Are we really no better than Trained Monkeys?
by Jamie Radford
Have you ever heard anyone imply that AP can be done by trained monkeys? It was said to me just last week and I had to bite my tongue so hard I nearly bit straight through it! I admit we are not rocket scientists, but trained monkeys WE ARE NOT.
I’ve worked in my fair share of under-appreciated AP teams. I have heard my teams belittling themselves as they are not qualified like their Finance colleagues. I’ve had the occasional crisis of confidence myself as I sit amongst the Finance Leadership team, who all have that piece of paper saying they have passed an exam. But over the years I have come to realise that whilst AP do not have to get a qualification to do their job, it doesn’t mean it is any easier than that of the Management Accountant sat behind them. Do you know what? Sometimes it’s even harder. AP can be more visible. They can be in the firing line of the business when something goes wrong. They are often expected to mop up the doo doo at the end of someone else’s process and turn it into a successful and controlled supplier or employee payment.
I’ll accept there are elements of AP that are routine, monotonous and may be thought of as easy. These are the tasks that are being automated through EDI, straight through processing and robotic process automation. Who do you think are the people that are making this happen? AP of course! We are the ones who are designing, testing and implementing technology that automates and streamlines AP processes. We are the ones who are managing this technology and making the most of everything has to offer. So are the monkeys making the robots work?!
Despite the ever changing landscape of AP, there will always be far more than meets the eye to what makes a great AP function.
When a process goes wrong, a supplier isn’t paid or employee expenses don’t get through in time for a payment run, the business needs someone to help, understand and find solutions. This can sometimes be volatile and at times even emotional. Show me a monkey that could handle this.
It’s Friday afternoon and most people have left for the day. Someone comes to you and tells you if a supplier does not receive payment by close of play, the event that the CFO has been organising for Monday will be cancelled (don’t these things always seem to happen in the highest profile situations). The supplier isn’t setup and we have never seen the invoice before. We have to find a way to get that payment turned around and out of the door in the next hour. There is no time to follow the end to end process so it is up to us to find the best solution fast whilst still ensuring we have all the approvals required.
We can interact with any part of the business through paying suppliers or expenses. Understanding the needs of our customers is essential to ensuring we can serve them effectively. Speaking to people, understanding their issues and offering support is a big part of what we do. Providing great customer service requires a level of emotional intelligence … need I say more?
We see a notification from a supplier to change bank details. The logo on the letter doesn’t look quite right. We see their invoices every day and it catches our eye. So we compare it to an invoice and it is similar but just not the same. When we check the email address and phone number they have quoted it does not match our records. When we phone the supplier to question it we find it is fraudulent. We have just saved the business from sending out a payment to fraudulent details. Sometimes detecting fraud is a gut feeling that something doesn’t seem right.
These are just a few of the skills needed to work within Accounts Payable. I won’t bore you will the others such as tenacity, patience, perseverance, organisation, decision making, ability to deal with pressure, multi tasking etc.
So, if you work in Accounts Payable stand up straight and proud because your business couldn’t function without you! We are NOT trained monkeys. We are Accounts Payable Professionals.
And if you don’t work in Accounts Payable, don’t ever underestimate what it takes to get it right and remember, one day you might want us to pay your expenses on time 😉