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Online Accounting Tools Promise Business Efficiency

November 15, 2000|JUAN HOVEY

The electronic age offers a grab bag of valuable holiday presents for harried business owners straining to meet customer demands and prepare for the new year.

You can already pay your bills electronically and organize your back-office accounting with off-the-shelf software. Also routine is online processing of credit card payments from customers who purchase through your Web page.

Using software more recently available, you can now finance your receivables on the Internet to speed cash flow. In the coming months you will also find:

* new Internet auctions and exchanges to speed the acquisition of supplies and the disposition of inventories;

* Web-based electronic invoicing and bill-presentment services;

* Web-based software to automate the management of your human-resources, customer-relations and sales-force operations.

Some of these products duplicate others already on the market and others refine existing ideas. All in all, they promise to streamline the inner workings of small and mid-size businesses, offering many of the same efficiencies the big guys use to cut costs and speed cash flow.

The receivables financing comes from Long Island, N.Y.-based MyReceivables.com, (http://www.myreceivables.com), a unit of CDS Group, an accounts-receivable financing and management company. Launched in the spring, MyReceivables.com serves as an online credit intermediary for businesses, offering credit terms to their online customers, said Leonard Leff, president and chief executive.

Working in the background, MyReceivables.com advances money to online sellers in much the same way that banks advance money to brick-and-mortar merchants accepting credit card purchases. Fees run from 2.5% to 5% per purchase. That's generally more than the fees banks charge for credit card purchases via MasterCard and Visa but less than American Express, Leff said.

Having advanced cash against such purchases, MyReceivables.com bills the customer using the seller's invoice, thus remaining invisible to the buyer.

On the procurement end of things, Bank of America Corp. is testing a program called Banc of America Marketplace in several mid-Atlantic states. The Web-based business-to-business program seeks to deliver streamlined procurement to the bank's small and mid-size business clients. Developed jointly with Ariba Inc., a premier provider of procurement services to big businesses, the program focuses on linking business buyers and sellers of routine supplies.

American Express Co., meanwhile, offers a request-for-quote service via a new suite of online tools targeting small and mid-size businesses through the American Express Web site (http://www.americanexpress.com/etools). The suite authorizes and processes online payments automatically with all major credit cards. It also allows do-it-yourselfers to build and manage Web sites with simple-to-use templates.

Web-based back-office accounting is available from NetLedger Inc., (http://www.netledger.com) of San Mateo, which added payroll and customized report functions to its package in the summer. The payroll function automatically generates accounting entries from payroll data, eliminating the need for double entries and thus reducing the opportunities for clerical errors.

Similar services are on the drawing boards of many banks and a number of other e-commerce companies targeting small and mid-size business.

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Next: How a West Los Angeles company used a sophisticated computerized cash-management system to add $250,000 to its bottom line.

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Recent Finacing and Insurance columns are available at http://www.latimes.com/finin. Juan Hovey can be reached at (805) 492-7909 or at jhovey@gte.net.

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