In times of automation, artificial intelligence and digitalisation, dealing with invoices seems like an anachronism: yet paper bills, with all their shortcomings, are still prevalent in many companies. Complicated further processing, the risk of losing them and difficulties with storage are the result. But it’s not only against this background that migrating to electronic or e-invoicing makes sense: legal requirements within the EU mean there is no longer any other option but to turn away from all those stacks of paper. It is the EU’s aim for e-invoicing to be the standard in Europa as early as next year – a goal that currently seems rather ambitious. The problem is that the individual member countries of the EU have made different degrees of progress towards implementing the corresponding directive from 2014, which only becomes binding when national laws are enacted. Compared to countries like Italy or Denmark, Germany is lagging behind somewhat. But even in Germany, all contracting public sector authorities will only be allowed to accept electronic invoices from November 2020, applicable for amounts of Euro 1,000 or more. This therefore also applies to those companies in the furniture industry that supply to public bodies.
Electronic invoices instead of PDF files
The devil’s in the detail: a PDF file is not an electronic invoice, as is often falsely assumed. That’s because a true e-invoice must contain structured data that can be further processed – either included in the invoice or sent along with it. What is known as the European CEN standard is crucial for acceptance by the authorities: a standard that is met by the German XRechnung e-invoicing format, for example. It’s fair to assume that such formats will also gradually become indispensable for B2B and even B2C transactions. In this case, the public sector is a digitalisation pioneer.
In a survey recently conducted by IT specialist Comarch and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO) among Germany’s top 700 companies, around 69 per cent of firms stated that they had moved over to e-invoicing either fully or in part. However, since only large companies were surveyed, the rate is likely to be significantly lower overall; there is still a reluctance to make the switch and all the necessary investments especially among small and medium-sized companies. According to the poll, the greatest advantages of electronic invoicing were time savings, increased transparency and cost reduction. This shows that it’s not just the regulatory pressure that favours a change of mind. The e-invoices offer many benefits, all the way through to a higher level of acceptance by the end customer. With the appropriate software solutions, e-invoicing thus fits perfectly into a digitalisation strategy. As usual in this area, the expense should be worthwhile in the medium to long term: the EU anticipates a total savings potential of Euro 6.5 billion for Germany.
EU adopts e-invoicing
Häfele, based in Nagold in Germany’s Black Forest, provides one example of how electronic invoicing can be implemented in practice. The long-established company supplies furniture fittings and architectural hardware, and some of its trade is with Hungary, where an e-invoicing procedure has been mandatory since last summer. Companies must send their sales invoices to an online platform operated by the tax authorities, where they are checked before being forwarded to the recipients. In cooperation with SAP partner FIS, Häfele has implemented this process using the specialist tool FIS/xee. Such requirements for companies have already been implemented or are about to be realised in several other EU countries. And e-invoicing is irreversibly gaining ground and slowly becoming the norm outside Europe too – in North America, for example. So, there’s no doubt that the paper-based bill is a dying species.