Businesses can receive e-invoices from govt agencies on InvoiceNow network

InvoiceNow allows businesses to issue e-invoices to other organisations on the network in Singapore and transact more cheaply. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Businesses can now receive electronic invoices from the Government through nationwide network InvoiceNow - a move that can help them cut processing time and cost.

The Housing Board, JTC Corporation and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) are the first public agencies to tap the platform to bill companies, such as for applications of permits and licences.

About 70 per cent of the invoices issued by the public sector come from these three organisations. Every month, their 25,000 business customers receive more than 49,000 invoices.

More public agencies are expected to use the network later. Since January last year, government agencies have been able to receive e-invoices themselves from businesses through InvoiceNow, which was launched in 2019 by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Announcing the move for HDB, JTC and MPA on Tuesday (Nov 30), IMDA said this is part of the Government's efforts to drive transformation and help businesses seize opportunities in the digital economy.

InvoiceNow allows businesses to issue e-invoices to other organisations on the network in Singapore and transact more cheaply. It is also part of a global e-invoicing network that covers more than 400,000 companies.

A 2018 study commissioned by IMDA found that e-invoicing cut the amount of time and effort needed to re-key data into company systems, with savings of up to $8 per invoice processed.

The authority noted that faster processing times when businesses send their own e-invoices, reducing their carbon footprint, too, since paper invoices are no longer used.

These e-invoices use a standardised digital format and do away with existing digitised invoices, such as scanned invoices, which require some human input to process.

The update on InvoiceNow comes as the Covid-19 pandemic prompts more people and companies to go digital. The Government said in February that the volume of money transacted through the PayNow instant fund transfer service hit $5 billion in December last year, double the amount from a year ago.

PayNow Corporate for businesses can be used to make payments for e-invoices on InvoiceNow.

Since its launch, InvoiceNow has added more companies. In March 2020, there were just 1,000. In September last year, this jumped to about 25,000 and now, there are more than 40,000.

Still, only about 10 per cent of the 25,000 business customers of HDB, JTC and MPA are on InvoiceNow currently.

The three public agencies took an estimated six to nine months to connect their systems so they could send e-invoices through InvoiceNow.

For many companies already using accounting solutions based on the international Peppol business standard that InvoiceNow was also developed on, the back-end process to link up to InvoiceNow should be completed immediately or within a working day or two.

For businesses with in-house or more complex and customised accounting solutions, the time to connect to InvoiceNow could vary from a couple of weeks to months.

Ms Cindy Sim, MPA's director for finance, procurement and administration, said its issuance of e-invoices is in line with the digital transformation of the maritime industry.

"This serves as an additional platform for our customers to receive invoices digitally... with greater efficiency. We hope this will help more maritime companies accelerate adoption of electronic business processes," she added.

Freight services and logistics firm Royal Pacific said that with MPA issuing e-invoices such as for daily port charges, it becomes easier to find the invoices online instead of having to manually search through files, especially during audits.

Since the company joined InvoiceNow in the beginning of the year, e-invoices have allowed it to cut invoice processing time by about 50 per cent. This frees up time for staff to do more checks, learn new skills and give them more breathing room.

"Especially with the additional stress from this Covid-19 period, e-invoicing has helped tremendously to reduce the pressure from trying to meet daily accounting deadlines," said Mr Yoga Widarmoko, Royal Pacific's director.

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