Would you rather spend your time creating your art or dealing with invoices?
Yeah, we know the answer. And so do a number of companies that have created products to ease the pain and inefficiencies of administrative tasks for creatives and other business owners.
More than one-fourth of owners of small to medium enterprises in the United Kingdom surveyed in late 2017 said getting paid on time was the most critical factor for their financial success, according to a report
from Dun & Bradstreet, which provides commercial data and analytics.
In addition, 35 percent said late payments pose cash flow difficulties, and, even worse, 58 percent said late payments put their business at risk of failure.
One of the latest companies to assist businesses with invoicing is Anna, which stands for “Absolutely No Nonsense Admin.” The London-based company promises that “Anna makes time for you” by handling some of the tedious financial administrative tasks that can clog up your day.
Anna’s app launched in early September 2018, and is currently only available to residents of the United Kingdom. It specifically targets businesses with 1 to 40 employees in the creative industry, a sector that contributes almost £92 billion
to the U.K. economy, according to the most recent government figures.
“We wanted to create an environment where a business could deposit and manage money, but, at the same time, through a friendly and intuitive interface, begin to do much more,” said Daljit Singh, Anna’s chief design officer.
Subscribers get an Anna-branded debit Mastercard, which is offered through a banking partner. You can use it as you would any other kind of debit card, like to make purchases and withdraw cash at ATMs.
Anna can pay invoices via a simple transfer from the app. It will also generate and send invoices, chase down outstanding payments, remind you about upcoming bills, and show your latest transactions.
The startup describes itself as a “hybrid digital assistant.” The app is digital, but for now, humans are still involved in nearly every task. For instance, if you need to track down a missing piece of an invoice, such as a purchase order number, you’d use the chat function to request help. An employee would solve the problem, perhaps by calling the company sending the invoice.
Or, if you give permission, an employee can access emails in your inbox with the term “invoice” to find the answer. They can also check your email to seek out upcoming bills you need to pay and ask if you want to make a payment.
Likewise, when Anna uses data from invoices and determines one is overdue, it will ask through the app: “Would you like me to send a reminder to your client?” If you confirm, an employee will send an email—a polite one, Singh said—to help speed up payments you are owed. He added that the “full functionality” of these features will be introduced over the next six months.
In the future, subscribers will be able to create their own messages to send clients about overdue payments.
Anna also plans to address other pain points of creatives over time. It could help subscribers manage value-added tax they owe, forecast cash flow, automate expenses, and onboard new employees, for example. “Our plans are vast, but the product timeline and release timeline will be based entirely on what our customers are telling us about their needs and requirements,” Singh said.
The company also has ambitions to expand outside of the U.K., perhaps to other European countries and the United States. Singh says expansion plans will be driven by how well Anna is received, and by the needs of creatives in other countries.
Then, there are the artificial intelligence, or AI, aspirations. The company hopes that Anna will employ the technology in the future, to the extent that humans only provide backup support when the AI can’t handle a request. For now, the AI is “learning” from interactions customers have with employees.
“Any kind of hybrid AI, for it to begin to work effectively and for it to work well, needs some time to be trained,” he said. “We feel that within about 12 to 18 months, AI will have learned sufficient amounts of information, and will then begin to deploy a certain functionality.”
Singh offers this potential example of how AI can be employed: Knowing your account balance and a due date for a tax bill, Anna could send relevant messages, like asking if you want to pay your bill now or put money aside for future payments.
“These are gentle nudges that allow you to make decisions on the way your business needs to run,” he said. “If we can deliver this information in a clear and concise way…then it makes those admin tasks much more straightforward.”
Anna, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play App Store, has a flexible pricing structure.
Its lowest price plan of £11 a month (about $14) is available for businesses with a monthly income up to £80,000 (about $105,000). Other monthly plans cost £49 (about $64) and £99 (about $129).
It has entered a crowded marketplace that includes the accounting software products FreshBooks and Xero, which also target creatives.
Singh said the debit card component helps differentiate his service from other invoicing apps. “Anna is a business account, so as well as offering features like invoicing, our customers also have direct access to their money,” he said.
Creatives, of course, could alternatively open a business account with a bank. Singh said opening a bank account with a traditional bank in the U.K. can take up to four weeks, but Anna’s onboarding and sign-up process can be completed in fewer than five minutes.
There’s another unique aspect of Anna: Its quirky, lighthearted look. It’s designed to appeal to creatives, many of whom find dealing with finances either overwhelming or confusing—a takeaway the company gathered through conversations it had with creatives last June.
“We specifically worked with an illustrator who created some incredible drawings of simplistic animals, which is not usually something you would associate with a financial brand,” Singh said. “Because we want to appeal to creative businesses that can sometimes struggle to have a meaningful relationship with a traditional bank, we feel it’s important to have something that looks good and people feel they can connect with a little bit more.”
That bond shouldn’t be too hard to build, if artists feel the startup can seamlessly and effectively handle some of the business-side burdens of their businesses.