Account Payables Risk Management

A poorly managed AP department might cause major complications. It may become transactional, collecting invoices and paying them without preventing fraud or duplicate payments. Such concerns can harm any company. Therefore, an account payables risk assessment is necessary to move to a more strategic position and maintain AP department efficiency. This procedure identifies financial and process threats, protecting the company's money and operations.

Accounts payable risk assessments differ from audits. An audit reviews AP records for correctness, but a risk assessment checks AP processes, including internal payment controls, to detect and fix flaws. This assessment allows workflow optimisation and compliance, improving efficiency and operational excellence.

Risk assessments consider external and internal fraud, rogue expenditures, conflicts of interest, payment problems and delays, and liability visibility. By addressing these areas, organisations can drastically minimise financial risks and improve AP procedures. An efficient AP department maintains vendor relationships, provides cash flow visibility, and saves money. AP is strategic in the company's financial management.

What is an Accounts Payable Risk Assessment?

An accounts payable (AP) risk assessment is a systematic process aimed at identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing the various risks associated with the AP process. This proactive approach is crucial for managing AP risks effectively and brings several benefits to an organization:

  • Reduction in Fraud and Errors: By thoroughly assessing the AP process, organizations can significantly lower the likelihood of fraud and errors, which are common pitfalls in financial management.

  • Improved Accuracy and Efficiency: A well-conducted risk assessment leads to a more accurate and efficient AP process, ensuring that payments are processed correctly and on time.

  • Protection of Financial Assets: The assessment helps in safeguarding the organization's financial assets from potential threats like fraud, errors, and inefficiencies.

  • Enhanced Compliance with Regulations: It ensures that the AP process is in line with various regulatory requirements, thus avoiding legal complications and penalties.

The AP risk assessment process typically involves the following steps:

  • Identifying the AP Process: This step encompasses understanding all the steps involved in processing and paying invoices, from the receipt of the invoice to the final payment.

  • Identifying Risks at Each Step: Risks are identified at each stage of the AP process. This can be achieved through brainstorming sessions with AP staff, reviewing past audit findings, and researching common AP fraud schemes.

  • Evaluating the Likelihood and Impact of Each Risk: This evaluation helps in prioritizing the risks and determining which ones need immediate attention.

  • Designing and Implementing Controls: Based on the identified risks, appropriate controls are designed and implemented. This could include procedural changes, the adoption of new software solutions, or staff training.

  • Regular Monitoring and Review: Continuous monitoring and periodic review of the AP risk assessment are essential to ensure the effectiveness of the controls and to identify and address new risks promptly.

Why is managing risk in Accounts Payable important?

Managing risk in accounts payable is crucial for the long-term success of an organization

Managing risk in accounts payable is crucial for several reasons, all of which contribute to the overall health and success of an organization. Here's why it's so important:

  1. Protecting the Organization's Financial Assets: Accounts payable represents a significant portion of cash outflow for most companies. Having strong controls in place is essential to prevent fraud and errors, which can lead to substantial financial losses. Ensuring that every payment is legitimate and accurate is key to safeguarding the company's money.
  2. Improving Accuracy and Efficiency: By identifying and mitigating risks in the accounts payable process, organizations can streamline their operations. This leads to quicker and more accurate payments to vendors, fostering better relationships and potentially avoiding late payment fees. A smooth, efficient AP process is a cornerstone of a well-run business.
  3. Reducing Fraud and Errors: The accounts payable process, from invoice approval to payment processing, is susceptible to fraud and errors. Strong internal controls and thorough employee training on proper procedures can significantly reduce these risks. This not only protects the company's finances but also maintains the integrity of its financial processes.
  4. Ensuring Compliance with Regulations: Various regulations govern the accounts payable process, including tax laws and vendor payment laws. Effective risk management in accounts payable helps ensure compliance with these regulations, avoiding potential legal issues and penalties.
  5. Avoiding Costly Legal Disputes: Mistakes or fraudulent activities in accounts payable can lead to expensive legal disputes with vendors or other parties. Proactive risk management helps prevent such disputes, saving the organization from unnecessary legal costs and headaches.
  6. Maintaining Good Vendor Relationships: Vendors value timely and accurate payments. By managing risks in accounts payable, organizations can maintain a positive reputation with their vendors. This is crucial for long-term business relationships and can lead to better terms and cooperation from vendors.

Accounts Payable Risks You Should Watch Out For

In managing accounts payable, being aware of the major risks is crucial for effective risk mitigation. Here are some of the most significant accounts payable risks that organizations should be vigilant about:


  • Fraud is a primary concern in accounts payable. It can manifest in various forms, such as:

  • Collusion between employees and vendors: This involves creating fake invoices or authorizing unauthorized payments.

  • Duplicate payments: Paying the same invoice more than once, either by mistake or intentionally.

  • Ghost vendors: Setting up fake vendors to submit fraudulent invoices.

  • Kickbacks: Employees receiving bribes from vendors in exchange for favorable treatment.


Mistakes in the accounts payable process can lead to substantial financial losses. Common errors include:

  • Data entry errors: Incorrect invoice data entry leading to overpayments, underpayments, or late payments.

  • Invoice approval errors: Invoices being approved by unauthorized personnel or without proper scrutiny.

  • Payment processing errors: Payments made to the wrong vendor, in incorrect amounts, or on incorrect dates.

Compliance Issues 

Accounts payable departments must adhere to various regulations, including tax laws and vendor payment laws. Non-compliance can result in fines, penalties, and other legal consequences.

Vendor Disputes

Disputes may arise when vendors believe they have not been paid correctly, leading to time-consuming and costly resolutions.

Process Inefficiencies

Inefficient accounts payable processes can cause payment delays, damaging vendor relationships and the company's reputation.

Technology Failures 

Failures in software or hardware can disrupt the accounts payable process, leading to errors and delays.

Natural Disasters 

Events like floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes can damage or destroy accounts payable records and systems, causing significant operational disruptions.

The first step in making a strong accounts payable risk management plan is to be aware of these risks. In the next part, we'll talk about the best ways to reduce these risks.

Best Practices to Mitigate Accounts Payable Risks

Best Ways to Mitigate Accounts Payable Risks

To effectively manage and mitigate the risks associated with accounts payable, organizations can adopt several best practices. These practices not only help in reducing the likelihood of fraud and errors but also enhance the overall efficiency and compliance of the AP process.

Implement Strong Internal Controls

  • Segregation of Duties: Assign different aspects of the AP process to different employees. For instance, the person approving invoices should not be the same person making the payments.

  • Dual Approval for Large Payments: Require two signatures or approvals for substantial payments to ensure proper authorization.

  • Regular Reconciliations: Conduct frequent reconciliations of AP records with bank statements to verify the accuracy and timeliness of payments.

Learn why AP Audits are Important

Use Technology to Automate the AP Process

  • Automation software can significantly reduce errors and improve efficiency by handling tasks like invoice data entry, routing, approval, and payment processing.

  • This technology not only streamlines processes but also frees up staff to focus on more strategic tasks.

Learn how AP Automation can Boost efficiency and Accuracy

Train Employees on AP Procedures and Policies

  • Ensure that employees are well-versed in identifying and reporting suspicious activities.

  • Training should cover proper invoice approval procedures and accurate payment processing.

Regularly Review AP Records and Systems

  • Conduct regular audits to identify weaknesses in internal controls and systems.

  • Monitor AP data for trends and anomalies that might indicate fraud or errors.

Specific Controls for Specific Risks

  • To mitigate the risk of vendor disputes, establish clear payment terms and conditions and communicate these to vendors in writing.

  • Implement a process for efficiently resolving vendor disputes.

Additional Controls

  • Use a Purchase Order System: Helps track authorized purchases and prevent unauthorized spending.

  • Implement a Three-Way Match Process: Match invoices to purchase orders and receiving reports before making payments to prevent duplicate payments and payments for undelivered goods or services.

By integrating these best practices into their AP processes, organizations can create a more secure, efficient, and compliant accounts payable system. This not only protects the organization from financial risks but also contributes to its overall operational excellence.

Managing risks in Accounts Payable (AP) is crucial for safeguarding a company's financial assets, ensuring operational efficiency, and maintaining compliance with regulations. By implementing strong internal controls, utilizing technology for automation, training employees, and regularly reviewing AP processes, organizations can significantly reduce the likelihood of fraud, errors, and inefficiencies. These practices not only protect the company's financial health but also strengthen vendor relationships and contribute to overall operational excellence.

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Key Takeaways

  1. Importance of AP Risk Assessment: Unlike audits, AP risk assessments focus on evaluating and improving the processes to prevent fraud and inefficiencies.
  2. Reduction of Fraud and Errors: Thorough assessment and strong internal controls are essential to minimize financial risks in the AP process.
  3. Enhancing Efficiency and Compliance: Regular monitoring and the use of automation tools streamline AP operations and ensure adherence to regulatory requirements.
  4. Strategic Role of AP: A well-managed AP department is crucial for maintaining vendor relationships, providing cash flow visibility, and contributing to the company's strategic financial management.


What are the controls in AP?

To control accounts payable well, companies should have strong internal controls, use technology to make the AP process more automatic, train employees on AP procedures and policies, and regularly check AP records and systems to find and fix any problems. This includes doing audits often and watching AP data for patterns or things that don't look right.

How do you control accounts payable effectively?

To manage accounts payable (AP) effectively and minimize financial risks, organizations use various controls. These controls are essential for preventing fraud, errors, and compliance issues. 

  • They include preventive controls, which stop fraud and errors before they happen, like segregating duties, needing two approvals for big payments, and matching invoices to purchase orders and receiving reports. 

  • Detective controls find fraud and errors that have already happened. This involves checking AP records regularly, looking for unusual data, and investigating any strange activities. 

  • Corrective controls fix fraud and errors once they're found, like getting back money from fraudulent payments, fixing invoice mistakes, and taking action against employees who break rules.

What are the 4 types of financial risks?

There are four main kinds of financial risks: credit risk, which is when someone might not pay back a loan; market risk, which is when the value of an investment goes down; operational risk, which is when something goes wrong in operations, like a computer problem or a natural disaster, causing financial loss; and reputational risk, which is when bad publicity hurts the organization's reputation and leads to financial loss.

What are two strategies for mitigating risk?

To reduce risk, two main strategies are used: risk avoidance, which means staying away from activities that could lead to losses, and risk transfer, which means giving the risk to someone else, like an insurance company.

What is the most commonly used risk mitigation strategy?

The most common way to reduce risk is risk avoidance. This is the most effective way to get rid of risk. However, it's not always possible or practical to avoid risk. In those cases, organizations might transfer the risk to someone else or use other ways to reduce risk.