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The accounts payable process is typically very labor-intensive for many small business owners. While moving to a paperless environment may help alleviate some of your accounts payable headaches, there will be new problems you’ll have to successfully navigate.

Here are some of the most encountered accounts payable problems and several solutions to consider.

Common problems with accounts payable

•Double payment. A vendor sends you an invoice for $100. Your company promptly pays this vendor $100, but a short time later another payment for $100 goes out to the vendor. Sometimes this can be the fault of the vendor sending an invoice in different ways (i.e. via fax and e-mail). Or the vendor moves to digital invoicing and emails more than one person in your company, effectively duplicating the invoice electronically. Or even worse, you print out a digital invoice twice.

•Vanishing invoices. Your company could get an invoice from a vendor and have that invoice get misplaced, or the invoice accidentally gets destroyed before ever making it into your A/P system. With digital invoices, how do you know which one is the original and which one is a duplicate?

•Sending payment prior to delivery. There are sometimes benefits to paying an invoice as soon as possible. However, if your company pays an invoice before a shipment arrives, that could lead to an awkward conversation with your vendor if any of the shipment arrives with damaged or missing items.

•Matching errors. A manual investigation is often required if a discrepancy is discovered between purchase orders, invoices and other documents. This often happens when multiple invoices are paid with one check, and the breakout of the invoices does not fit on the check stub or other payment documentation. It gets more complicated if your supplier applies payments haphazardly creating a past due account, all while you continue to pay the bills.

What you can do

•Update your internal controls. Have your A/P team help update internal processes and document how invoices should be handled. Pay special attention to separation of duties and full use of purchase orders to ensure invoices are accurate.

•Have one inbox for A/P. All e-mails with invoices should go to one inbox. This will help reduce the chances that an invoice will be received or paid twice. Limit access to this billing address.

•Limit access to cash accounts. It’s more important than ever for someone without authorization to your company’s cash accounts to review bank reconciliations. Not only will this help to potentially uncover erroneous payments, but it could also help to uncover potential fraud that is occurring in your company.

•Track key performance indicators. Create a report each month of all unpaid invoices and another report that shows payments made. Explore bank security features to identify duplicate payments and allows you to control checks that are confirmed for payment. Use your accounting software to help identify duplicate dollar amounts and duplicate invoice numbers.

•Be cautious with ACH. Giving a vendor automatic access to your firm's checking account needs to be tightly controlled. Explore ways to ensure you are reviewing these auto payments on a timely basis and that you are receiving supporting invoicing of these payments.

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