AP Automation Solutions & FAQs
We've created a list of the most commonly asked questions about AP processes and best practices, covering everything from the definition of accounts payable to how AP automation works. If you have additional questions please let us know.For a more in-depth look, check out our Ultimate Guide to AP Automation & Best Practices
If you look in the dictionary for "accounts payable definition," you'll find a fairly straightforward answer: money owed by a company to its creditors. However, the real answer is far more complex.
Unlike credit card debts and debts in consumer payments, AP department debts are to their suppliers/ vendors for goods already received. That's right, almost every company in existence today (this is particularly applicable for larger companies) are constantly in debt. That's why AP departments are so crucial for the success of the business.
AP professionals are continually trying to keep their suppliers happy by paying their debts quickly and efficiently. That means managing purchase orders, tracking and approving invoices, and issuing payments to suppliers via their preferred payment method.
Much like consumer credit, the faster and more reliable businesses are when it comes to paying their suppliers, the more likely those suppliers are to permit larger orders and provide early payment discounts.
With this in mind, we believe that the most accurate definition of accounts payable is this: managing invoices from suppliers you haven’t paid yet and ensuring that they are paid on time.
The accounts payable process, explained very simply, is the process in which a business pays a vendor/ supplier for goods already received.
While the simple answer adequately sums up the AP process in 90 characters or less, the machinations driving that process are quite complex.
After procuring goods from a vendor, the AP department will receive an invoice. That invoice then needs to be entered into the invoice approval process. From there, depending on the dollar amount and a variety of other factors, the invoice gets approved for payment and is filed away.
Now, it's time for the AP department to pay the vendor. Depending on how much automation the business has in place, this can be a very time-consuming or a relatively straightforward process.
Companies that have already implemented a form of payment automation will simply need to find the payment in the system (after uploading the payment file or utilization of an API) and click the approval button. From there, the payment will go out directly from the business's bank or credit card (depending on vendor preference) directly to the vendor.
On the off-chance the vendor still prefers to be paid via paper check, the check will print locally with signatures and other information prefilled. Checks can also be printed via an off-site check printing partner - a nice solution to have in the event you can't print checks from home or make it into the office.
In some cases, especially for high-dollar payments, there may be a need for multi-tiered approval. The level of effort required to tackle this task is also heavily contingent on whether or not a business has implemented some form of payment automation.
If automation is in place, the system should automatically notify the approvers that they need to sign off on the payment. Once approved, the payment will go out via the preferred payment method. If business operations are still very manual, this process may involve several emails, phone calls, and in some cases, even a rendevous to acquire the necessary signatures.
Once the vendor has been paid, the reconciliation information will need to be recorded so that there is adequate documentation of the payment. This process is imperative to prevent duplicate payments, fraud, missed payments, broken relationships and double work.
If a business has already connected its accounting system with its invoice and payment solution, this should be a painless process with the reconciliation file automatically communicating back to the ERP or accounting system. If not, AP departments will need to be very detailed with their filing and manual data entry.
Whether you're currently working in accounts payable or just curious about the process, we hope that you found this explanation to be informative.
Accounts payable departments handle one of the most critical areas of business functionality. Next time you bump into someone in the AP department, be sure to thank them for all the excellent work. After all, the next time you need supplies or partner with a new service provider, they're likely the ones responsible for paying the vendor.
To understand invoicing, we have to look at the invoice process.
After requesting goods or services from a vendor, the AP department will receive an invoice. Invoices can be received in a variety of formats.
Some vendors may choose to mail their invoices in a paper format. This method is easily the most time-consuming option. It requires the AP department first to wait for the invoice to arrive, then either manually type the invoice information into the invoice processing system or ERP or scan the invoice into the system.
Most vendors will choose to email the invoice in PDF format or another common file type. This method is the easiest way to manage incoming invoices.
If a company has eInvoicing or invoice automation in place, the emailed invoice should automatically be scanned and entered into the invoice workflow/ approval process with line-item matching and GL coding, saving time and vastly improving accuracy.
In contrast, an AP department that's still manual will either need to print out the PDF and scan into their ERP or accounting system via OCR or manually enter the data.
After that, the invoice needs to go through the approval process.
If a company's invoice processing is automated, the required approvers will be notified that invoices are waiting for approval.
If the company is still very manual, the AP team may need to physically present the paper invoice for authorization for payment or request approval via email.
Let's start by establishing that this is a very loaded question, and the answer is heavily contingent on a multitude of factors based on the number of invoices being processed and how much effort invoice processing entails.
If you conduct a Google search about invoice processing costs, you'll likely find answers ranging from $2 per invoice as a best-in-class price point all the way up to $50 per invoice if the process is manual and convoluted. For the sake of your sanity, we're going to keep things simple.
The processing cost per invoice can be broken down into two distinct brackets:
- Amount of time required to process an invoice
- Amount of resources utilized to process an invoice
The amount of time required for invoice processing seems easy to quantify on the surface. However, there may be more that goes into it than some businesses realize.
To accurately measure the processing time per invoice (PTPI), businesses need to consider how much time is spent in the following areas:
- Manually entering data
- Correcting errors
- Scanning invoices
- Managing incoming invoice destinations
- Routing invoices to appropriate approvers
- Average invoice age from reception to approval
Resources can be broken down quite easily as well:
- Total labor
- Systems costs
- Cost of supplies
- Total overhead
- Outsourcing fees (if applicable)
- Any other random AP processing costs unique to the business (operational deficiencies caused by the shift to remote work included)
Once all of that information is calculated, a company can accurately determine their processing cost per invoice.
Keep in mind that most businesses are likely on the medium-low side of the spectrum, with an average cost-per-invoice somewhere between $8 - $20.
There's a perception that improving the AP process is often easier said than done.
When asked, most finance professionals can immediately point out their most glaring pain points, usually involving paper-based and manual procedures.
However, under the surface, there are likely other factors considerably hindering the AP department's productivity.
As stated above, the first thing to look at is paper. How much of the current AP process is reliant on paper? Are most of the payments being made paper checks? How are those checks being cut? How many people are required to get a payment out?
If checks account for more than 10% - 15% of the payments being made, that's the first, and easiest, process improvement.
Bank of America estimates that the average business spends more than $10 on each check that's cut. By doing some quick math, we can determine that a company that averages 500 payments a month - with 80% of those payments paid by paper check - would save $4,000 monthly and $48,000 annually by converting those paper payments into inexpensive and more secure electronic payments.
That's process improvement step one. Step two is to isolate any other AP procedures that are heavily reliant on paper or manual.
Are most of the invoices that are received paper invoices? If they aren't, is the AP department required to print an emailed invoice out for scanning or filing? Are AP personnel manually entering invoice information into the system instead of utilizing invoice automation software that removes that step from the invoice workflow and approval process?
According to PYMNTS.com, manual and paper-based invoice processing costs businesses an average of $150B annually in the US alone and takes up an average of 19 hours a week. Imagine how much more productive an AP department could be if manual invoice processing was eliminated from daily operations.
These are just the most glaring inefficiencies prevalent in AP departments today. Other process improvements revolve around reporting and analytics, vendor management and support, invoice aging and tracking, real-time payment processing updates and visibility, fraud and security risks, and more.
Perhaps the best litmus test to determine if the current process could be improved is to consider how long the process has been around. If an AP department is still utilizing procedures invented decades ago, it's probably time to make a change.
Luckily, there has never been an easier time to migrate away from the common issues that plague accounting departments all over the world today. Whatever operational issues an AP department is experiencing, there's a painless way to eliminate them quickly and efficiently.
AP Automation allows accounting departments to eliminate most - if not all - of the manual work required to process payments, taking over the majority of the drudgery involved with invoice intake, invoice processing, invoice approval, payment approval, payment processing, payment tracking, vendor management, fraud protection and reporting.
While it is common for people to associate the word "automation" with a reduction in headcount, this is often a misconception. Nearly every finance professional we've spoken with prior to automating their process has recounted innumerable hours of overtime spent printing and signing paper checks, entering invoice information into their accounting system line-item by line-item, and working and reworking excel sheets every month to build reports manually.
AP Automation is less of a human replacement and more of a human enabler, providing a better way to accomplish the tasks finance professionals are already doing, allowing them to lead more fulfilling professional lives.
Detailing how AP Automation works is quite easy. First, imagine all of the tasks AP departments are required to complete on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Next, eliminate almost everything you thought of that required any form of paper. That's right. It's gone.
And why shouldn't it be?
Every other department in the company eliminated paper-based processes a long time ago. Sure, Marketing and Sales might use the occasional whiteboard for strategy sessions, and the executive team is still popping out a notebook to jot down ideas, but for those groups, that's where their relationship with paper ends. Even HR is sending electronic documents for signatures.
AP Automation converts paper invoices and payments into electronic formats, eliminating 85% of the cost associated with antiquated payment processes of the past. It's a lot less complicated than one might think.
AP Invoice Automation is the process of converting paper invoices into electronic invoices (eInvoices), automatically entering them into a digital workflow and approval process. Automated invoice processing also scans emailed electronic invoices, locating key data points like line items, purchase order matching and tax information.
Invoice Automation solutions come in a variety of options. Some solutions providers require AP personnel to manually scan their own mailed paper invoices into the AP system for routing. Whereas, other software providers will handle the scanning of mailed invoices for the AP department.
eInvoiving can also be as intricate or elementary as a business needs it to be. Solutions can come equipped with AI and machine learning that adapts over time to recognize additional fields from specific vendors, or a custom-built solution with intricate decision trees woven into the invoice workflow based on any element the AP department requires.
Examples of customized workflows could be a different routing tree for large invoice amounts or flagging an invoice if the vendor ID or email address is not recognized. A more elaborate version of customized workflows could be sending separate approval requests to members of the AP team for individual line items.
Another perk of AP Invoice Automation is the immediate increase in security. BEC (business email compromise) and invoice fraud are on the rise. Implementing an Invoicing Automation solution can virtually eliminate the risk of fraud.
The most significant benefit of adopting an eInvoicing solution is the immediate cost savings. Manual invoice processing costs businesses, on average, $8 - $20 per invoice. Invoice Automation can drop the cost substantially, with some companies saving as much as 90%.
A payment service provider is a business partner whose solution streamlines the payment process, allowing businesses to process electronic payments quickly and at low or no cost from their own bank(s).
In B2B payments, a payment service provider - also known as an AP Payment Automation partner - integrates with the AP department's current systems to enable automated payment functionality to pay suppliers for goods and services rendered.
Many companies have payment processes that are still very manual and depend on paper checks for the majority of their payments. Not only are paper payments far more costly than their digital counterparts, they are also notably more susceptible to both internal and external fraud, creating a dual-threat to a business' bottom line.
The issues caused by paper-based payments have been further exacerbated by the shift to a remote working environment. One of the principal functionalities required to process payments manually is the ability to print checks from the office. It's also convenient to be in close proximity to all of the necessary signees for high-dollar payments.
Partnering with a B2B Payment Automation provider allows accounting departments to reduce the number of checks they're cutting by 90% - 100%, saving between $5 and $15 per payment and enabling remote AP payment functionality. It also opens the door for better - and often more preferred - electronic payment options, like ACH, Same-Day ACH, Purchasing Cards (P-Cards), Virtual Cards (V-Cards), Real-Time Payments and Wire Transfers.
Some payment service providers have incredibly flexible software capable of integrating with any ERP, accounting system or home-grown solution. Payment providers offering this level of adaptability make it possible for other software providers to convert their systems into lean-mean Payment Automation machines, providing additional value to their clients.
Last, but certainly not least, in addition to radically reducing the cost of processing B2B payments, virtual cards create a new revenue stream for businesses in the form of monthly cash rebates on AP spend. Some of our clients earn over $300,000 CASHBACK annually from vCard transactions, effectively giving AP departments the "Midas Touch."
Bank of America estimates that most businesses spend more than $10 on each check that's cut, with the average falling somewhere in the $4 - $20 range.
To accurately calculate what your AP department is paying per check, you'll need to consider a variety of factors that (much like invoicing costs) fall into two main areas:
- Amount of time required to pay with a check
- Amount of resources utilized to process check payments
To understand the full impact paper-based payments have on your AP department, consider these questions:
- How many checks are you printing?
- How much time are you spending managing approvals and creating check files?
- How many employees are involved in the process after the checks are printed?
- Is your Controller or another senior member of your staff physically signing checks and verifying information?
- How much are you spending on check stock, MICR toner, systems upkeep (printer, accounting software, etc.)?
- How much effort is required to manually correct and verify information?
- Are you and your staff spending hours printing checks at home or in the office, folding and stuffing them into envelopes?
$20 per payment may sound farfetched at first, but when you add up all the little things that go into manual check payments, it's easy to understand how some organizations may be on the high end of the average cost.
In contrast, the cost to process electronic payments is significantly less impactful, with the average ACH payment at roughly $1 per transaction. Other electronic B2B payment methods like virtual cards don't carry a cost-per-transaction fee at all, generating revenue instead of chipping away at the bottom line.
Simply migrating away from paper to faster and more secure ePayments immediately reduces the financial impact of paying suppliers. When you add AP payment automation into the mix, it instantly improves the efficiency of the B2B payments process.
If your organization is paying the majority of its suppliers via paper checks, we can help.
The primary benefit of electronic B2B payments (ePayments) is in the name; they're electronic, making them more secure, less time-intensive, more cost-effective, easily traceable and highly preferable to their paper counterparts - for buyers and suppliers.
Why is it then that less than 50% of accounting departments have automated their AP process?
Well, first, we have to consider human nature. Habits are, by definition, tough to break - even when we recognize that there's probably a better way to accomplish a task.
We'd wager that - like us - you likely have 3 to 5 highly efficient electronic programs specifically designed for note-taking installed on your computer right now. And yet - like us - when you're preparing for your next meeting, you'll probably use your trusty pen and paper instead.
Think of B2B payments the same way. Less than 50% of businesses have joined the digital transformation in finance to electronic payments because, until recently, they had not yet realized how inefficient business operations really were.
Fast-forward to March 2020, and all of a sudden, things changed drastically.
Accounts payable and accounts receivable departments were required to quickly migrate to home working environments, in many cases taking their printers and payments processing equipment with them. Other finance professionals continued to work in the office as part of a skeleton crew.
Recent events revealed many of the glaring problems with paper and manual processes in B2B payments.
The excellent news for finance departments is that the benefits of migrating to electronic payments extend way passed remote work enablement.
Payment automation allows businesses to convert paper checks into an electronic format, saving time and, in some cases, generating revenue.
AP payment automation solutions providers can quickly and efficiently onboard vendors to a digital payment program and convert paper payments to a digital format like ACH, Same Day ACH, Wire Transfers and Virtual Cards (vCards) in weeks, delivering reconciliation information straight back to existing ERPs and accounting systems.
On the receivables side, some AP Automation solutions providers have a vendor portal where vendors can log in 24/7 and process payments or download valuable remittance information.
On the payables side, here are just a handful of the benefits associated with electronic B2B payments:
- Save time wasted on manual tasks and report building
- Cut costs on resources associated with paper-based manual process
- Increase security with bank-level protection
- Reduce the risk of B2B payments fraud internally and externally
- Improve control and visibility with 24/7 real-time access to payment and vendor information
- Foster better vendor relationships with an award-winning vendor support team and 24/7 access to remittance information
- Generate monthly revenue by earning cashback on AP spend via virtual cards (vCards)
- Enable business continuity with no-touch payments from your kitchen table or a boardroom
There has never been a better time to shift away from the antiquated payment processes of the past, even if you aren't willing to give up your notepad and pen.
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"OnPay Solutions Is a Great Fit"
"We use OnPay Solutions to send ACH payments and Virtual Card payments to our suppliers and vendors. The solution has been a perfect bolt-on to our General Dynamics and connects us with our existing bank accounts. OnPay Solutions even recently migrated our ACH disbursements from our old bank to our new bank. The OnPay Solutions technical team is always quick to respond and we are never left hanging when we open tickets. That's just another reason why we use this solution. We have no complaints about working with OnPay Solutions. We would recommend them to anyone seeking a solution for electronic payments. "