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Inside the AP Department: Structure & Functions

In this article, we explain the accounts payable department. Is your company’s AP department optimized? Check out our eBook, “The Ultimate Accounts Payable Survival Guide.”

A company’s accounts payable refers to all of the company’s purchases made on credit, for which they still owe money. From vendor invoices to partner payments, running an efficient, accurate, and secure accounts payable process is critical to a company’s stability. That’s where the Accounts Payable department comes in and ensures that all outstanding invoices are paid on time. 

The accounts payable department manages a company’s financial obligations to vendors and suppliers. Learn how to structure it effectively in our guide.

A Quick Overview of Accounts Payable

Accounts payable is a current liability on the balance sheet for invoiced purchases of goods and services from suppliers made by a business on credit terms. The invoices, matched with purchase orders and receivers, will be paid when approved and due or earlier to take discounts. The accounts payable department is responsible for invoice processing, including invoice payment processing. 

The difference between accounts payable vs accounts receivable is that accounts payable relates to supplier or vendor invoices for purchases with payment terms for later payment, whereas accounts receivable relates to customer invoices for sales or services with credit terms, to be collected from customers when due.  

What is the Accounts Payable Department? 

The accounts payable department ensures that invoices and payments are properly approved and processed and keeps track of what’s owed to vendors, ultimately controlling expenses for an accurate balance sheet. It includes collecting tax information from their suppliers, reimbursing employees for any small business-related expenses, and preparing financial reports related to accounts payable

Why is the AP Department Important?

The AP department is important because it ensures that suppliers are paid on time. When suppliers are paid on a timely basis, the company will have good supplier/vendor relationships and not experience shipment cutoffs due to nonpayment of invoices due. If the accounts payable department is able to process invoices on time to take early payment discounts, AP can improve business profitability. 

How can your business improve its accounts payable department? 

Download our white paper, “The Holy Grail of Accounts Payable,” to learn how your growing business can achieve best-in-class payables processing. 

Use AP automation software with self-service supplier onboarding, streamlined digital invoice capture and processing, including supplier validation, exception triggering, 3-way matching, guided approvals, global mass payments with a choice of payment methods in 190 countries and 120 currencies, and automated real-time payment reconciliation. 

Accounts Payable Department Structure 

There are two main objectives when structuring or restructuring your accounts payable department:

  1. Preventing fraud through the separation of duties both inside and outside the accounts payable department structure. Proper segregation of duties is a requirement for good internal controls. 

Although achieving strong internal controls is the goal for businesses of all sizes, it’s more difficult for smaller businesses. Startups and businesses with a limited number of employees can’t separate duties to the extent that larger, more established companies can. As they’re growing, startups will hire to adequately staff departments, achieving better internal controls.

  1. Matching responsibilities and roles with a redefined automated accounts payable process workflow. This will yield impressive time savings by:
  • Reducing or eliminating manual invoice processing for each account payable 
  • Stopping repetitive vendor inquiries about invoice payment date requiring follow-up
  • Removing inefficient workflow process bottlenecks

Outside vs. Inside Accounts Payable Tasks

Separation of duties should include the following to prevent paying fraudulent invoices and expenses:

TaskOutside Accounts Payable Inside Accounts Payable
Issuing purchase orders 
Establishing vendor master file and adding vendors with vendor name and contact information
Preparing receiving reports as goods are received
Processing and collecting accounts receivable 
Processing vendor invoices in the payable system
Matching invoices, purchase orders, and receiving reports
Approving vendor invoices for payment
Evaluating which early payment discounts make sense
Communicating with vendors (suppliers)
Paying vendor invoices in batches or via “bill pay”after vendor payment approvals (with good early payment discounts or timely payment terms considering due dates)
Generating financial reports for cash requirements and cash disbursements 
Reconciling accounts payable to the general accounting ledger
Receiving, processing, and monitoring W-9 supplier tax forms for compliance
Handling the petty cash fund, including small cash disbursements as business expense reimbursement 
Monitoring, approving, and bookkeeping for the petty cash fund 
Preparing checks to replenish the approved petty cash fund requests (with expense reimbursement vouchers attached)
Approving travel reimbursement reports
Paying travel and business expense reports payments 
Approving and reconciling purchasing cards (P-cards) for office supplies and other business expenses
Paying purchasing card (P-card) credit cards or debit cards

The above table also answers the question: What are the duties of the accounts payable department? Checked items in the Inside Accounts Payable column cover the entire accounts payable cycle. These internal control considerations include both businesses that perform manual data entry of vendor invoices and companies that run efficient and secure AP automation software using electronic documents.

Accounts payable automation software offers not only time-saving and cost-saving but also improved internal control features. 

Ten Internal control enhancements from AP automation software are:

  1. Improved system security
  2. Supplier verification through a KPMG system
  3. Self-service supplier onboarding, submission of contact information and W-9 forms, and uploading of vendor invoices
  4. The reduction of data inaccuracy caused by human error
  5. Better (automated) recognition of duplicate invoices
  6. Improved identification of inactive vendors in the vendor master file for recommended deletion to lessen fraud risk
  7. A stronger approval process for payments
  8. Better visualization of spend management
  9. Automatic reconciliation of  accounts payable to the general ledger for more timely and accurate financial statements
  10. Built-in audit trails

This list of internal control improvements from accounts payable automation software is not all-inclusive. You’ll discover more ways to improve internal controls.

Different Types of Accounts Payable Job Roles

As companies recognize the amount of savings that businesses can gain through the application of AP automation software and efficiency from streamlined payables processes, the job roles of accounts payable can increase in status beyond the traditional role of Accounts Payable Clerk. As the AP department gains efficiency, the accounts payables staff has more time for elevated analytical roles. 

Accounts payable job titles include:

  • Accounts Payable Officer (for large companies)
  • Accounts Payable Manager
  • Invoice to Pay Manager
  • Accounts Payable Coordinator
  • Accounting Assistant
  • Accounts Payable Specialist
  • Accounts Payable Clerk

These job titles reflect the level of accounts payable department responsibilities, AP processes handled, and company size. 

Tips to Run an Accounts Payable Department with AP Automation

The accounts payable department streamlines its operations by using accounts payable automation software integrated with your ERP system or accounting software. The way that accounts payable handles core business processes is changing rapidly. 

To get ahead of the curve and adapt to these changes, consider a new organizational chart structure for the AP department. Shifting roles for AP better aligns with financial management’s analytic and strategic goals.  

AP automation software uses robotic process automation (RPA) by applying standard rules to routine accounts payable processes. Automation and robots may scare some members of the accounts payable staff who fear the loss of their jobs when work is automated with new systems. 

The communication should focus on how accounts payable automation software will eliminate many frustrating tasks that prevent the AP team from getting their job done. 

Accounts Payable Challenges:

  • Responding to constant hounding of incoming vendor calls about when they’ll receive payments,
  • Following up repeatedly with approvers for invoice approval,
  • Chasing down lost paperwork,
  • Manually keying in data, including invoices, and
  • Requesting missing W-9 information from vendors.

These challenges in the accounts payable department can be easily overcome through AP automation to reach accounts payable department goals and objectives. 

When communicating, share stories about how the accounts payable team can elevate its job. New functions of the accounts payable department include monitoring the RPA and payables processes and analyzing data to suggest potential cost savings. 

The time and cost savings will convince finance and accounting. 

AP Automation Benefits:

  • Time savings include not having to reconcile accounts payable to the company’s balance sheet (general ledger)
  • Closing the books faster
  • Reducing fraud risk and errors and achieving tax and global regulatory compliance
  • Positive software investment ROI
  • CFO and budget managers will save time on vendor invoice payment approvals and improve cash flow management
  • Real-time analytics dashboard, including AP turnover ratio

Positive ROI from using the Tipalti AP automation app easily justifies the investment. AP automation software can save 80% on supplier invoice processing and help accounting close the books 25% faster. That frees up more time for value-adding strategic initiatives, decision-support, and financial analysis & planning (FP&A). Your company will also save money by taking worthwhile accounts payable discounts (like 2/10 net 30) and not paying duplicate or fraudulent invoices. 

Tipalti AP automation software provides an audit trail that will help your business achieve better results for its external accounts payable audit by an independent CPA firm.  

Besides offering AP automation software for handling supplier invoices in accounts payable, Tipalti also has products for Procurement, Mass Payments, and Expenses (for employee expense reimbursements). The Tipalti Card is a virtual P-card for controlling employee spend. 

The next challenge is how to structure the accounts payable department optimally when using an AP automation software app. Try using the seven steps below for how to organize the accounts payable department in a new small business or restructure your existing accounts payable organization.

7 Steps for Organizing Your AP Department

  1. Assign each designated accounts payable task or role in the above table to a job. 
  2. Update each accounts payable job description to remove manual task processing from necessary automated accounts payable department duties. 
  3. Add new RPA and payables monitoring and analytic responsibilities to the accounts payable department functions. 
  4. Decide how many hours will be saved in performing accounts payable department responsibilities by each job. 
  5. Assign the number of AP staffers required to fill each job role. 
  6. Reassign current staff to new positions in accounting or other business departments if their job is downsized. 
  7. Revise your budget to reflect future hiring reductions, offset by increased staffing you’ll need to process and pay for more supplier purchases as your company grows. 


Managing the accounts payable department functions through the implementation of AP automation software is a small challenge. You’re on the way to achieving substantial cost savings and internal control improvements for your business. Download our eBook, “Leading Companies Power Accounts Payable with Automation.

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