What is an electronic invoice?

Following the 2020 finance law, the word is on everyone's lips. Electronic invoicing will become mandatory in France for B2B exchanges!

However, do you really know what it is? Although the definition of what an electronic invoice is is specified by the General Tax Code, it remains broad. It opens the door to very different types of electronic invoices. From PDF to structured electronic invoices, the way in which they are used and the benefits you can gain from them are just as varied.

So what is an electronic invoice? What are the different types and what can you expect from them? We take stock!

Regulatory compliance of accounts payable invoices

Electronic invoice: definition

Let's go back to the beginning. The electronic invoice (with legal value) has a definition published in the General Tax Code in Article 289.

What does this article tell us? Here is the definition: an invoice is considered as electronic by the tax authorities if and only if the invoicing process is dematerialized from end to end. That is, at no time is the invoice printed.

A paper invoice that is scanned via an ADP/ADR tool is therefore not considered to be electronic: the paper copy retains the legal value in this case.

So, in concrete terms, an electronic invoice must be issued, transmitted and received in an electronic format! Attention, it is not because it is dematerialized that it does not have to contain legal mentions: date and number of the invoice, identity of the salesman or the service provider and identity of the purchaser or the customer, number of the purchase order, number of identification to the VAT, price without tax and price including tax...

Its definition is still valid as it is for the moment. Although it is expected to evolve a bit by 2024, especially with clarifications on invoice formats and mandatory mentions. We will keep you informed 😉

Electronic invoicing: the main issues

Every year, about 2 billion invoices are issued in France. An impressive figure that shows how important it is to go digital. Indeed, the electronic invoice is an opportunity to accompany your company towards the digital transformation. The generalization of the electronic format is also part of the 2020 Finance Law. What are the objectives of this law?

  • Increase the competitiveness of companies by reducing their administrative costs and increase their productivity through dematerialization;
  • Fighting VAT fraud and promoting fair competition between businesses;
  • Simplify VAT returns through a pre-filling system;
  • Improve knowledge of business activity.

You wonder why these issues are important to the state? First, because between 10 and 30 billion euros are lost to tax evasion! Secondly, because it will be possible to follow in real time the follow-up of the settlements of the companies and the evolution of their activities. Finally, because it could save more than 4.5 billion euros per year for all small and medium-sized businesses, according to an evaluation carried out within the framework of the 2022 finance law. Not a bad argument!

Electronic invoicing: what is the timetable?

Electronic invoices are not totally new. Since January 1, 2020, they are even mandatory in the context of public procurement. Indeed, since this date, all companies in relation with the State, a local authority or a metropolis must issue digital invoices via a platform created especially for this type of online process. What is it called? The Chorus Pro platform.

After this first stage, which began in 2020 for B2G, the deployment of dematerialized invoices in B2B will be gradual between July 2024 and January 2026 and will concern all companies subject to VAT. How will it work? Everything will depend on the size of the company...

 

  • As of July 1, 2024, all companies will have to receive electronic invoices and large companies will also be required to issue them.
  • As of January 1, 2025, medium-sized companies will be required to issue electronic invoices.
  • From January 1, 2026, it will be the turn of small and medium-sized companies, as well as microenterprises, to issue electronic invoices. In short, everyone will be concerned.

Electronic invoices: ensuring their legal value

As we have already discussed in a previous article, dematerialising the end-to-end process is not enough to guarantee the legal value of your electronic invoices.

Indeed, in order to be able to really get rid of the cumbersome paper invoices, you must be able to meet certain criteria. According to Article 289 of the CGI, you must be able to guarantee :

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The authenticity of the issuer of the invoice :

That is, to know the sender and to be able to guarantee that he is who he says he is.

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Integrity of the invoice content :

You must be able to guarantee that the invoice (and the data it contains) is unalterable throughout its processing.

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The legibility of the invoice :

At all times the invoice must be readable by a human being. This may seem absurd, but we shall see that it is not always so obvious.

The guide to understanding and anticipating the generalisation of electronic invoicing in 2023

Electronic invoices: the different types

As mentioned above, the definition of what an electronic invoice is is ultimately rather vague. In fact, it does not dwell on invoice formats and thus leaves the door open to different practices. Here are the main types of electronic invoices that you may encounter.

The "simple" PDF electronic invoice

No need to make a long speech here, I guess you have already seen what a PDF file looks like. Provided that you can guarantee the 3 criteria above (either through the electronic signature method or the reliable audit trail method), the classic PDF format can constitute an electronic invoice. An invoice created by your supplier in PDF, sent by email (or deposited on a portal) and processed electronically, is perfectly valid for the time being.

However, following the 2020 Finance Law and the expected generalization of the format by July 1, 2024, this format should disappear. Indeed, in order to improve the transmission of invoicing data and to refine the controls that can be performed automatically, the State has decided to end the PDF format for the transmission of electronic invoices. Thus, this new law and the operating mode chosen by the State will give pride of place to the structured and mixed formats described below.

The structured electronic invoice

Structured file

As you can see in the picture, it is a file that is not readable by humans. But the data is organized in a certain way so that it is automatically readable by software. The invoice contains tags, in blue on the picture, which will tell the software "on this line is such and such information".

Thanks to these formats (there are several: UBL, CII...), it is possible to automate the input of information, to make automatic controls on the presence of mandatory data, order numbers and more.

While it is easier for humans to read a PDF invoice, the structured electronic invoice meets efficiency challenges. For example, it will allow software to automatically detect duplicates or missing data and thus avoid processing or input errors.

In addition, some invoice collection solutions are able to translate a structured invoice into a human readable version, thus combining the best of both worlds. This is what Freedz does, for example. 

The mixed electronic invoice

As the name suggests, the mixed invoice is a mixture of the two types of formats presented above.

This is an electronic invoice that looks like a PDF and is therefore human readable, but also contains structured data. The best example of this is the Factur-X. This invoice format, which is currently being developed and is expected to be one of the new standards in 2024, is a German-French invoice format standard that combines a PDF file with XML.

Electronic invoice: what are the advantages?

While electronic invoices should be effective in fighting VAT fraud and establishing a relationship of trust between companies and the tax authorities, this new procedure has many other advantages. Especially for companies... and also for the planet. We develop!

Thanks to the creation of an automated invoicing chain, estimates and corresponding invoices will be edited and sent in a few clicks. Even better, this will allow to reinforce the traceability of the invoices processing. This will guarantee more serene accounting and improved payment times. Indeed, it will be easier to follow in real time the reception of an invoice and its transaction. This will also encourage customers or suppliers to pay their invoices more quickly!

Moreover, the electronic invoice, especially structured, allows to automate part of the processing and to carry out a whole battery of controls to avoid errors. No more duplicate invoices, no more missing information, no more addressing errors, no more typing errors...

Ernst & Young, a well-known accounting firm, has estimated the cost of processing an electronic invoice at €5 compared to €15 for its paper cousin. All this while speeding up processing times. This obviously limits the risk of sanctions, solicitations from your suppliers and may allow you to benefit from discounts for early payment... Rather tempting, isn't it?

Not to mention that a digitalized invoice means less paper. This is an ecological gesture far from being anecdotal when we know that the emission and sending of a standard paper invoice contribute twice as much to the famous greenhouse gases compared to a dematerialized invoice (obviously provided that it is not then printed). And it also means less physical storage space! Since the accounting data will be in the Cloud, goodbye to full cabinets and hello to digital archiving that saves time and workspace.

Electronic invoicing: new players enter the scene

We have already mentioned in this article the public platform Chorus Pro, which is designed to facilitate exchanges between companies and public sector actors. In the context of the generalization of electronic invoices, a similar platform should emerge, the PPF. But other dematerialization platforms will enrich this ecosystem:

 

  • PPF: A cousin of Chorus Pro, the Public Billing Portal is a free solution for private and public sector actors to enter, submit, transmit or receive invoices. It is also intended to be a trusted third party that gathers all invoicing data before transmitting them to the tax authorities, but will probably offer limited functionalities.
  • PDP: Platforms of Dematerialization Partners are private operators who offer a paying solution. Their differences? More functionalities than the Public Billing Portal and two main obligations: to make the link between the customer and his supplier by transmitting the invoices in dematerialized format, and to extract certain information intended for the tax authorities (identification of the partners, amount exclusive of tax, amount of VAT...).
  • OD: Dematerialization Operators are service providers whose mission is to act as intermediaries between companies and dematerialization platforms. As editors of ERP software, commercial management or pre-accounting tools, they have a role to play in the edition of electronic invoices, but will not have the right to transmit them. To send and receive electronic invoices from 2024-2026, it will be necessary to go through the PPF or a PDP.

To conclude

As we have seen, the definition of what an electronic invoice is is both precise and vague. However, the generalization of the electronic invoice in 2024 should detail all that. This will lead to more fluid and automated exchanges with your partners, suppliers or customers.

In any case, if you had to choose today between the different types of electronic invoices, the structured or mixed invoice brings more benefits and is a solution of the future.

But to ensure a smooth digital transition to e-invoicing, you might as well choose a solution capable of handling PDF and structured formats. This is what Freedz does, allowing you to anticipate the desired mode of operation for 2024, based on structured invoicing, while being able to receive PDFs while waiting for your suppliers to adapt too.

And when you see the list of possible benefits, it would be a shame to wait until 2024, right? Book a demo !

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