What Is Accounts Payable: Processes, Examples, and Key Insights

Accounts payable refers to the outstanding debts and obligations a business owes to its suppliers and creditors. It represents the amount of money a company owes for goods, services, or other expenses purchased on credit.

Jan 17, 2024

What is Accounts Payable

In financial accounting, accounts payable is a liability listed on a company's balance sheet.

Further, we will uncover the mechanics of accounts payable and its pivotal role in maintaining robust financial health and fostering enduring business relationships. 

Key Highlights:

  1. The accounts payable process involves systematic steps, including invoice receipt, verification, purchase order matching, approval workflows, coding, payment scheduling, execution, record-keeping, supplier reconciliation, and compliance reporting.
  2. Strategies for managing accounts payable effectively include clear payment policies, robust invoice processing, negotiation of favourable terms, use of purchase orders, regular reconciliation, internal controls, supplier communication, early payment discounts, staff training, embracing sustainable practices, and professional outsourcing.

What are Account Payable Processes?

Accounts payable processes refer to businesses' systematic activities to manage and settle their financial obligations to suppliers and vendors. These processes ensure the accurate recording, verification, and timely payment of invoices for goods and services received. The Accounts Payable (AP) department plays a crucial role in maintaining positive relationships with suppliers while ensuring compliance with financial regulations. Here's an overview of the key steps involved in accounts payable processes:

  • Invoice receipt

The process begins with receiving invoices from suppliers for goods or services rendered. Invoices may be received electronically or in paper format, and they contain details such as the supplier's name, invoice number, date, and a breakdown of items or services provided.

  • Invoice verification

The AP team verifies the accuracy and authenticity of each invoice. This involves cross-referencing the details on the invoice with purchase orders and delivery receipts to ensure that the goods or services were received as billed.

  • Purchase order matching

Matching invoices with corresponding purchase orders and delivery receipts is a critical step in the verification process. This ensures that the quantities, prices, and terms agreed upon in the purchase order align with the actual receipt of goods or services.

  • Approval workflow

In many organisations, invoices need to go through an approval process before payment. Appropriate stakeholders, such as department heads or budget managers, review and approve invoices based on predetermined thresholds or company policies.

  • Coding and data entry

Once approved, the AP team codes the invoices to assign them to the correct expense or cost centre. This step is essential for accurate financial reporting and tracking of expenditures.

  • Payment scheduling

The AP team schedules payments based on agreed-upon payment terms with suppliers. Typical payment terms include "Net 30" or "Net 60," indicating the number of days within which payment should be made.

  • Payment execution

Payments are processed through various methods, such as electronic funds transfer (EFT), cheque issuance, or online payment platforms. The chosen method depends on the company's and its suppliers' preferences.

  • Record keeping and documentation

Thorough documentation is maintained for each transaction. This includes copies of invoices, purchase orders, approval records, and payment confirmations. Proper record-keeping facilitates audits and financial reporting.

  • Supplier reconciliation

Regular reconciliation with supplier statements ensures that all transactions are accurately recorded and any discrepancies or outstanding issues are addressed promptly.

  • Compliance and reporting

The AP department ensures compliance with tax regulations and accounting standards. It also generates reports on accounts payable ageing, cash flow projections, and other financial metrics to support decision-making.

An efficient and accurate accounts payable process contributes to the financial health of a business by maintaining positive relationships with suppliers, optimizing cash flow, and ensuring compliance with financial regulations.

Accounts Payable Examples

Imagine a scenario where a reputable manufacturing company, Z Ltd, engages in regular transactions with multiple suppliers to procure raw materials, machinery, and other supplies essential to its production process.

Z Ltd maintains an efficient accounts payable system to manage its financial obligations to suppliers. The company establishes credit terms with each supplier, allowing for a specific period for payment. Let's check the steps:

  • Purchase of raw materials

Z Ltd regularly purchases raw materials from Supplier Y. After negotiating credit terms, the company receives a shipment of raw materials worth £50,000. The agreed credit terms specify a 30-day payment period.

  • Invoice and Recording

Supplier Y issues an invoice for the delivered raw materials detailing the quantity, unit price, and total amount due. Z LTD's accounts payable department receives and records the invoice, noting the payment terms and due date.

  • Credit terms and payment period

With a 30-day credit period, Z LTD now has the flexibility to use the raw materials to manufacture its products and generate revenue before the payment is due. This arrangement supports the company's cash flow management.

  • Accounts payable ageing report

The accounts payable experts team regularly monitors the payment status of invoices using an ageing report. This report categorises outstanding invoices based on the time elapsed since the due date, providing a clear overview of the company's current liabilities.

  • Payment approval and processing

As the due date approaches, the accounts payable team initiates the payment approval process. The finance department reviews and approves the payment, ensuring it aligns with the company's financial policies and available funds.

  • Payment execution

On the 30th day, Z LTD processes the payment to Supplier Y. The payment can be made through various methods, such as electronic funds transfer or cheque, depending on the mutually agreed-upon payment terms.

  • Communication with supplier

Z LTD maintains open communication with Supplier Y, updating them on the payment status and confirming the successful funds transfer. This transparent communication fosters a positive supplier relationship.

  • Record keeping

The accounts payable team meticulously updates the financial records to reflect the completed payment. Accurate record-keeping is essential for financial reporting, audits, and maintaining a comprehensive overview of the company's liabilities.

By effectively managing its accounts payable, Z Ltd ensures a smooth and uninterrupted supply chain and leverages credit terms to optimise cash flow and support its overall financial health. This example showcases the practical application of accounts payable in a company's day-to-day operations.

How to Automate Accounts Payable?

Automating the accounts payable process is a strategic move that enhances efficiency and reduces the likelihood of errors in financial transactions. Here's how to automate accounts payable:

  • Invest in Accounts Payable Software

Select a reputable accounts payable automation software that aligns with your business requirements. Look for features such as invoice processing, workflow automation, and integration capabilities.

  •  Implement electronic invoicing

Encourage suppliers to submit electronic invoices, reducing the need for manual data entry. Electronic invoices can seamlessly be integrated into automated systems, streamlining the accounts payable workflow.

  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology

Integrate OCR technology into your accounts payable system to extract relevant data from paper invoices or non-standard formats, ensuring accuracy and efficiency in processing.

  • Workflow automation

Design automated workflows that systematically route invoices through the approval process. This reduces the reliance on manual intervention, speeds up approval cycles, and enhances overall process transparency.

  • Supplier portal for self-service:

Implement a supplier portal where vendors can submit and track invoices, reducing communication gaps and providing a self-service option that enhances collaboration.

  • Automated Purchase Order Matching

Enable the system to match purchase orders with invoices automatically. This reduces discrepancies and ensures that payments are only processed for verified and approved transactions.

  • Integration with ERP Systems

Ensure seamless integration with your existing ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. This allows for real-time data exchange, enhancing accuracy and reducing the risk of discrepancies between financial records.

  • Electronic payments

Automate the payment process by setting up electronic payment methods. This accelerates payment cycles and reduces the manual effort involved in cheque processing.

  • Data security measures

Implement robust data security measures to protect sensitive information. Encryption, secure access controls, and regular security audits are essential to a compelling accounts payable automation strategy.

How to Manage Accounts Payable Effectively?

Effectively managing accounts payable is crucial for maintaining financial stability and fostering positive relationships with suppliers. By incorporating clear strategies, businesses can effectively manage their accounts payable, strengthen financial controls, and build sustainable relationships with suppliers.

  • establish clear payment policies
  • implement robust invoice processing
  • negotiate favourable terms
  • utilise purchase orders
  • regularly reconcile accounts
  • leverage technology solutions
  • prioritise invoices strategically
  • implement internal controls
  • foster communication with suppliers
  • monitor cash flow regularly
  • take advantage of early payment discounts
  • train and educate staff
  • embrace sustainable practices
  • outsource a professional team

What is the Difference Between Accounts Payable and Accounts Receivable?

While AP deals with a company's outstanding obligations to external entities, AR revolves around the anticipation and collection of funds owed by customers. A harmonious balance between these two facets is essential for sustaining a healthy financial ecosystem within any business. Both are integral to the delicate balance of maintaining a stable cash flow while honouring financial obligations. The table below will clearly show the main differences between accounts payable and accounts receivable:

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Accounts Payable

Accounts Receivable

  • AP refers to the money a company owes to its creditors and suppliers. It represents a business's short-term obligations for goods and services received but not yet paid for.
  • AR signifies the funds that a company is entitled to receive from its customers. It encompasses payments for goods or services provided on credit, yet to be collected within a specified timeframe.
  • AP embodies a company's commitment to settling its financial obligations to external entities.
  • AR shows the funds a company anticipates receiving from its customers, reflecting a promise of payment.
  • Represents an outflow of cash as the company pays its creditors for previously acquired goods or services.
  • Signifies an inflow of cash when customers fulfil their payment obligations within the stipulated period.
  • Typically, has predetermined payment terms negotiated with creditors, specifying when payments are due.
  • Involves agreed-upon credit terms with customers, outlining the period within which payments should be made.
  • Affects a company's liabilities and financial obligations, influencing the overall financial health and creditworthiness.
  • It’s possible to efficiently manage AP by negotiating favourable terms, optimizing payment schedules, and ensuring timely settlements to maintain positive relationships with suppliers.
  • Effective management of AR involves implementing robust credit policies, prompt invoicing, and proactive collection strategies to enhance cash flow and minimise the risk of bad debts.


Accounts payable stands as a fundamental component of financial management for businesses. As a liability reflecting the amounts owed to suppliers and vendors for goods and services received on credit, accounts payable serves as a crucial indicator of a company's short-term financial obligations. 

Adopting efficient accounts payable practices contributes to the overall financial health of an organisation, facilitating prudent cash flow management and fortifying its standing within the intricate tapestry of the British business environment.


What is 3 Way Matching in Accounts Payable?

Three-way matching in accounts payable is a process that involves cross-referencing three essential documents — purchase order, delivery note, and supplier invoice — to ensure accuracy and authenticity before approving payment.

How to Keep Track of Accounts Payable?

Implement accounting software to track and manage accounts payable efficiently, ensuring accurate recording and timely payments.

Why is Accounts Payable a Credit?

Accounts payable is recorded as a credit because it represents an obligation or liability – the company owes money to its suppliers or vendors. This is a standard accounting practice where credits indicate amounts owed.

How Much Does It Cost to Outsource Accounts Payable?

The cost to outsource accounts payable varies, ranging from £3,000 to £10,000 per month based on the complexity and volume of transactions, vendor management, and additional services required.

Why is Accounts Payable Important?

Accounts payable is crucial as it represents the money a business owes to its suppliers for goods and services received, playing a vital role in maintaining vendor relationships, sustaining operations, and managing overall financial health.

Giles Goodman - Payfor CEOAuthor: Giles Goodman, Commercial Intervention Officer OAR
Giles Goodman is the definitive expert in cross-border commercial debt collection, mediation, legal recovery, and accounts receivable. Based in London, his 25 years of experience provide a global perspective on preventing defaults and efficiently managing overdue accounts. Giles’s insights and analyses empower business owners worldwide with strategic approaches to financial management and recovery.

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