How the KIPP Bay Area Schools Accounting Team Went Paperless To Better Serve its Growing Family

by Jon Schwartz, Cory Harris and Mahreez Berloui

The big headline is moving to a paperless system reduced the amount of time KIPP’s accounting team spent on A/P from 40 hours a week all the way down to 8 hours.

In 2013, KIPP Bay Area Schools (KIPP) served about 3k students across 8 schools. KIPP’s accounts payable (A/P) function, corporate credit card program and expense reimbursement systems were paper-based and the accounting team manually logged virtually all non-personnel expenses incurred by the organization. Rows of file cabinets stuffed with paper invoices and expense reports were crowding the accounting team out of their own office.

The existing processes were time-intensive, error-prone and lacked transparency. For example, paper invoices were sent by vendors to schools and then forwarded to the home office via weekly courier. There were numerous stacks of papers the invoice could be sitting in before it successfully made its way to the home office and was actually logged into the accounting system. Sometimes entire courier bags were lost. Other times, the invoice was actually paid but the paper check was lost in the mail or misplaced by the receiving party. No matter the reason, answering the question, “when will my invoice be paid” was painful.

KIPP planned to grow its network to 20 schools and the accounting team knew it needed to shift to more scalable, efficient systems that allowed for better financial controls.

The team ideally wanted a single, cloud-based solution that could handle A/P, credit cards and expense reimbursements.

They investigated AnyBill, Concur, Coupa and Expensify. KIPP eventually decided on Concur, because, even though it was slightly more expensive, they believed it offered the best functionality across A/P, credit cards and expense reimbursements. Note: Charter School Growth Fund does not endorse specific vendors.

Going Paperless: Before and After

The big headline is moving to a paperless system reduced the amount of time KIPP’s accounting team spent on A/P from 40 hours a week all the way down to 8 hours.

Shifting to a cloud-based platform significantly improved A/P workflow efficiency for both schools and the home office:

  • Schools no longer couriered paper invoices to the home office. Vendors either mailed their invoices directly to Concur or the school Operations Manager scanned a paper invoice and emailed it to Concur.
  • The accounting team no longer needed to do any manual entry. It spent all its time on electronic review and approval of expenses.
  • School Operations Managers can check the status of an invoice online and do not have to call the accounting team to find out when an invoice will be paid.

OLD SYSTEM: Manual Accounts Payable Process

NEW SYSTEM: Paperless Accounts Payable Process With Concur

The expense reimbursement and corporate credit card processes also enjoyed similar improvements.

The old expense reimbursement process was similar to the old A/P process except employees had to assemble a complex expense reimbursement report, tape their receipts to paper, and number and annotate their receipts. Creating the report was onerous for the employee and cumbersome for accounting staff who would have to sort through convoluted forms that took lots of time to review. If an error was made, the accounting staff would have to email the employee and wait for a response.

Concur simplified the expense reimbursement process in a few significant ways:

  • The ExpenseIt mobile app allows staff members to take photos of receipts at point-of-sale and the digital receipts are automatically uploaded to Concur for coding
  • Expense reports are created electronically and take less time to complete
  • All approvals are electronic and any problems are resolved electronically, not manually
  • All reimbursements are done via ACH direct deposit vs cutting manual checks
  • As an aside, KIPP’s Talent team has special expense reimbursement form inside Concur for teacher recruits that travel to the Bay Area for interviews.

For corporate credit cards, Concur also allows for digitized receipts and electronic reporting. Some vendors like Amazon have Concur integration. For example, if a school makes a large order, Amazon will automatically send a separate receipt for each shipment to Concur in order to simplify expense coding. KIPP is still exploring the best ways to get its staff to submit credit card receipts and code transactions on a timely basis. See Charter School Growth Fund’s Tips For Effectively Managing Corporate Credit Cards in Schools.

Lessons Learned

Sometimes spending more on a system can save you more money in the long run. KIPP pays just north of $50k a year for Concur, about the same as one accounting associate and more than some of the alternative products. While this may seem like a lot, the accounting team believes Concur will help them avoid hiring two FTEs in the future.

One HUGE benefit to going paperless across A/P, expense reimbursements and corporate credit cards is a much simpler audit process. Under the old system, KIPP would keep paper records for all its expense transactions on-site. The auditors would request samples of records to review and two members of the accounting team would spend an entire day pulling the records and another whole day putting them away. By going paperless, KIPP no longer has to maintain paper records on site and the audit team goes directly into Concur to review samples of expense transactions.

Fully explore all versions of the product — don’t just default to the cheapest version. KIPP originally purchased the small business edition of Concur which 1) did not offer all the functionality KIPP needed, and 2) the company offered less implementation support for that version. Confusion over the right product delayed implementation by 6–9 months. Once KIPP realized it needed the enterprise offering, implementation went more swiftly and they were able to prod the company for more expert implementation assistance.

Train, train, train and give folks time to adjust. Instead of seeking to train users individually, the accounting team focused its training on school Operations Managers who were then expected to train school staff on the new systems. KIPP provided the Operations Managers with videos and other training materials.

The accounting team communicated very clear deadlines, with long lead times, by which all staff were expected to use Concur for expenses. Any organizational resistance was largely mitigated with long lead times.

The KIPP team has generally accepted the switch to Concur. Sporadic complaints with the system are generally a matter of user preference, not flaws in the workflow.

Growing from a single school to a high-performing network of 20 schools means building systems that scale. Huge gratitude to KIPP Bay Area Schools for sharing this important part of their journey to help their students develop the knowledge, skills and character essential to thrive in college and positively impact the world.

Artifact: KIPP Bay Area Schools Timeline for Concur Training and Implementation

*SUBSCRIBE to Charter School Growth Fund’s Weekly Finance Newsletter*