How to Optimize Your Accounts Payable Management

In this article, we take a closer look at accounts payable management and the importance of strategizing your AP process. For further reading, check out our ebook: The Ultimate Accounts Payable Survival Guide, where you’ll learn how AP is inexplicably tied to investment versus reward.

Today’s business climate begs people to do more with less, and every industry is under pressure. Companies cannot afford to miss opportunities to free up working capital. You need to develop a strategy that gives greater availability to the cash trapped on your balance sheet. This develops the added liquidity you need to streamline processes, fund growth, enhance services, reduce costs, and seize new investment opportunities. That all starts with effective accounts payable management.

What is Accounts Payable Management?

Payables management is the handling of a company’s unpaid debts to third-party vendors for purchases made on credit. Account payables management involves tasks such as seeking trade credit lines, acquiring favorable terms of purchase, and managing the timing and flow of purchases.

Management of the AP process is all done to efficiently control a company’s working capital.

The short-term liabilities section of the balance sheet is where the accounts payable should lie. It mostly consists of the short-term financing of things like accrued expenses, inventory purchases, and other valuable short-term operations.

Delaying Payment

There is definitely a right and wrong way to perform accounts payable. Since it is a back-office management system, it doesn’t always take center stage. Especially when a business is looking to grow. It often takes a backseat to competing priorities. However, if you intend to optimize working capital, a payables strategy should be the core priority.

In response to the need to optimize, many companies delay payments. They will extend payables for as long as possible to maximize the free cash flow. However, this approach isn’t always beneficial. For one, delaying payment can erode supplier relationships and goodwill. This can result in slower deliveries, less willingness to fix issues, delayed responses to important queries, and stricter payment terms.

On the contrary, paying early can yield substantial benefits like early payment discounts and rebates. Really it also comes down to doing good business. Floating another company’s money doesn’t always look good.

Benefits of Accounts Payable Management

Organizational change is rarely easy, but it’s essential to foster a working capital culture. For a small business, it can yield sizable benefits. Refining the payables process enhances the accuracy of your cash flow predictions. This enables a payable department to help set better budgeting, which will ultimately position a company to improve liquidity. It also helps to mitigate any gaps in funding and realize higher profits.

The insights gained from effective accounts payable management can strengthen your negotiating power and help you partner with better suppliers. Using the company’s cash the right way means extended payment terms, increased warranty periods, or even special holds on inventory.

Common Risks AP Departments Face

Every business owner should know there are inherent risks when you fail to adopt an effective accounts payable process. It can slow invoice processing, keep you from getting good discounts, and get you unsatisfactory payment terms. If the payable team skips steps in the AP process can increase human error, lead to time-consuming issues, and even duplicate payments.

Here are a few mistakes to avoid:

  • Fail to issue purchase orders for each order.
  • Rely heavily on error-prone manual processes (especially when approving requisitions).
  • Do not confirm if deliveries match contractual terms.
  • Cannot easily access vendor contracts.
  • Neglect to take advantage of maximum savings through trade spend initiatives or volume rebates.
  • Lose access to early payment discounts by over-extending your pay cycle.
  • Accept discounts before calculating the cost of capital outlay.
  • Incorrectly input supplier or contract data into master files.
  • Lack of any systems or processes to prevent late payments, duplicate, under/over, or missed. 
  • Confusing invoice approval process involving too many c-suites, like CFO, CTO, or CIO.

The entire idea is to be on your game and make as few mistakes as possible. If you do not have the labor available, there are many brands of accounting software that can also keep an eye on things. A custom accounting system with robust AP automation is the key to making fewer mistakes.

Ready to automate AP…but not sure how?

Determining when to update processes is difficult given the many priorities finance juggles. What are the five signs you’re ready for an AP transformation?

How to Manage Accounts Payable Effectively

Managing AP effectively helps a business maintain a healthy financial position, build stronger vendor relationships, and leverage cash flow. Here are a few steps to efficiently manage your accounts payable:

  1. Establish Policies – Develop a comprehensive AP policy, clearly defining responsibilities and workflows for purchase orders.
  2. Vendor Management – Maintain accurate vendor records, regularly review contracts, and negotiate better terms.
  3. Invoice Processing – Automated invoice processing eliminates manual data entry, including three-way matching of POs.
  4. Timely Approvals – Approval workflows can be automated to speed up the process, with clearly defined deadlines.
  5. Schedule Payment – Create a payment schedule based on vendor terms and cash flow projections.
  6. Cash Flow Management – Regularly monitor cash flow to ensure sufficient funds for AP obligations.
  7. Vendor Communication – Maintain open lines of communication with vendors to address issues quickly.
  8. Expense Tracking – Implement expense tracking and regular financial reporting to analyze spend patterns.
  9. Account Reconciliation – Reconcile vendor statements to identify discrepancies and resolve disputes.
  10. Continuous Improvement – Regularly review AP processes to identify areas for improvement and efficiency gains.

Additional things to keep in mind include:

  • Automation and ERP integrations
  • Cloud vs. Wireless Network (VLAN)
  • Compliance and record-keeping
  • Training and education with segregation of duties
  • Internal controls and management software

Example of Efficient AP Management

A property management company with a range of rental residences has recently doubled in growth, with the CFO retiring next week. They need to find a way to update processes and create a positive environment for change management. The new CFO meets with the CIO to introduce modern automation tools that help the team eliminate manual processes, streamline approvals, and create an accurate audit trail.

A year down the road, the real estate company has now automated vendor management, AP workflows, procurement, and a variety of other finance tasks that no longer require human intervention. The new CFO has saved the company thousands of dollars and enabled a more efficient system, leaving happier employees, vendors, and customers alike.

Tips for Successful Accounts Payable Management

What are some of the best ways to approach accounts payable management and modern payment processing?

How to Strategize Efficiently

A business must take a more strategic approach to accounts payable management. The AP team, along with the purchasing and procurement department, must collaborate with senior management to establish a working capital culture throughout the company. 

A lot of that comes down to invoicing. Are they being received and processed in a timely fashion? A company should be adopting a management strategy that will prioritize the importance of freeing up working capital through the optimization of payables.

Centralize Accounts Payable

Use a shared service environment for processing and reporting in real time. This ensures that all employees adhere to common standards and practices. It’s important to measure everyone’s performance against established metrics. This enables a company to accomplish more tasks in a shorter time frame (with fewer resources). Ultimately, this will reduce enterprise costs.

Adopt Strong Governance Practices

Not only does this strengthen internal controls, it reduces manual error around the entire accounts payable process (including contract review).

How to Create a Paperless Environment

Automate your payables management with electronic data interchange (EDI). Although it’s not for everyone, a company that considers electronic communication with vendors will streamline the approval process and create more timely payments. This means you get to take advantage of available discounts and rebates for being an early (or on-time) bird. It also means less manual data entry and fewer errors.

An electronic payable system enables a business to perform a variety of tasks that reduce inefficiencies. This includes:

  • Automatically generate purchase orders
  • ​Track goods received
  • Validate and accept invoices
  • Approve requisitions
  • Pay invoices on the right due dates

Depending on the degree of payable automation, you may be able to scan invoices electronically, resolve disputes, and track delivery receipts.

Enable Supplier Portals

What is a supplier portal? These should be set up so that suppliers can track what your business is doing. This includes activities like:

  • Potential product shortages
  • Status of an order
  • Scheduled delivery
  • Payments received

A supplier portal will cut down on manual errors and create convenience for your vendors. It will also help to improve order accuracy and consistently meet critical KPIs.

Develop Management Workflows

Setting up management workflows will help to quickly identify problems and enhance the efficiency of your accounts payable process. It will resolve system bottlenecks and streamline handoffs. This helps to vastly improve liquidity management and can really add to your bottom line.

Purchasing Approval

Always define the level of management authority that is required for various purchases. It may differ depending on price or quantity. Automating your procure-to-pay cycle is also a smart move.

Tools for Better Accounts Payable Management

If you’re looking to automate accounts payable management, you need the right tools. Here are a few different types of software platforms to consider:

  • Accounting Software: This tool should offer a variety of AP management features
  • Document Management Systems: Helps to manage invoices and documents electronically
  • Invoice Processing Tools: A comprehensive platform for invoice approval and payment processing
  • Expense Management: Streamlines expense reporting and approval workflows
  • Vendor Management Tools: Helps to manage vendor relationships and monitor performance, like supplier portals
  • Electronic Payment: Facilitates payments like ACH and virtual credit cards

Additional tools to consider include:

  • Data analytics and reporting
  • Expense tracking apps
  • Financial forecasting and planning
  • Payment processors

Workflow and approvals tools

FAQ about Accounts Payable Management

Why is accounts payable management important?

Accounts payable management is important for several reasons and may depend on your business needs. Advantages to strategizing your AP process include:

● Better cash flow and invoice management
● Strengthening and maintaining good vendor relationships
● Avoiding late payment fees and penalties
● Creates accurate bookkeeping practices for the general ledger

What are the four main functions of accounts payable?

Although the AP process will differ for each business and case study, there are still four main components:

1. Invoice processing
2. Payment processing
3. Vendor management
4. Record keeping and reporting

How does accounts payable management differ from accounts receivable management?

AP or accounts payable management involves managing money that a business owes to vendors, suppliers, and other creditors for services or goods rendered.

AR, or accounts receivable management, is the opposite. This involves managing the money a business is owed by customers for services or goods rendered.

When should accounts payable be recorded?

Accounts payable should always be recorded when a company receives goods or services on credit from a supplier or vendor. This typically occurs when an invoice is received for goods/services, but not yet paid.

Last Words

A successful accounts payable department works with automation and understands the meaning of strong business relationships. It’s not enough to simply pay a vendor, you need to work with them. The better you treat your suppliers, the better deals you get. It’s that simple.

After that, the best practice is to find accounting software that fits your business and start looking at the various ways to optimize the accounts payable process. Then, watch your working capital double. Ready for more on AP automation? Check out our latest ebook: The Ultimate Accounts Payable Survival Guide.

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