I used to work as an Accounts Payable Specialist for three months. Although it is not a long time, it still gives me an insight into the responsibilities of a typical Accounts Payable (AP) employee and the daily operations of an AP department. I want to share my experience in this post.
At the company that I worked as an AP specialist, there was neither an accounting manager nor an AP manager. My direct supervisor was the accounting director who oversaw both the accounting team and the AP team. There were three employees in the AP team and four accountants. In total, my supervisor managed seven people. For the AP team, we were responsible for processing all vendor invoices, check requests, employee reimbursements, setting up payments, expense accruals, and AP account reconciliations. I can tell you that it was a lot of work for only four people, including my supervisor. She picked up some of the work.
Processing vendor invoices was the most important duty for my colleagues and me every day. Invoices were split among three of us based on the alphabetical order of vendor names. One of my teammates handled invoices that came from vendors whose names starting with letter A to N. I was in charge of vendor names that began with letter M to Z. The other teammate was accountable for utility invoices. The accounting director expected each of her AP employees to process at least two hundred fifty to three hundred invoices per day. She said that she wanted the AP balance to stay at around three to four million at month-ends. It was stressful to meet the weekly targets set by my supervisor. Every Friday morning, she used to hold a meeting between AP staff members to discuss the performance of each member during the week. In those meetings, she also talked about news, what to expect in the following weeks, and asked each of us to share out thoughts and experience. Overall, she was a good manager who was willing to listen and make adjustments.
Vendor invoices could either come in by email or by mail. There was a shared email address set up to receive invoices that came by email. All Accounts Payable Specialists were expected to check the shared email inbox daily. To make everything easy, my supervisor drew up a schedule for going through the shared inbox. I was assigned to monitor the inbox on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. My job on those days was to save all invoices in the shared folders based on vendor names and answer any vendor questions. For my two colleagues who did not check the shared inbox on those days, their job was to check the mailbox, scan any invoices received, and save the electronic copy of the invoices in the shared folders. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the assignments were rotated. Checking the shared email inbox was the first thing that I did after I came to work every day. It took me about two hours to complete this task.
After vendor invoices were saved to the shared drives, we sent them to department managers for approval. Accounts Payable Specialists used the HelloSign platform for this task. Basically, I uploaded the invoices of the vendors that were assigned to me to HelloSign’s website. After that, I chose the names of managers who had the authority to approve the invoices. HelloSign would send the invoices to those managers. I would get notifications when the invoices were approved. I then downloaded the signed copy of the invoices and saved them to the shared drives. Approved invoices were kept in different folders from preapproved ones. I spent approximately thirty minutes to an hour doing this task.
Following the approvals of the invoices, I entered them into the accounting system. This was the primary task in the whole process. This task also took the longest time to do. On average, I had to process over fifty invoices per day. A lot of human errors happened here. The most common ones were entering wrong invoice amounts, using inappropriate general ledger (GL) accounts, using incorrect vendor numbers, etc. One mistake that I made several times, especially during the first few days of a new month, was posting invoices to the wrong periods. Because a lot of vendors sent their invoices late, the invoices that I processed in the first few days of a new month belonged to the prior month. Thus, I needed to post those invoices to the preceding month. However, I forgot it sometimes and posted them to the new month. When that happened, I had to make a list of those invoices and send it to the accountants to make accruals. This is what Accounts Payable Specialists usually do when they make similar mistakes.
After I entered invoices into the accounting system, I printed out batch summary reports and submitted them to my supervisor for her review. Most of the time, sending invoices batches to my boss was the last duty of my workdays, except for check run days. My supervisor was super detail-oriented. She could easily spot a bunch of mistakes within a five-minute review. If there was any mistake, I had to make corrections and reprint the batch reports again. If there was no mistake, I could relax for five to ten minutes before heading home.
Things got busier on the check run days. There were two days in a week when payments were made and applied to invoices. Payments can be made through ACH, wire transfer, or check. For ACH and wire payments, my supervisor was the only person who had access to the bank to set them up. Thus, my supervisor was responsible for setting up payments through wire and ACH, as well as applying those payments to corresponding invoices. For check payments, Accounts Payable Specialists took turns to print out the checks, create envelope labels, and mail out the checks. It took me at least one to two hours to do the check runs. I usually needed to work overtime on the check run days.
In addition to those daily tasks mentioned above, every two weeks, my teammates and I must spend some time sending out emails to vendors to request account statements, which listed open and paid invoices. My supervisor wanted us to review the statements thoroughly. We needed to go through all open invoices to see if we already processed them or at least received them. If not, we had to reach out to the vendors to request a copy of the invoices. My supervisor wanted to ensure that no invoices slipped through our fingers.
Besides, there was a small assignment that I occasionally did. When my company had new vendors, my job was to contact the vendors and ask for a copy of their W-9 forms. My supervisor then used the forms to create new vendor cards and vendor IDs in the accounting system for those vendors.
My most memorable experience was when the AP team had a meeting with the CFO. A week before the meeting, there was a blackout in the corporate office. The outage happened when the CFO was in the middle of an urgent meeting with several partners. Needless to say, the CFO was upset about the incident. The reason for the blackout was because one of the utility invoices were not paid in time. As a result, the CFO called a meeting of the entire AP team to discuss the event. My boss was also uncomfortable with this. Despite her caution and all the procedures in place, we still missed this invoice, and it was a big one. During the gathering, the CFO told us how critical our job was. He then asked each of us for solutions to prevent the incident from happening again in the future. The meeting ended with a free lunch for everybody. It was one of the most enjoyable moments for me at that company.
One thing that I learned from the incident is that Accounts Payable Specialists often gets all the blame when something wrong happens. There were many times when a few vendors sent their invoices late or worse. They completely forgot to forward the invoices. When the due date passed, the vendors automatically charged late fees. Some of them even stopped providing their service like in this case. In those situations, it was still the responsibility of the AP team to contact the vendors and ask for the invoices. This obligation is essential when it comes to utility bills and internet bills. In my opinion, utility providers are the worst at sending out invoices promptly. It may be because they know their service is vital, and everyone else has to play by their rules.
As can be seen, accounts payable specialist is all about data entry. If you don’t mind keying in invoice details all day long, this job is definitely for you. Thank you for reading my post.