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What is the Full Cycle of the Accounts Payable Process?

In order to analyze and optimize your AP processes, it's important to make sure you fully understand the complete accounts payable cycle.

Businesses worldwide base their operations on the expenditure cycle and the revenue cycle. The accounts payable process falls under the broader expenditure and purchasing cycle. This process includes a range of essential accounting activities needed to complete a purchase when an order is placed and the customer receives the desired product or service.

The full cycle of accounts payable process includes invoice data capture, coding invoices with correct account and cost center, approving invoices, matching invoices to purchase orders, and posting for payments. The accounts payable process is only one part of what is known as P2P (procure-to-pay). P2P covers the cycle from procurement and invoice processing to vendor payments. AP automation streamlines these processes and ensures a higher level of accuracy throughout every step of the workflow.

Get to Know the Basic AP Cycle

The basic accounts payable cycle includes three significant documents – purchase order (PO), receiving report (or goods receipt), and vendor invoice. To initiate a purchase, the purchasing department of an organization sends a PO to a vendor that includes the requested merchandise, quantity, and price to trigger an order. Then, when the business receives the goods, a receiving report documents the shipment, including any damages or quantity discrepancies. The vendor invoice is sent by the vendor to request payment for the goods or services provided. Accounts payable receives vendor invoices and the invoice management process begins.

The below flowchart demonstrates the steps within an automated AP process, once an invoice is received.

Accounts payable automation flow

General AP Procedures

Creating a guide to AP processes and procedures helps reduce errors. Adopting AP automation solutions can help to prevent these errors. A comprehensive guide should describe procedures such as the following:

  • Receive vendor invoices and perform a three-way match for consistency against purchase order, goods receipt, and invoice
  • AP to verify receipt of the goods or service to approve the invoice for payment
  • If variances arise, such as the wrong quantity or price, accounts payable sends the invoice to the buyer, who works to find the source of the issue
  • After the invoice is vouched by the AP department and all variances are addressed and corrected, checks and payments are issued promptly
  • Once payment is sent, the invoice is marked as paid in the finance system

The Breadth of the AP Process

AP encompasses almost all of the payments a business makes, with the exception of payroll. It is crucial to have accuracy in vendor data maintenance and payments to avoid losses and problems. The main goals are to pay only legitimate and accurate invoices (what the company ordered, received, accurate costs, quantities, terms, etc.) and to find savings opportunities where available, such as through early payment or dynamic discounting. AP automation seamlessly establishes internal controls to avoid paying fraudulent or inaccurate invoices and to ensure all invoices are accounted for.

The full cycle AP process is an integral part of a company’s financial statements, and efficiency is required every step of the way.  Consider double-entry accounting and how omitting a vendor could lead to two incorrect amounts for two accounts. The ramifications of liabilities and repair (as opposed to prevention through the smart implementation of AP automation) can be costly. For example, compromised vendor relationships can lead to production and supply problems, creating tiers of potential loss.

Additional AP Process Considerations

Some companies use vouchers during the approval process. Not all vendor invoices have purchase orders or receiving reports, making the traditional three-way match impossible. Other payments that may need special verification include monthly payments such as lease agreements and contracts to ensure all payments rendered are legitimate and accurate. Machine Learning of data capture processes allows your automation system to learn from usual elements of the process and make meaningful suggestions for how to handle these elements automatically in the future.

Spend and cash flow can vary based on the time of year. AP automation provides detailed reports to help organizations better manage the full AP cycle when times are tight. AP automation also facilitates the full cycle accounts payable process for the highest level of efficiency and accuracy. The savvy use of technology eliminates unnecessary errors, streamlines processes, and helps companies boost their bottom line. And failing to adopt automation today can mean getting left behind tomorrow.

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