When did you realize that automating your cash disbursements and receipts would be a good idea?
We tend to proceed very incrementally, and we don’t normally embrace technology quickly. But as we continued to add more properties to our portfolio, the paperwork circulating around the office exponentially increased. Stacks of paper were moving back and forth from department to department until Alex Narcise, a partner at Wiss, told us that there is another way to deal with this.
Alex pointed out that I was frequently traveling outside of the office among properties in various locations. Meanwhile the checks were getting backed up in the office. Alex further emphasized that it would be much more efficient to be able to approve bills remotely.
We were very skeptical but once we instituted this solution it allowed me to hit the ground running when I return to work from travel, since my bills are already approved.
What was the process of moving toward automation?
The first step was settling up a system that we could rely on. We implemented Yardi and automated the rental side of the business. A big step was gaining the ability to process rental checks electronically. Since making the switch, we’ve added a number of communities and haven’t experienced any additional stress collecting rents. We also automated accounts payable by adding Avid Exchange.
Settling on this configuration was a challenge. At first we didn’t know what we wanted. We knew Yardi would work well, but we didn’t know how Avid worked or if it could be integrated. Wiss was instrumental in navigating us through the entire process.
Have you seen an improvement in your bills being paid on time?
Good question. I’d say yes and no. Once I gained more visibility, I started disputing more bills, including utility bills. This means I send a question via the system inquiring about a discrepancy or an inconsistency. Initially people weren’t getting back to me with timely, accurate responses. But now, after seeing the kinds of things I question, the team is able to better anticipate and proactively provide answers. It’s a learning curve but we’re moving in the right direction.
How important is it to have a strong advisory partner to help guide the process?
You definitely need a partner who you trust and have a relationship with to tell you, “Spend your money here. Don’t spend your money there.” The depth of the relationship is important because it makes the transition that much smoother.
The way we operate is that we’re too incremental about things. We try to vet everything six different ways. We treat every dollar like it’s our last dollar, so we tend to move too slowly for our own good and we tend to sometimes not have the bias toward action that we need to have. Carolyn Hall, a Partner at Wiss, and our point person on the project, really pushed us towards action and gave us great confidence along the way. She assured us that it wasn’t going to be perfect, especially at first, but it was still going to be the right thing to do.
There is no shortage of consultants that will help you onboard automated systems, but they may not necessarily have the sensitivities and understanding that a firm like Wiss has.