With our broad product portfolio, we are represented in many segments of the automotive aftermarket. Whether specialists for old-timer car parts, experts in tuning or large, well-known international groups.
But the fact that a bank of all places processed over 1,000,000 invoices via our TecCom e-Invoicing was worth a story of its own. That’s why we visited Aktivbank AG in Frankfurt to talk about this special use case.
Our colleague Christina Meier from our TecCom business unit takes care of the cooperation with Aktivbank as the responsible Sales and Partner Manager. In the interview with Ingo Neubauer, Technical Sales Central Regulation at Aktivbank, we learn a lot about the background and the special area of application of our e-Invoicing solution.
Christina Meier: Thank you for having us! Could you please give us a short introduction about yourself?
Ingo Neubauer: My name is Ingo Neubauer and I have been working at Aktivbank since 2015. Since 2016 in the EDI department and in IT at Aktivbank. My area of responsibility right now is onboarding and setting up processes for new suppliers of invoices, so in all the different formats that we turn around in our environment.
Christina Meier: Aktivbank is not a “normal” bank, is it? What makes it so special? What makes it so special? What is so special about your products or in your field?
Ingo Neubauer: The special thing about Aktivbank is, if you go on the street and ask anybody, nobody knows us unless they do business with us, because we don’t do normal banking business like opening accounts for private or business, we are very specialised. One product is factoring, but the main branch of Aktivbank is central settlement, where Aktivbank is a service provider for many purchasing groups, processes their invoices and handles the payments from the buyers to the suppliers, a kind of clearing company. So, we deal with many, many invoices in all different formats from all different industries, as you can imagine. It’s very interesting and no invoice and no industry is the same.
Christina Meier: In which countries do you operate?
Ingo Neubauer: Most of the buyers are in Germany, within the central settlement, but the suppliers are from all over the world, for example in the automotive sector we have suppliers from Europe, from overseas, from almost all countries in the world. There are many differences there in terms of tax laws and language barriers.
Christian Meier: To pick up the topic of “central regulation” or “central settlement”, as this is a key word in our cooperation, could you please explain a bit more how this process works? And as there are several participants, could you please give us an overview on where the suppliers are in this process, where is TecCom e-Invoicing, where is Aktivbank itself and also the buyers, respectively the buying groups?
Ingo Neubauer: Our clients are mainly buying groups and they have contracts with buyers and with suppliers. We are a service provider for the buying groups, so the suppliers deliver the invoices directly to us and we just hand them over. We don’t physically hand them over or forward the invoices to the buyers or buying groups, but we put them into a web portal where they can be downloaded, checked and corrected.
And that is also the reason why we have a connection to TecAlliance, because one of our purchasing areas is the automotive aftermarket. We must accept the common invoice formats of the industries and in the IAM, Independent Automotive Aftermarket, there is TecAlliance. That’s a big player for e-invoicing for us and so it was the logical way to connect. I think the most interesting part is that we are contractually entitled to receive the invoices on behalf of the buyers. So, there is a contract that says they allow us to receive the invoices, instead of receiving them themselves, and we process them in our system. The advantage for the suppliers is that they don’t have to send invoices to many recipients, they just send the invoices to the asset bank, and they are paid in one lump sum with an electronic payment advice, so they don’t have to worry about each individual invoice. It is also usually the case that the liability for the invoice is taken over by Aktivbank, so the risk for the supplier is minimised and they do not need an insurance for all the invoices they have issued to Aktivbank, as the liability is currently passed on.
Christina Meier: This means that everything is digitised – from the sending of invoices from the supplier via our structured TecCom e-invoicing format, to the delivery of the invoice data via your web portal to the buyers or buying groups and the payment. In other words, the entire process is covered electronically. So, there is no longer any need for manual processing.
Ingo Neubauer: No, not really. Of course, there are some customers who like to stick to paper invoices, but we don’t offer paper invoices. I know that some of them print them out and just check the invoices on the printout. The future is this electronic invoicing with a fully digitalised process and no media breaks. That’s always a problem when you’re a customer trying to print out a paper invoice and transfer it into your electronic billing system.
Christina Meier: What advantages do you see for the supplier side in this case?
Ingo Neubauer: I think one of the biggest advantages is the standardised invoicing. They use a platform that they have used for all their other clients. In the past, if we look at the time before 2016 when we started e-invoicing for the original documents, they had to send paper invoices. This is even a problem for some because they are not in Germany and the delivery by post takes too long. We have some very hard and contractual deadlines for invoices, so it’s easier to comply with those rules if you just send them electronically and don’t have to send them by post. I think that’s one of the main advantages. You don’t have to go through a second process of printing them out and sending them. And it is also interesting for the suppliers because the customers demand this information. When we process paper invoices, we only process the header, the header line and the footer. So, all the item data is lost and must be manually typed from the paper. With electronic invoicing, we have all the item data, all the details of the invoice from the beginning to the end and yes, this is the future.
Christina Meier: It’s very useful of course and it’s the same with PDF invoices that are transmitted via email, so you only extract the header and footer and not the item data, right? What means that if the invoice comes electronically in a structured format, then all the data on item level is displayed in your portal.
Ingo Neubauer: It is displayed and transmitted to customers in a standardised format, and they can simply import it into their systems and then match the order with the delivery and the invoice. In an ideal world, they don’t have to look at it because if all the numbers are right, the matching just works automatically. You can also save a lot of money by processing invoices digitally only.
Christina Meier: This means that if the supplier already has this technology, it is only a small additional configuration to also connect the invoices that should go directly to Aktivbank.
Ingo Neubauer: So yes, it’s a small adjustment. I think it’s very quick. We just need a few extra numbers from the standard to do the identification of the seller party with the buyer party and the right mapping, and that’s it. So that is a simple set-up, and we have done a lot of them in the last six years. I don’t have figures on the total suppliers we have involved, but we have already processed about 1 million TXML invoices in our system. And those are just the invoices. That doesn’t include test invoices, just real invoices that have been processed and paid and everything else. So, we just reached the 1 million mark and I think these are very good news. Pretty impressive in such a short time.
We had to learn what is important for TecAlliance. What you need to know to make the setup, to go to the suppliers and put the right fields in the right place. Of course, there were a few challenges at the beginning, but they are all sorted out now. We talk regularly every week and both sides now know exactly what to do when a new supplier comes along and it’s a smooth process.
Christina Meier: On the other hand, what advantages do you see for the buyers or for the purchasing groups?
Ingo Neubauer: They can implement automated invoice controls and processes in their systems. They can simply match the orders with the invoice and the delivery note. I think that saves a lot of time. It is also easier for them if all invoices look the same. We do that with the visualised document for every electronic invoice we receive, and no matter which supplier the invoice comes from, they all look the same. So, it’s easy for the buyer to check an invoice. The structure is always the same, so it’s easy to implement an automated process – much easier than if we try to scan paper invoices and do OCR recognition for all items. It can be done, but it’s expensive if there are for example 40 of them, and this is often the case. There are manual processes that you must do. The advantage for the buyers is that the data is in a standardised form, and they can easily process it. We regularly talk to the buyers about the possibilities of automated processing of invoices.
Christina Meier: So, it’s cost saving, time saving, less error-prone and we get more digitalisation.
Ingo Neubauer: Absolutely. Furthermore, you asked about the advantages for the buying groups… I think one of the biggest is that you get all the item data on the invoices and in the statistics. I think it’s very important for the buying groups to know exactly which products are doing well in the market and which ones are not doing so well, so they can talk to the suppliers, that the products which the market demands, can be delivered. I think that is one of the most interesting aspects for the buying groups.
Christina Meier: That sounds very useful for them as well and they can also extract it from your Web 2.0 portal, right?
Ingo Neubauer: There is this possibility, but it is not regularly used now. But we can create a position-based statistic and if it is requested, we can make it available to the companies, but not via the portal. So that’s another way, a direct way, which we do in contact with the buying associations.
Christina Meier: There are also two procedures, the OBV and the KBV, so for original and copy procedures. Both are covered, right?
Ingo Neubauer: Our cooperation covers both, that’s one thing we developed together. We started with original invoices and developed the copy invoice process with another project. Maybe it would be interesting to show what the difference is with a small example. With original invoicing, we at Aktivbank receive – as the name says – the original invoice. So, it is the original invoice from the supplier. It is the original invoice for the tax institution. There are some tax regulations that must be followed, and there is no longer an invoice sent to the customer. So, there is only this one invoice. It is sent to us; we process it and pass the invoice data on to the buyer via our web portal. With the copy invoice process, it’s a bit different. Here, the invoicing is negotiated directly between the buyer and the supplier. So, we don’t know what form the invoice will take. But this invoice is sent directly from the supplier to the buyer, and we only receive a copy to make the payment. We don’t process item details because they are not needed. We only receive the header and footer, even though we receive the information in the TXML invoice, as it is the standard TXML 2.5. We receive the item data, but we do not process it because it is not the original invoice. The original is sent by the supplier directly to the buyer, in a form we don’t even know. We don’t need to know; we just receive a copy and that’s all we need. But most companies use the original invoice process. Then we know that there is only one invoice. It is sent to us, and we receive it for the buyer, we process it and just put it in our web portal.
Christina Meier: What would you say about the cooperation with TecAlliance?
Ingo Neubauer: We are satisfied. Our customers or the buyer groups and the suppliers are satisfied and that is one of our goals. We have our customers. They must be satisfied with the solutions we offer, and they are. So that is an important point. It has been a long road to get to where we are now. Six years sounds like a short period of time, but I think we have achieved a lot in six years. Of course, it was difficult at the beginning. It was all new for us. It was also partly new for TecAlliance. I think we have made great progress and now both sides know what the other needs to process an invoice. It was a long process, of course, but I think in the first two years we learned the most from the first pilot suppliers. Looking at the numbers now, how many suppliers we have, we are very happy with the cooperation. We have enabled suppliers to do TXML invoicing for the active fund clients, and I think we see new things almost every month. New suppliers, new topics, in the beginning we never thought of doing the invoicing process through TMXL, it was not even an idea. The idea just grew in our collaboration, and it was actually a very short project. We managed to implement it within half a year, and I think that’s another point that shows how well the collaboration works. So, we have new contracts, we just needed new connections, new allocations on our side, and it was all done within half a year.
We just made another technical change, and nobody noticed that we made that change. A few months ago, we switched from TOM Connect transmission of bills to web service-based transmission and nobody noticed the change. That’s always a good sign when you make a technical change, and nobody notices it because everything still works in the same way as before. I think that’s a success.
Christina Meier: Perfect! Thank you for this interview and for the insights you gave us.
Ingo Neubauer: Thank you for being our guest!
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