Avoiding Accounts Payable Errors: What to Watch Out for

When you pay a bill in your business, are you 100 percent comfortable that the bill payment is correct and justified? Is there ever a chance that that bill is fake or fraudulent?  What about duplicates?  With so many fake bills being mailed to businesses these days, it makes sense to think about controls you can put into place to reduce the risk that you might write a cheque out of your hard-earned profits that should never be written. 

Accounts Payable Controls

In the accounting profession, the term “internal controls” refers to processes, procedures, and automations you can put into place to reduce errors. In accounts payable, there is a specific subset of rules and controls you can put into place to reduce risk in this area.  Here are just a few ideas. 

  1. Approvals

All bills should be approved by the appropriate level of staff in your business.  Sometimes a bill gets approved that is fake or shouldn’t be approved, especially in areas where the approver doesn’t have technical knowledge of what they are buying.  Be sure to read the fine print on the bill and make sure you know what you are paying for. 

  1. Segregation of duties

The person who pays the bill should be different from the person who submitted the bill. These people should be different from the one who signs the cheque. This reduces employee fraud. 

  1. Receipt confirmation

A packing slip or other confirmation of receipt of the goods or services should be matched to the invoice, line item by line item. 

  1. Math check

A prudent step is to check an invoice’s math, at least for reasonableness.

  1. Duplicate payments

If a vendor emails their bill as well as mails a hard copy, controls should be put in place (usually automated) to avoid duplicate payments on the same bill.

  1. Reconciliation

If there are a significant number of transactions between you and a vendor, an accounts payable reconciliation should be performed each month via a statement.  

  1. Missing cheque numbers

Most systems provide a missing cheque numbers report that you can use to make sure all cheques are accounted for.

  1. Bank reconciliation

A bank reconciliation is a sure way to see exactly what cheques cleared your bank account. 

  1. Coding

Coding each transaction to the correct expense account, inventory, asset, or cost of goods sold account is an essential part of the process.

  1. Income statement review

Each month, a review of the balances in your expense accounts as well as a disbursements ledger review for reasonableness can provide added peace of mind.

  1. Purchase order

Requiring purchase orders is another control you can add to your process.  Purchase orders should be matched to packing slips and invoices before payment or approvals are made.

  1. In-depth knowledge of your business’s numbers

The more you get to know the numbers in your business, the greater chance you’ll have of accurate accounts payable handling.


And if you’d like to discuss your accounts payable function with us and how it can be improved, we’re happy for you to reach out any time.

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