Marie Costers
Marie CostersManaging Director CodaBox

Will the coronavirus crisis lead to the breakthrough of digital invoicing in Belgium?

Between 1993, ‘when records began’, and 2017, the popularity of digital invoicing rose steadily in Belgium. The figures fell for the first time in 2017, but the application of European directives quickly reversed this negative trend. In 2018, digital invoicing saved Belgian businesses 118 million euros. However, given the potential savings of 3.37 billion euros, it is clear that there is still a significant margin for growth. Thanks to initiatives such as DigiCrowd, the number of digital invoices being issued is rising rapidly. The coronavirus crisis is expected to further accelerate the digitisation of financial processes. The main drivers? Less paper, more teleworking and smarter administration.

For the sake of clarity, we are talking about ‘real’ e-invoices, in structured xml format. We are not talking about invoices in pdf format or paper invoices. Processing them is particularly time-consuming since it cannot be done automatically. However, thanks to the efforts of the government and DigiCrowd, e-invoicing is slowly but surely coming of age. Today, Belgium is still somewhere in the middle of the European e-invoicing ranking.

E-invoices for the government

The Mercurius platform, an electronic mailroom for public institutions, has received more than a million electronic invoices since its launch. The platform ensures the correct transfer of electronic invoices between the supplier’s software and that of the public authority concerned.

The Flemish government now receives more than 60% of its invoices as a structured communication rather than as a PDF attachment by e-mail or on paper by traditional mail. Three years ago this share was only 7%.

Suppliers who submit their invoices to the government digitally save both time and money, but that isn’t all. They also get paid faster. In 2019, the Flemish government paid 86% of its invoices on time. That is nine days faster than in 2018.

An organisation like DigiCrowd, launched by Sage, Wolters Kluwer, WinBooks and CodaBox, also has an impact. To date, more than 270 DigiCrowd partners have joined the organisation. Since the beginning of 2019, more than 100,000 invoices have been delivered to over 6,000 companies.

Coronavirus stimulates digital thinking

Digitisation is progressing faster than planned due to the covid-19 virus. The uncertainty surrounding the transmission of viruses via the large quantities of paper traditionally involved in business administration means that paper is being processed even more slowly than before.

Today, companies want to avoid direct contact as much as possible. That is why they are hard at work making plans to make teleworking more flexible after the current emergency situation and even to encourage it. Going digital is now seen as an ideal. In addition, many SMEs currently have other things to worry about. In certain sectors, businesses had to close their doors for a long time. In some, the future is still uncertain. Company directors and their accountants are currently racking their brains to find new streams of income, forecasts and risk analyses.

If we look at all the advantages of e-invoicing, the digital approach is not a gamble but a logical evolution. Even without the whole coronavirus crisis, digital invoicing gives accountants and entrepreneurs a competitive edge. Faster processing, real-time insights into the numbers and error-free results are just a few examples of how e-invoicing contributes to greater efficiency. But the opportunities it offers to anticipate risks faster and better are probably even more important.

Since the introduction of the quarantine measures, we have also seen a significant increase in the number of entrepreneurs and accountants opting for digital invoicing at CodaBox. Hopefully this trend will not grind to a halt, because e-invoicing offers many advantages. Digital invoicing not only protects you from viruses, it also allows you to work more efficiently and accurately, and it prevents fraud. At the same time, both the sender and receiver save an average of six euros per invoice.

If you also use a digital tool (or platform), such as Bookmate, ClearFacts, OkiOki or Yuki, for example, you immediately have a dashboard where you can see the company figures on a daily basis. It seems like a simple choice, and it is. However, we often hear that entrepreneurs do not know where to start when it comes to digital invoicing.

What is e-invoicing and how do you get started?

First of all, you have to book your invoices. That is a given. Do you type them yourself or send them to your accountant? Either way, you have a lot of manual work to do. Often the paperwork piles up, and every quarter, at short notice, entrepreneurs have to scramble to get everything together.

With e-invoicing, the process is fully automated. And there’s no need to master any new software. A service provider, such as CodaBox, collects the invoices from your suppliers and forwards them to your accountant. This is done directly, using the right software. You then receive a personal copy.

The process usually takes place on the European network Peppol, a digital highway that allows companies and governments to send invoices digitally: safely, quickly and easily, not to mention free of charge.

Hopefully we will soon be able to put the coronavirus crisis behind us. The world hasn’t changed for good yet, but we may soon be confronted with another comparable situation.

In any case, we will have learned a lot. Today, businesses and people look at everything digital in a very different way. Many have only just discovered the online possibilities that are available to them. I myself now speak to my team on video every day and I see my colleagues holding virtual meetings. They do it as productively as before, but without getting stuck in traffic.

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