Accounts Payable has been a part of the evolution from Stone Age to present day. As technology progresses, new challenges are overcome with each transformation that Accounts Payable goes through in order for it become fully automated without human intervention.
See in this part how complicated processes have transformed over time and what we still need before achieving full automation.
Until 5000-3000 BC, Bartering was the only way of trading another asset as money was not yet invented.
In the next 2000 years, sales records are transcribed into clay tablets in Hieroglyphs.
In the Ancient Greek empire, Pebbles were placed at various locations and could be moved as calculations were performed or an abacus tablet allows more complex calculations: It was used in the ancient Near East, Europe, China, and Russia, centuries before the adoption of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system.
Until the middle-age, long distances were traveled for trade and, there were verbal contracts. When paper-making became widespread, written contracts.
Now if we jump in time into the mid-20th century, as telephones make communication easier, correspondence still relies on the mail.
The first EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) system was developed to help automate the sending and receiving of invoices and purchase orders. It’s no more paper-based. However, maintaining compliance was a challenge as the companies’ practices were different.
In the 1970s, just-in-time manufacturing* became common practice. This was made possible due to streamlined payment and purchasing processes.
SWIFT network has been invented so the credit system becomes global.
In the ’90s and early 2000’s, ERPs and accounting tools become more mainstream. We use paper, and invoices are not processed very quickly which lead to late payments. Organizations are looking to centralize their accounts payable into their corporate offices.
*Just-in-time manufacturing: Inventory management method in which goods are received from suppliers only as they are needed.
In the present time, Accounts Payable (AP) software using the SaaS model often includes AI algorithms that predict what to buy and when to buy it, how to code the PO, and who is going to be the invoice approver.
E-procurement and E-invoicing route the invoice to the AP system.
The Covid year showed us that companies should digitize some of their operations. Although you still need manual input at some point, some parts of the flow can be automated.
Accounts Payable (AP) is a short-term debt and a liability on a balance sheet where a business owes money to its vendors/ suppliers that have provided the business with goods or services on credit.
The AP department will verify invoices against (purchase) orders and ensure the goods or services were received before issuing payment to their vendors.
An AP officer typically does the calculation, posting business transactions, invoice processing, and verifying financial data for use in maintaining records.
The AP Code specifies which GL Cash Account to credit when a payment is disbursed and directs the posting of purchase discounts to a specified account. You must enter one AP Code for each vendor you set up, therefore, before you set up any vendor accounts, we recommend you set up at least one AP Code.
Invoice routing is part of the Accounts Payable process and involves handling suppliers and vendors, ensuring products/services required by the business are procured in a timely fashion, and paying the bills for these purchases.
Verifying the details of the invoice on receipt:
Invoices are issued prior to the customer sending the payment, whereas a receipt is issued after the payment has been received. The invoice acts as a request for payment, and the receipt acts as proof of payment. This also means each document requires different information.
Here are the different types of invoices used in simple transactions between a buyer and a seller or service provider.
Improve productivity and efficiency
Minimize processing cost
Maximize payment accuracy and control
Every AP team has some inefficiencies and productivity bottlenecks that could benefit from identification and elimination. Some of the key
ways that you can seek to improve productivity through smart goal-setting are:
All these goals are achievable with automation systems that are available today, which can aid your teams in the extraction, classification and handling of invoice data.
High costs per invoice can be a significant financial sinkhole for businesses due to poorly structured AP procedures. Not only do you
need to pay each invoice, but when the cost per invoice is high, your business is losing potentially tens of thousands of dollars annually that it should retain.
High payroll costs and time-consuming error correction processes drive up the financial impact of every invoice. AP directors should strongly consider setting a low target price benchmark, then improving the department to drive costs toward that goal.
Incorrect, insufficient and late payments all cause headaches for a company. Worse still is when the wrong vendor receives payment for an invoice that isn’t associated with their order.
Inaccuracies in payment processes cost money, and problems with approvals can slow down the process at the very moment when it
should be accelerating.
Some suggestions: Evaluate the accuracy of your teams and set goals to improve precision, implement better approval control and keep a firm grip on every cent possible. When trying to pursue your accounts payable goals, sample the data that your teams produce to check for problems.
How much has your business lost to payments fraud, either from vendors or from unscrupulous employees?
Some vendors might try to overcharge your business, altering line items after the initial order. Matching the original purchase order and the receiving report to the invoice automatically can simplify the identification of these anomalies and trigger a manual follow-up process.
Reducing the risk of fraud is a critical goal, especially when you consider that nearly 5% of a business’s revenue might vanish to fraud each year.
One critical productivity goal is reduced full cycle AP time. Take this opportunity to calculate how long the average invoice spends sitting in your business systems before it finally gets paid. Is it days—or even weeks? Do small-value invoices take too long to process?
Saving time means saving money, boosting accuracy, and keeping efficiency at the highest level possible without inducing staff burnout.
One of your key goals should be to provide the support that your staff needs to succeed each day. That means more than providing them with the appropriate tools—it includes supporting them with in-depth training and problem-solving assistance. When conflict arises with other departments over a payment procedure, your job should be to stand up for the team’s work and ensure that the department receives proper recognition for the value that it creates.
Being an essential repetitive operations in Accounting and Finance, Accounts Payable is always among the top prioritized business processes to be automated. However, there are certain parts of the process still have to be managed by human.
It’s important to know what you are getting into before proceeding with automation, so that the benefits outweigh any pain points or challenges associated in this area of workflows.
The Accounts Payable flow typically goes this way.
You order an item, a PO is created, you have the item delivered, you sign a proof of delivery, you receive the invoice, the delivery arrives, you file the proof of delivery, you match the PO number, you follow your approval process, you book the invoice in the ERP system or whatever
tool your company uses, you process it and then you archive the invoice.
Along these steps, they are several times a mistake may occur.
Expensive supplier management
Not enough time for strategic tasks
Lots of supplier inquiries
Too much email and paper
Too many standalone system
Lots of check payments to Supplier
Too many formats (invoice capture)
Using exclusively manual processes and e-mail/ mail to onboard suppliers is costly, timeconsuming and risky. Key documents may not be collected.
Information may be miskeyed into your vendor master database. Approvals can drag on. And duplicate records can easily be created.
If your business is paying late payment penalties, your approach to invoice processing may be to blame. Paper processes and e-mails can be lost misrouted, overlooked, or “stuck” at the bottom of someone’s inbox, particularly if they are out of the office.
Accounts payable professionals spend the lion’s share of their day on repetitive, manual tasks such as data entry, and chasing down people and information. But there is growing pressure on accounts payable managers to free up their staff to focus on strategic tasks that can drive business growth and value – data analysis, forecasting, strengthening supplier relationships, and vendor master database cleanup.
If your AP staff is swamped with calls and e-mails from suppliers about the status of their invoices and payments, you are not alone.
Suppliers can never be sure whether their invoice was received or where it stands in the process when their buyers rely on traditional approaches to invoice processing
It is hard to adapt paper-based accounts payable processes to a remote working environment. And routing invoices via e-mail only offers marginal improvements.
Taking a piecemeal approach to Accounts Payable automation can result in a hodgepodge of systems that complicate the user experience, make it hard to access critical information, and are costly to maintain. Many accounts payable departments have a separate system for each way that suppliers can submit invoices.
A better approach is to deploy a single solution that automates the accounts payable cycle end-to-end with capabilities for supplier management, invoice management and reconciliation, and supplier payment execution.
This is more for companies in the US as checks are not used in Europe anymore. Compared to electronic payments, paper checks cost more, are more prone to errors, provide less visibility, and are more prone to fraud. It’s also hard to make check payments to suppliers when accounts payable staff work from home.
Accounts Payable Managers can never be sure where things stand when they rely on paper processes and e-mails for collecting, approving and posting invoices. It is hard for a business to manage its operations, cash flow and risks in this environment.
No accounts payable manager wants to vet, hire and train staff every time their invoice volume increases. But that’s what happens when businesses rely on manual processes and e-mails to process supplier invoices.
There’s three main challenges that we face when dealing with Accounts Payable,
especially for our department, at the volume that we deal with.
One being payment delays, another being communication gaps, and the other being timely invoice receipts.
When I say payment delays, I’m mostly speaking to the inconsistencies of the Postal Service. When we mail out checks, there’s no telling when it can arrive at the vendor, and we lose all control of that payment once it’s out of our doors.
One thing we did to alleviate that challenge was to orchestrate a campaign to convert as many clients as possible to a type or a form of electronic payment so we could have more control over payment delays.
Second being communication gaps. And this is with both our internal and our external customers. A lot of times, they don’t know who to reach out to, they don’t know where to go to get answers to their invoicing concerns. So, we attack this in two ways. We created a centralized avenue for communicating with our customers. We gave them a central email to reach out to where our entire team could respond in a timely manner. And we also participate in periodic discussions with our internal team, just letting them know what the AP process is and how they fi t into that process so we can help them better communicate with us and their vendors.
And lastly, timely invoice receipt. A lot of times, same thing with the US Postal Service. It gets lost in the mail, it gets sent to the wrong person, that person never forwards it to us.
So, one of the ways we combat it that was we would encourage and facilitate direct invoicing to our AP team. Instead of it going to our facilities, we would have the vendor send it directly to us.
And we also encourage electronic submission. Instead of mailing it to us, where once again, we lose control of the mail system, we encourage them to email it to us or send it in some sort of electronic form. So, one is easier to get into track, and if misplaced, it’s easier to get another copy of it because it’s an electronic form
Once again, there are three main things: Appropriate staffing, reasonable automation, and then establishing some standard operating procedures.
We were able to develop some metrics based on the volume of invoices so we could develop a metric to know when a new teammate was needed. We know once we reached a certain level of invoicing, a certain level of hospitals on our behalf, we knew it was about time to add a new teammate. So we avoided our current team getting overwhelmed and we tried to preemptively add staff in anticipation of needing that based on volume.
Reasonable automation. We use invoicing programs that have Artificial Intelligence to aid an invoice review and coding. So essentially the program we use for invoicing learns how invoices look, learns where they’re coded based on our coding practices and that sort of aided in the speed of which that we can
code and process invoices.
And lastly, we established some standard operating procedures around certain processes like coding invoices, reviewing invoices, adding new vendors, and troubleshooting when there were payment issues. Like one of the issues already discussed was perhaps getting faulty statements and vendors jumping into our system that shouldn’t be there and paying the wrong places. That’s why we created some standard operating procedures around reviewing invoices and even adding new vendors and troubleshooting when there are issues to make sure we’re doing a reasonable effort, to make sure we’re doing it in a timely manner and an appropriate manner to protect our business partners.
Innovature really helped us mainly with nonbusiness hour workflows. So we have a goal of creating a 24 hours processing, based on the two different time zones that we’re in. Essentially, each team creates work for the opposing team during their respective downtime.
Innovature is processing invoices during our downtime, when we come in in the morning, we now have all those invoices to review. We review them and create more and then we process
more invoices and send them into our system so that when Innovature comes in, in their start time, they now have a new bucket of invoices.
So like I said, in our minds, we’re hoping to create 24 hours of processing where work is always being done on our behalf, either by our onshore team or by our offshore team.
And the same thing helping us with staffing. They have readily available pre-trained personnel because we have meetings with them about the ebbs and flows of our business.
They are already preemptively training and staffing in anticipation of the needs that we’re going to have from them. And that’s always great. We don’t have to reach out and hire
more people and train more people. They already have them in their system and working in a preemptive strategy for our staffing needs.
And lastly, in that vein, they alleviate our need for extensive staffing levels. We would probably need 10 to 15 more individuals just to handle processing if we did not have Innovature.
And because of that, they have relieved our team from doing processing and other tasks. We can focus on reporting and things of that nature that’s very important to our team and to our business structure.
We’re very data driven company, so Innovature relieves our need to do processing, so we can dive into our data and predict trends.
First and foremost, as we mentioned before, you need to operate as if they are a part of your team. We involve Innovature in our meetings, in our forecasting and in our cross-training. They not only help us with Invoicing and AP, but they also have begun to help our Accounting Department and our Business Development Department.
And that lets them know how they fit into the whole of our business and gives them a better understanding of how they fit into our business goals and missions. So, I would fully encourage them to fully involve Innovature and not treat them as a third party, but to treat them as just another arm of your team.
Secondly, I would suggest creating a knowledge bank and some training material for your outsourcing team and then creating and updating those documents for standard knowledge. Like how we code things, how we troubleshoot providing them standard operating procedures on processing and things of that nature. So when they are preemptively staffing and training. They don’t have to come back to you. They have a knowledge bank they can go to on a 24-hour basis with training material so they can easily and seamlessly incorporate new staff on their team.
And lastly, I would develop some sort of seamless routine communication with your outsourcing team. I would encourage meeting on a routine basis to discuss the efficiency and effectiveness of the workflow, discuss best practices, discuss any issues that have come up and how we can tackle them and then also create ways to communicate in real-time. We have an internal messaging system so if they’re struggling with something during our normal work hours, they can shoot a message to us quickly and we can respond. They don’t have to wait for a 24-hour cycle for us to get back and to create some sort of ongoing basis where they can go to a document, and type in questions. Then we come in, we can respond to those questions, and we can have a constant back and forth. So, we’re always continuously improving our processes and building camaraderie between the two teams.
Outsourcing seems to be a quite traditional but effective add-on solution to Accounts Payable automated processes. Due to its labor-intensive nature and process architectural requirements, it can be risky if not done properly.
Industry experts can help with practical but helpful best practices to get the best out of your outsourcing.
Procure to pay, or P2P, is the full cycle of actions and events that a business engages in when they require goods or services from an outside supplier.
The items in red are likely to be automated whereas the ones in black would remain manual. E.g indexing an invoice (add an identifier, date, number etc).
The vendor master database contains information about the vendors that supply to an enterprise.
Vendor reconciliation detects issues between the system and vendors’ accounts.
The processing of the invoice: This can be scheduled for later on if needed too. The can be pretty self suffi cient and can be easily outsourced and even automated with the right tool.
On the other hand, exception management, physical invoices need to be scanned and archived, and some coding and closing reports need to be performed manually. This can be outsourced too but needs a business
with more maturity to handle those tasks.
Your Ideal Outsourcing Partner should bring a combination of automation, functional expertise and the right talent to perform your entire AP life cycle as you need it.
Here you can see some of the main automation tools (RPA) for AP.
Most of the business they are not mature enough to automate everything in their AP process.
This list is non-exhaustive. There many more automation tools you can use. New ones are blooming nearly every month. Depending on what you need, how fast you can migrate your data and implement the tool, and your budget you might want to take one or another.
But whatever tool you will use, there is always a manual component to take into account. So if you are chose to an outsourcing partner: Makes sure they have the ability to understand automation, do the work but also optimize the entire AP cycle.
Characterized by the vendor providing an Accounts Payable Application Suite wall key services such as invoice processing and payments provided as an add-on suite of services to the platform.
This is typically a software-driven model. And they offer SaaS and complementary services such as processing or payments as a complement to the software, like bill.com for instance. They give you an end-to-end automation tool for your AP.
This is usually good for small to midsized businesses. It’s good during the beginning of a business transformation when the processes are not really optimized. The tool can help manage the process a bit better but it can be very costly as you increase the number of transactions. So it is important to choose the right provider that fits your business in terms of not only maturity, level of transactions but also the complexity of your organization.
The downside is that all the exception will still come to your team and you don’t have a level of support, and way less flexible than the second model we are going to talk about next.
Business process outsourcer manages the AP function within the client environment but offshore/ nearshore labor arbitrage, process improvement and technology enhancements drive long term cost savings and efficiency.
Business Process Outsourcer manages the functions within the client’s environment.
You typically have a dedicated team.
You can scale-up and customize to your needs. Its is also quite cheaper in terms of cost per transaction.
The cons would be that there is no fixed price, you need to compare different providers in terms of pricing, quality, etc, you don’t have a ready-to-go solution in the case. But on the other hand, it’s better suited for higher volumes AND exceptions.
You can customize your team or the type of tools you want to implement.
At Innovature BPO, we don’t have an-inhouse AP software, we work as solutions integrators. We have partners who work with AP automation tools and we can recommend some, we can help with the integration, and complement with AP headcounts.
We can also work exclusively manually or work with the most standard AP tools and platforms already implemented on the clients’ side.
Here you can see all the steps that you could possibly automate and the step that would remain manual. Nowadays, platforms and software tend to integrate as much automation in a suite of modules or services so you don’t need to buy them separately. But they usually excel in one area in particular. So using different tools that integrate with one another is not nonsense at all.
We can divide the process into 3 parts:
If you can process the data as it is, no need for OCR, but your invoice usually comes in a PDF format. So you need someone or a tool that extracts the data so it can be used in the next steps of the AP cycle.
If the tool can recognize and process the data to the next step, it is fine. But otherwise, your accountant needs to input the data manually in your software or your excel sheet.
Once you have the data extracted in the right format, the tool indexes the invoice and routes it to the preset approval flow.
Again, if there is an exception, a workflow, or a template that is different than the one you asked the robot to handle, it will be processed manually by your team.
Whatever your position in the accounting department, automation can also make your work easier, more efficient, and more interesting.
What is Benchmarking? Benchmarking is a process to discover what is the best standard of performance seen in a specific department, company, by a particular competitor, or by a completely different industry.
In our opinion, Benchmarking is indeed important to create added value for your business. Most of the SMEs we talk to don’t have any benchmark or very little information to provide. One of the most popular reasons for this is the belief that they are their own organization, and hence, do not need to emulate any other organization.
So, when they are willing to make the transformation to their business to scale up, they are having a hard time assessing what they should outsource, the staff to retain, or the automation tools to implement. They have a rough idea but it’s still very blurry.
We share a list of several criteria that we think are important to take into account. For instance:
Here is an example of efficiency. You can see the suggested number of full-time employees in the Accounting Department in accordance with the company’s annual revenue.
Most of the Accounts Payable cost savings that come from outsourcing is the result of avoiding overhead expenses. Hiring new staff and training your existing employees to follow new methods and use new technology is expensive both in terms of monetary costs and time.
Processing costs can also add up.
Outsourced Accounts Payable providers have all the resources they need to optimize your process, including automation and reporting tools. Instead of going through the process of acquiring these tools themselves, many companies choose to outsource to get access to their benefits at a fraction of the cost.
Accounting System Integration
No matter your current Accounting system, the best Accounts Payable outsourcing firms have the tools to integrate with it. If you’re fed up with your current system, a provider can even help you onboard a new one.
If you don’t have access to technologies that give you AP automation, workflows, and other time-saving tools, your outsourced provider can step in to deliver them at a fraction of the cost. If you’re still reliant on cumbersome processes and old technology, outsourcing could help you see results faster and more clearly.
Without the right efficiencies and reporting tools, the risk of payments fraud and vendor non-compliance escalates as businesses grow.
Mid-sized businesses don’t often have the luxury of employing a robust team of security experts or getting the security tools and skills they need, many small to medium-sized businesses rely on the outsourcing services of larger and more sophisticated AP experts.
In many cases, outsourcing is the easiest way to eliminate paper invoices, checks, and receipts. Paper processing has long been one of the most significant sources of problems for accounts payable professionals, especially in terms of fraud.
It’s a big problem to discover errors when conducting an Accounts Payable audit. Errors don’t just lead to costs.
Depending on the rules that govern your industry, errors could even lead to compliance issues. Even a small error, such as an inaccurate payment to a vendor, can cause serious problems during an audit.
You can incorporate technologies that identify errors before they become liabilities. On the other way around, some tools still show a lot of mistakes and exceptions, and therefore you need a manual check and the exception are to be processed manually.
How does technology affect outsourcing?
Investing in the latest technology and training your employees to use it, is quite expensive, and with new equipment and technologies being released so often, companies have less time to amortize costs. This has made businesses realize that outsourcing can be a solution for keeping up with technological change.
There is also a complementarity between outsourcing manual work and using new technologies. You still need human input at some point throughout your AP Cycle. Technology is not mature and trustworthy enough to focus only on it. So, we can conclude by saying that using both automation tools and manual work can be the best solution in order to maximize your profit.
Your Ideal Outsourcing Partner should bring a combination of automation, functional expertise and the right talent to perform your entire AP life cycle as you need it.
We can help you benchmark your AP if you haven’t done it. Because we need to be sure that your needs are really your needs and that there was an analysis and reflection upfront.
We usually work with the support of an SLA, metrics, and KPIs. We usually communicate by a report on a periodic basis, weekly calls, etc. your management can also decide to do the performance management or entrust Innovature with it, that’s up to you.
We don’t have an in-house automation solution but we are a solution integrator, we have an in-house BI business unit and we work with RPA providers if the client doesn’t have one and needs one. Most of the time we work on client tools such as UI path, tableau, or Xero.
It would depend on different things such as the position, the seniority level, and in which time
zone they would work. But let’s say for 10 junior AP headcounts we usually onboard 30 days after the signature of the contract.
We indeed cover all accounting positions and I would even say “Back Offi ce” positions. AP, AR, Bookkeeping, General Accountant, Financial Analysis, Payroll…
Thank you for registering. You will receive an email of confirmation in a minute.
Please check you Promotion/ Spam email box in case you don’t see our confirmation email and mark “Not spam” to put us in your White list.