Going Paperless in Finance

It’s been an aim of ours to move to a more paperless world for a while now.  Whereas a number of theatres can make changes in the way the use paper across the artistic side of their activities, such as providing scripts on e-readers, that’s an area of very little impact here at Battersea Arts Centre.

We’ve already made headway in reducing paper for meetings by using a projector for sharing images, diagrams and figures, and moved a large quantity of focussed Marketing towards e-formats of various types, but one area where paper seems to collate in vast numbers of files is always the Finance department.

Experience has always been that one year of financial paperwork seems to take up about 4 shelves in an office, holding 30 or more lever arch files, and the combined pulp of a significant portion of a sustainably managed forest.

So there has to be a better way, right?

Trays dedicated to invoices in, expense forms and receipts, float reconciliations, credit card purchasing documents, banking statements and correspondance, from artists, food suppliers, local authorities…piles upon piles in a neverending cascade of doom.

Scene from Terry Gilliam's Brazil
Scene from Terry Gilliam’s Brazil

And then, in a LTC Green Co-ordinators’ meeting, the Lyric Hammersmith shone a ray of light. They’d gone paperless in their finance department, and it had been a success.

Being the generous, brilliant folk they are, I was given a couple of hours’ demonstration of the approach they’d taken and a chance to ask a few thousand questions. Eye-opening and incredibly helpful is probably the best way to describe it. The Lyric is a venue where sustainability is very definitely ingrained through every aspect – it’s part of their values and visible throughout their amazing new building – and what they’d achieved was a further continuation of those successes.

So we’ve started to follow their example, and the last fortnight has seen us process all payments without a scrap of paper crossing a desk:

  • All invoices are either received electronically or scanned
  • Those files are named and coded in a format which then matches the way in which we enter them within our accounts software
  • Blocks of files can then be collated together to support payment runs, and filed away afterwards
  • Easy to understand, refer to, and manage

That’s a fairly gross simplification, but it has drastically reduced the amount of time taken shuffling and constantly re-ordering pieces of paper. There are a number of previously bulging folders now sitting forlornly empty, no longer threatening a depressing quarter of an hour’s fruitless flicking through for a waywardly-alphabeticised document.

For us, the loss of or damage to so many physical documents in the fire of 13th March has actually helped us to focus on the important aspects of processing and storing these kind of items. As we develop our new systems, we’re working towards a safer, more secure, considerably less costly to the environment, and efficient future.

Enormous thanks to Anju and Kim at the Lyric for your inspiration, support and patience!

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