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Q&A With an Accounts Payable Manager: Invoice Detectives Using Smart Solutions

An accounts payable manager and their team members in the AP department are the unsung heroes of any organization. Thanks to an AP department, payments owed to suppliers are accurately tracked, approved, and processed.  

Of course, when capital is involved, organizations want to maximize their earnings, while being purposeful about their expenses. Tracking expenses can be a stressful task that needs special attention to detail and concentration from an accounts payable manager to ensure all amounts are correct. 

In this blog, we bring the expertise of Jessica McClain, Impact’s Accounts Payable Lead. Jessica is the most senior member of our Accounts Payable team with in-depth knowledge and insight about AP processes.  

We asked her to tell us a bit about the work she does and some of the technologies she uses to manage her workload. Read on to find out how the accounts payable team manages their workload at Impact. 

Hello, Jessica! What does your day-to-day in the Accounts Payable department usually look like? 

Hello! In our team we are responsible for managing vendor relationships. Accounts payable managers, leads, and the rest of our team interact with vendors, and track invoicing, payment, and incoming payment requests.  

So, we spend a portion of our time going through emails and inputting incoming invoices in our system. With invoices and payments, we have a system of checks and balances, so payments need to be verified and approved internally.  

Therefore, my teammates in the AP team and I are constantly interacting with internal colleagues as well as vendors. We often need to collect and track invoices that do not have a PO (purchase order). We email vendors to get more information about the invoice and then verify internally.  

When it comes to non-PO invoices, we usually need to play detective.  

There seems to be a lot of humor referring to the fact that the AP department is always busy, and invoices are never-ending. 

We definitely have a high volume of invoices consistently coming in. There is no shortage of workload and no slow periods.  

Before a payment goes out, we want to make sure our t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. We don’t want to release money for an invoice that isn’t fully verified.  

In this department, we are very detail oriented.  

With emails, we must ensure we know who the sender is, and that it’s not a scam. Do the numbers match? For example, if a charge is 500 dollars, but the item is not usually priced at that amount, we need to figure out why. 

Do accounts payable personnel get many scam emails? 

Not often, but it does happen. Impact does a lot of IT work, so to a certain degree scammers try to target us. They might see it as more of a challenge. We do have many barriers and filters in place as well as other technologies to curb any phishing attempts. 

But when an email from a vendor looks different from their usual format, we reach out to the vendor, ask them if they implemented a new system. Check with them about the changes. We always verify before submitting payments. 

It sounds like an accounts payable manager and everyone in the Accounts Payable team would feel a lot of pressure. 

We feel pressure, but you get used to it. There is a sense of satisfaction knowing I did my best. When something has been verified and validated, we feel accomplished. 

Would you say that is your favorite part of the job in accounts payable? 

Interestingly, my favorite part is when I go into our document management software.

When there is a long queue of PO invoices, I can easily check them and plow through them.  

I love to see the numbers decrease in the queue. The software lets me get a lot of work done. 

This software makes going through the large volume of PO invoices faster. This way we get more time to solve and close non-PO invoices. 

Related Blog: What Is a Document Management System?

Have processes changed a great deal since you began working in accounts payable? 

The basic processes have not changed. But here at Impact we have grown exponentially. When I first began, the accounts payable manager helped me a bit. We didn’t have as much volume then. 

Since the volume and responsibility in our job increased, new processes were developed. The Development Team helped us implement an automation solution. Our intelligent automation software helps us scan email and physical invoices into a database. 

Other teams use this solution too. The document capture software takes all incoming invoices and drops them in a designated folder. From there, we can pull invoice queues to verify them. 

It is helpful with indexing invoices. It automatically indexes them and highlights the correct information. We don’t have to manually index them into the document management software.  

This new technology cuts the time to process certain payments in half. It removes that extra workload. 

It’s also helped us in streamlining payments to vendors and increase our ability to pay them. Depending on the vendor, the payment method is different. Now we can quickly record the payment and use payment processing through ACH. 

Related Video:What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) | Buzzwords

It sounds like these technologies make your work more efficient. 

Some of these changes happened in recent years. We don’t have to manually scan and index invoices anymore.

I can therefore invest more time in the non-PO invoices that need some of that detective work and require us to reach out to vendors and verify internally. 

When is the most stressful time of the year for the accounts payable department? 

All hands are on deck at the end of the year. We are busier than normal. We have a process to close before the end of the month, so it’s not too bad, however.  

For invoices where we are questioning charges, or ones we are waiting to receive, or ones for which need a response from a vendor or internally, more time is invested at the end of the year. We want to close the year as clean as possible. 

Do you have a favorite hack that you’d recommend to an accounts payable manager and other AP team members? 

I find that with non-PO invoices that are not recognizable, reaching out to vendors makes the process of solving them faster. Of course, vendors want to get paid, so they will provide the information we need. Internally, we work with many team members, so reaching the vendor gets us a faster response. 

Another hack I recommend is using a cloud-based, anti-spam email archive.

The AP department inbox gets a high volume of emails. Our inbox is constantly archiving anything older than three months.  

A cloud-based email archive is our best friend because it allows us to pull up information when we need more product description or elaborate payment details.  

Sometimes we have a previously approved invoice that is not attached to an email. With the email archive, I don’t need to start a new email chain and lose the old one.  

The volume of invoices is so large that we cannot remember every invoice. This archive allows us to follow up and find any needed information without creating duplicate emails internally. 

It makes it easier to send payments. We can then better communicate and work as a team. 

Related Blog: Accounts Payable Automation Visualized

Bottom Line

An accounts payable manager, leads, and other staff work to ensure vendors receive their payments and relationships are maintained.  

Jessica McClain, Accounts Payable Lead at Impact, shed light on her daily work and some of the technologies that make the AP workload lighter and allow her to communicate with colleagues and vendors more efficiently. 

We hope that more accounts payable managers and their teams out there can implement these solutions to streamline payments and make solving invoices a painless process. 

If you’d like to learn more about technologies used in accounts payable, watch our video, How to Implement Automation in Your Accounts Payable Workflow. Learn how these intelligent software solutions make AP teams more efficient and happier.