Acquisitions helped BOK Financial Corp., jump from 34 to 88 locations between 1991 and 1998, adding convenience for its customers. But a casualty of the Tulsa, Okla.-based institution's acquisition streak was its creaky accounting system, which wasn't up to the task of centralizing payments between decentralized branches.
The outdated, mainframe-based accounts payable system was holding up timely payment for internal fees like loan appraisals, legal fees and expenses with Federal Express, UPS, and office supply and equipment companies. Things were so bad that hard copies of expense reports had to be shipped between branches and the head office.
"We were using a 10-year-old accounting system that was not meeting our needs," said Kristy Allen, vice president of financial accounting and reporting at BOKF. "We had a hard time keeping up with invoice processing with a system that couldn't support the company's growth, and it was getting ugly."
At times, invoices were claimed to be mailed or faxed, but were actually lost or thrown away. As employees called for payment update information, they were placed on a waiting list. "There was a significant delay in the invoice approval processing cycle, a loss of control between branches and the central bank, and this process was consuming an amazing amount of time," Allen said.
In 1998, as part of its Y2K preparations, BOKF began investigating a new accounts payable system that would provide centralized accounting and use the Internet to post document images online, enabling managers to access them electronically.
In 1999, the company installed an automated core accounts payable system from AXS-One, and a year later installed AXS Desk module, a Web interface that uses workflow and imaging to manage the flow of data to all branches.
Results were immediate and dramatic. "In 1998, we processed 3,500 invoices monthly with the old system, but by mid-2001, we were processing close to 9,000 invoices per month electronically, with the same three employees in accounting that struggled with the paper-based system," Allen said. The system paid itself back in two years, she said.
After being scanned and electronically posted, invoices are distributed to the appropriate manager via BOKF's intranet. Upon approval, invoices are sent back to the accounts payable system, which cuts a check, and then to the general ledger system, which records the payment. The entire process is managed by the system's workflow component.
Today, the system electronically supports internal invoice processing between BOKF's 114 branches. The move to a browser-based financial management system has enabled BOKF to reduce processing time and labor costs without having to hire additional staff.
The system has chopped BOKF's average time to process an invoice from 40 days to five. "That equates to an 85 percent increase in control over payment processes, without increasing operating expenses," Allen said.
The next step is encouraging vendors to electronically send invoices directly to the approving manager via Excel files. The initial stages of that project are scheduled to begin shortly, Allen said.
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