80% of Singapore employees still process invoices in office despite lockdown

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

A majority of employees (80%) in Singapore still have to go to their workplace during lockdown to perform tasks related to invoice processing, according to the latest market research by Sansan.

That’s despite an overwhelming majority reporting that their workplaces are currently promoting paperless initiatives (77.8%) and remote working (66.8%). The survey commissioned by Sansan and undertaken by Rakuten sampled 400 employees with an average age of 38 years old and an approximate even split between male and female.

All of those surveyed said their responsibilities included handling invoices from external parties, with the most common departments being operations/business planning (21.5%), accounting (17%), and finance (10.8%).

As businesses move towards paperless operations as part of wider digital transformation (DX) efforts, one of the key challenges for employees tasked with processing invoices is around converting from physical to digital formats, and vice versa.

A majority (52.8%) said invoices received in electronic file format (i.e. PDF) had to then be manually printed out, while an even larger number (66.3%) also had to regularly scan paper invoices into electronic files.

On average, 436.27 invoices are requested from suppliers each month, with 80% requesting suppliers submit invoices in a specific format. After invoices (79.8%), receipts (59.5%) and contracts (48%) are viewed as priorities for going paperless.

Edward Senju, Regional CEO of Sansan, said: “Our research points to a clear need in the market for a single cloud solution that allows businesses — whether they are sending or receiving invoices online or offline — to submit both paper and digital formats to a single address, at which the invoices are automatically processed and stored in the cloud.

“A physical postal address for paper invoices, as well as an email address for digital PDFs, would be the most comprehensive solution to address this nation-wide challenge. Such a solution would save companies substantial time and costs, while also reducing the need for employees to go to their workplace during Covid lockdowns, potentially exposing themselves and others to infection.”

“All of this would further serve to support the efforts of the Singapore government’s paperless initiatives on e-invoicing, as spearheaded by the IMDA.”

Over half of those surveyed (52.5%) said they process invoices the moment they are received, with the remaining 47.5% taking longer. From this group, 65.2% spend over 10 minutes on average searching for a specific invoice and receive an average of 300 invoices each month. This suggests 50 hours per month (about 600 hours per year) spent searching for invoices, before even starting to process them. 

Finally, the survey found that while almost all (92.8%) invoices are processed within 30 minutes, approximately three quarters (74.4%) still include paper formats. When you consider the average volume of monthly invoices that are processed by each employee, you quickly surpass 218 hours per month that are spent on invoice processing (including converting formats).

This can lead to invoice processing being an inadvertent avoidable but cause of workplace stress among those surveys (36.5%), with over half (52.5%) saying they typically have to action them ‘as soon as they come in’ and that this need to process them quickly is a source of stress (60%).