Lufthansa AirPlus: E-Invoicing Ready for Takeoff - Christian Kersten and Stefan Waelde, United Kingdom

Christian Kersten and Stefan Waelde of Lufthansa AirPlus GmbH tell FDE how their invoice management unit, billinx, is helping to streamline financial supply chains.

According to analyst firm Billentis, there are almost one million companies in Europe that send or receive e-invoices, with 985 million e-invoices sent in 2008, and a 45% increase in the B2B sector. As the einvoicing arm of Lufthansa AirPlus GmbH, billinx helps CFOs automate their B2B invoice processes, thereby reducing costs and improving working capital metrics.

‘Since 1996, the core markets in which we have grown and proved the power of our business model are Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Benelux, though of course we are able to follow our clients to any international market,’ explains executive director, invoice management, Christian Kersten.

‘We intend to expand our customer and supplier base throughout Europe, offering a first-class B2B service with reliable e-invoicing and payments services that interface efficiently with all major ERP systems.’

billinx has three core offerings: the billinx eXchange; the billinx account; and the billinx card. With the vast networks of account details amassed by card companies such as AirPlus, it is no surprise that card companies are leading the race when it comes to e-invoicing.

Over 1,000 merchandisers accept the billinx card. However, billinx card holders are not confined to dealing with accredited merchandisers.

‘Where a merchant is not connected to our system, we set up an interface between that supplier and our platform as part of service we call “roll out management”,’ explains billinx director Stefan Waelde. ‘We establish that link at the highest level – an integration interface – with a client’s ERP system. We also run a multilingual online portal that enables clients or merchants to enter a transaction manually. Alternatively, we can scan our clients’ invoices from different suppliers and convert them to an electronic format. Whichever method is used, we provide control of expenditure, the matching of orders, invoices and delivery notes, and, where required, payment systems.’

Taking control

‘The control given to the finance function is particularly important,’ adds Kersten, ‘because it can define a limit on each transaction; where the billinx card can be used and in what time period. Purchasing departments would typically use a single virtual card for their transactions. We can also institute pre-transaction approval for all purchases or for those above an agreed amount.’

For additional security and control of the invoicing process, the billinx eXchange enables qualified digital signatures to be employed. ‘The eXchange links the invoicing party and the invoicing recipient through our trust centre, which verifies both the digital signature and the amounts,’ explains Waelde. 'For the issuer, it offers flexibility, clear auditing and easy complaints management. For the recipient, there is the reliable digital signature coupled with sales tax recognition as well as an online recording of small vendors.'

'It is our belief that this high quality and reliable invoice exchange which can of course also be linked to automated payments by our customers, is the future as companies cut costs and boost efficiencies by moving to paperless transactions.'

'The imperative to cut costs has rarely been greater than now. Until recently, CFOs had been looking for savings on their operations side. But the financial processes and the creation of a truly streamlined financial supply chain have, in our view, been generally overlooked.'

'Maybe companies imagine such a key beneficial change will be too disruptive at a time when every penny of cashfow counts. But they would be wrong. Including workshops, it takes a maximum of six weeks to set up a client’s ERP system on the billinx eXchange platform and just seven days to establish a supplier. This is a small investment for a big return.’