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7 Common Accounts Payable Problems and Their Solutions

There’s no shortage of accounts payable work at most companies, especially larger ones, and that work is critical for maintaining both positive cash flow and robust vendor relationships. The latter is easy to undervalue—until you need a rush order or some consideration on price, and then your business’s reputation and account in good standing become essential.

Unfortunately, AP teams often face multiple challenges in the course of their daily work. For example, what happens when an invoice appears but there is no matching purchase order in the system? What about when a late invoice notice arrives but no one remembers seeing the original request for payment? These issues can quickly affect your business and even damage supplier relationships if they persist.

Addressing these problems can be a daunting task. However, new technologies make it easier than ever to develop a full-cycle accounts payable process with as little friction as possible. Let’s examine some of the most frequently encountered accounts payable problems and solutions that you can use to address them. In this article, we’ll examine the following topics:

 

The 7 Most Common Accounts Payable Problems

Seven areas of improvement to minimize accounts payable problems.

Take a look into any AP department, especially those working at larger scales and higher volumes, and you’re likely to encounter at least one of the following issues. Some of these problems are the result of human error or poorly defined processes, while others are technical failures. All of them have one thing in common: They negatively impact the work that your department does. When multiple issues stack up, your business suffers.

Here are seven areas for improvement.

Slow Processing

If your office still relies wholly or in part on paper-based processes, think about how many desks an average invoice crosses before it is finally approved for payment. Every pair of hands that handles the paperwork both increases the risk of an error or lost document and slows down your processing times. Slow processing often leads to late invoices and unhappy vendors persistently asking about their payment’s status.

Matching Errors

Discrepancies between purchase orders, invoices and receiving reports lead to matching errors that often require a manual investigation. Does your staff really have the time to launch a time-consuming, multi-step investigation every time there’s a mismatch? As with other manual processes, these errors create delays with cascading slowdown effects on the department.

Exception Invoices and Manual Follow-Ups

In an ideal world, suppliers would transmit 100% accurate invoices every time that you do business with them. In reality, their company is similar to any other: susceptible to mistakes, human error and inefficiencies. When invoices generate exceptions in your system due to incomplete or incorrect data, it can take days for your staff to conduct the necessary follow-ups and get an answer on what to do next.

Unauthorized Purchases

Not every employee follows correct purchasing procedures, especially when accounts payable is the furthest thing from their mind. Someone might circumvent the usual process to avoid the hassle of a slow AP department with strict requirements, or an urgent business need might lead team members to use a non-authorized supplier. Processing these unexpected invoices can take an immense amount of time while more important invoices decay.

Sending Payment Before Delivery

An AP team that’s trying to stay ahead of the rush might be too eager to make payments when invoices arrive. There are benefits to paying as soon as possible, but what happens when the department pays a supplier before they’ve received their goods or services?

If a shipment arrives damaged or with missing items, achieving a resolution is much more difficult when you’ve already paid. When AP is highly siloed from other departments, there is no free flow of information between teams, and such problems are common occurrences.

The Case of the Disappearing Invoice

One of the most serious invoice processing errors occurs when no one processes an invoice in the first place. In fast-paced workplaces with teams handling hundreds of invoices or more, manual processes can lead to misplacement—or, worse, the accidental destruction of an invoice. By the time someone discovers the problem, you might owe hefty late fees to a vendor. Not only that, but lost invoices also complicate bookkeeping practices.

Double Payment

There are many errors that could lead to your team issuing two invoices. For example, a typo in a purchase order number might erroneously generate two invoices for the same order. Human error, such as failing to properly mark an invoice as paid, can also lead to duplicate payments. These invoice processing problems can result in significant bottom-line impacts for the business—not to mention supplier annoyance when you need to request a refund.

Even one of these problems can represent a serious issue. Although you may believe these issues to be inherent disadvantages of the accounts payable process, you can eliminate virtually all of them. Using software purpose-built to enhance AP workflows, such as Tungsten ReadSoft® and its automated invoice processing, you can open the door to critical solutions. Learn how to implement these fixes now.

Solutions to Improve Accounts Payable Weaknesses

Manual vs Automated Accounts Payable Process

What are the advantages of using automation software at every step of the AP process? With the right procedures and tools, you can virtually eliminate many common problems. Learn seven ways to reduce accounts payable discrepancies, shorten cycle times and boost satisfaction at every step of the process.

Going Paperless

It’s time to ditch the manual processes altogether and transition to the cutting edge of 21st century business software. With advanced invoice processing, electronic payment systems and a top-down view of the full AP cycle, eliminating common problems is within your reach. Although AP automation has challenges of its own, they are far fewer and far less serious than the problems that come from continuing to depend on paper processes. Paperless offices can scale with ease.

Excel Needs to Go

Many AP departments still rely on manually tracking invoices and other payment information in Excel spreadsheets. With so many superior options available to your team today, why continue to rely on clunky and bulky Excel workbooks? Ditching Excel leads to software solutions that can unify all your AP data under one roof and reduce data entry errors.

Streamline Your Workflows

Standardize the way that your AP team handles each step of the process. By establishing best practices, you can eliminate unnecessary steps and reduce the number of touches that an invoice requires.

Use Three-Way Matching

Another advantage to improved software is simplified three-way matching. With a solid three-way match, avoiding exceptions is straightforward. Most importantly, you can avoid double payments through matching while paying early enough to receive supplier discounts. Because you can match the invoice to a receiving report more rapidly, you never have to worry about paying too soon.

Invest in AP Automation

The more automated your AP processes, the fewer errors that you’ll encounter. With automation systems using machine learning-powered cognitive capture, you can automate everything from invoice intake processing to payment authorization.

Improve System Integration

Remember, data silos don’t help anyone. Integrating AP into the broader framework of your business and its ERM platform will give you robust insights into the department’s KPIs. Make sure that every team member across the company can work from the same pool of information without worrying about stale data.

Leverage Early Payment Discounts and Incentives

Earning payment discounts from your vendors is an excellent way to help the business, but not if you pay too soon. Balancing discounts with cash flow considerations is key. With automation software, you can ensure that invoices receive authorization before the discount deadline. By making the most of this window, you can build more flexible cash-on-hand capabilities.

Get Ahead of the Curve

Manual Invoice vs Automated Invoice - source data: https://due.com/blog/the-true-cost-of-an-invoice-to-small-business-owners/

Using AP automation for challenges in handling invoices and payments can do more for your teams than solve common problems. Rather than focusing on correcting shortcomings, get ahead of the curve— expand your boundaries and enable your teams to do more. How can you give your business the best chance to both eliminate invoice processing errors and lay the groundwork for future efficiency?

Go Digital Today

The sooner your teams transition away from paper and toward digital workflows, the better. Many vendors today are fully capable of working with buyers who operate primarily in the digital space. Start the process of overhauling these procedures and acquiring the right tools today.

Automate Your Troublesome Processes

Leave manual data entry on purchase order reviews and invoices behind and let your computers do the work. With programs such as Tungsten ReadSoft, your business can process hundreds or even thousands of invoices per day while keeping each invoice accessible and transparent.

Invest in AI for the Future

The impact of AI on business has only just begun, especially in accounts payable. However, it already has the potential to revolutionize this space. That’s true not only for processing and matching invoices but also for resolving exceptions and choosing when to authorize payments. Deploy these systems early to keep your business on the cutting edge.

Conclusion

Errors and inefficiencies in accounts payable processes can have lasting effects on a company. Missed payments mean more than unhappy vendors: They could mean loss of service at a critical juncture or lack of supply for a business-critical process. A clear-eyed view of AP and its contributions is fundamental to your success.

Identifying the specific challenges in invoice processing that your business faces today will open the door to smart improvements and sound investments. By transitioning away from manual processes involving paper invoices and toward AI-enabled digital workflows, businesses unlock significant benefits. Bookkeeping becomes more reliable, vendors always get paid on time and discounts make your operations more efficient.

Addressing these challenges begins with recognizing that there is a disconnect between the way that things should work in accounts payable in practice and the way that things do work, including the problems that your team encounters daily. Finding the right tools to help is your next step.

With advanced AP automation software from Tungsten, including ReadSoft invoice processing, eliminating bottlenecks and working smarter every day is within your reach. Learn exactly how these products can benefit your business and explore your next steps today.