to reduce the monotony of manual data entry, which has shortcomings of inaccuracy, and this improved productivity of our team.

Lim notes the company was first introduced to Peppol E-invoicing during Xero Roadshow in Singapore in 2018, where the Singapore Government’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) had a booth to promote Peppol E-invoicing.

Fast forward to late 2019, Beaufort Corp’s accounting firm, Beaufort Tax Consultants obtained the status of IMDA’s Pre-Approved Vendor (for the Productivity Solutions Grant, PSG) offering Beaufort-Xero Digital Solutions to businesses.

“As part of IMDA’s network of Pre-Approved Vendors, we were regularly educated through their regular webinars about Peppol E-invoicing as well as IMDA’s directive to push forward E-invoicing as compulsory in Singapore,” Lim said. “We learnt that they aimed for Singapore to have its own Nationwide E-invoicing Network to be an efficient and productive part of a global e-invoicing network.

Beaufort Tax Consultants is an IMDA’s pre-approved vendor and all of its accounting staff are Xero Certified Advisors.

“We wanted to have the hands-on experience of the benefits of e-invoicing so that we could then confidently propagate its value proposition to our clients,” he said. “Our companies registered for the Peppol E-invoicing ID and immediately adopted the sending our e-invoices to our clients.”

It must be noted that e-invoicing works only for businesses who are connected to Peppol Network. This means that to fully harness effectiveness of e-invoicing for Beaufort, its clients must be registered onto the Peppol Network as well.

“We leveraged on the current IMDA’s S$200 cash grant incentive and went on an aggressive campaign to educate our clients about e-invoicing and to encourage them to register for E-invoicing. We even offered our service to do so at no cost,” he said.

Keeping up with the times

Lim’s primary role at the organisation is in driving the company towards automating certain functions and keeping up with the times.

“Up to 2018, Beaufort Corp only used desktop versions of accounting software to prepare its accounts,” said Lim. “The accounting data was static, not live and not easily accessible by our management at any given moment.”

He continually searched for suitable productivity tools to further enhance our team’s work methods and thus improve the bottom-line.

“E-Invoicing is a natural progression in our Journey of Digital Transformation,” he said. “I am responsible for our Group of Companies’ Registration to Peppol Network. In addition, I engage our clients via marketing emails, follow-up phone calls and even conducting demos through Zoom with the objective of educating them on the topic and encouraging more adoptions.”

Lim joined Beaufort in 2016 as chief operating officer and is the only non-accountant, without any background in Corporate Secretarial Service as well.

“But with a multi-disciplinary background, I have a better vantage point when it comes to digital transformation,” he said. “I was able to advance this strategy — adopt digital solutions — for various processes of Beaufort Corp which helps to improve productivity and efficiency of our team.”

Beaufort’s digital transformation journey started in 2010, when CEO, Mirah Agus developed Beaufort Corp’s own Client Management System, which automated some of its work.

“However, because of lack of manpower and lack of time, our digital transformation Journey has stalled for a long time,” said Lim.

Being corporate service provider/accounting firm, the company is a traditional brick and mortar business. However, our CEO recognises that automation and digital transformation is the only way forward to stay relevant in the digital world.

“In early 2019, our CEO gave us the mandate to Go Digital by 2020 and I was the task master to ensure that the mandate was successfully implemented by the team,” said Lim.

He did this by:

  • Converting hardcopies of Tax files, Corporate Secretarial files, and other forms to digital forms,
  • Designing a manual of File Naming Convention for the team to adopt on the converted documents,
  • Accepting digital signatures on documents, provided that it is permissible by the laws in Singapore,
  • Encouraging clients to scan their documents via document sharing apps, instead of the old ways of delivering the physical documents to our office,
  • The CTO ensured our phone system was changed to VOIP and enabled remote access to our server,
  • Enrolling for the Workforce Singapore, WSG’s Sponsored Work-Life Balance Programme where we adopted “Work from Home Arrangement” for our staff over a trial period of 3 months.

Digital transformation journey

“As with any transformation, whether it is digital or otherwise, we encountered resistance from our more mature and experienced staff, because they were set in their ways,” said Lim. “The implementation was in phases, to accustom our staff to gain more confidence at each stage throughout our digital transformation.”

The digital transformation benefits will nevertheless outweigh their initial resistance.

By the time the PM Lee announced the Circuit Breaker in early April 2020, the company was operationally ready. This allowed its team to have undisrupted remote work arrangements and to access work files in servers.

Four months on, Lim said the company must now recognise remote working arrangement has become the “#newnormal” for its team and clients.

“More than that, we realised that our company has organically evolved itself from traditional brick and mortar business into a digital business at the onset of this pandemic,” he said.

Digital Transformation directives must serve two purposes:

  • To further improve our staff’s work processes as part of remote work arrangements and improve the quality and timeliness of deliverables to our clients.
  • To enhance our engagements with clients in a new way. Not just frequent Zoom video calls and screen sharing with clients. Management Reporting apps that feeds on clients’ accounting data to generate more useful information and reports. Or Forecasting apps that allows Beufort to perform sensitivity analysis, of cause and effect of factors like cancelled projects, or disrupted supplies on future cashflows and sustainability of the client’s business. These apps would enable the company to engage with clients in meaningful discussions

“This re-invention of our digital business enables us to shift our company from a simple Corporate secretarial/accounting firm into a high-valued advisory firm,” said Lim. “We need to be in constant exploration of new digital solutions to achieve the new directives above. The current global economic slowdown has given us more time to assess digital solutions available, and to consider adoption of suitable ones to steadily incorporate the digital transformation into Beaufort Corp services.”

However, the company is also treading carefully, because of the economic uncertainty for the next two years, noted Lim.

“While digital transformation helps in the continuity of our business, we have to also be mindful of the cost associated with it,” he said. “The Singapore Government has been on its agenda to drive Singapore to be a Smart Nation for many years now.”

According to Lim digital transformation has been the buzz word for a while even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Government assistance

“The Singapore Government in my view, is now taking an opportunistic approach during the current pandemic situation, by providing generous grants to assist businesses to adopt digital solutions to ensure sustainable continuity of business operations,” said Lim.

During the current pandemic, the IMDA’s Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) for pre-approved digital solutions is increased from 70 per cent to 80 per cent (valid till 31 December 2020). This applies to Xero accounting software, purchase of laptops, security, and remote access software solutions and even Zoom Subscriptions.

There are also other forms of incentives and assistance that the government provides as part of their unprecedented four sets of budgetary announcements to afford businesses and its staff to adopt digital transformation.

“Any security implications have been dealt with by all partners involved. As E-invoicing is a Business-to-Business endeavour, personal data is not at risk,” said Lim. As this e-invoicing is an endeavour of the Singapore Government, security is one of its highest priorities when they embarked on its implementation.”

According to Lim the Singapore Government would have researched and ensured that security included encryption from all parties involved in the compliance of these connections. All the software from Storecove to Xero is authenticated securely. Lim feels comfortable that data is being backed up on a 24/7 basis to ensure 99.9 per cent access times.

 

 

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