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Full cycle accounts payable, a critical part of the Procure to Pay process (P2P), plays a crucial role in a company’s operations by bringing efficiency and intelligence to both operational processes and cash management. Full cycle accounts payable (AP) begins when a company decides to acquire a service or product and continues until the vendor’s invoice is settled.

Typically, the steps of full cycle accounts payable are:

  • Understanding requirements: the company assesses its needs and determines what is required.
  • Generating a purchase requisition: a formal request is prepared, detailing the items or services.
  • Reviewing and approving the requisition: the management team carefully authorizes the purchase requisition.
  • Choosing a vendor: the procurement department evaluates options based on factors such as quality, price and reliability to select a vendor.
  • Issuing a purchase order: Once a vendor has been chosen, an official purchase order is issued. This document outlines all the terms and conditions of the transaction between both parties.
  • Receiving goods or services: Upon delivery of goods or completion of services, an inspection is conducted to ensure they meet specified standards and requirements.
  • Three-way matching: This step involves cross checking the information on the purchase order with what has been delivered by the vendor in their invoice.
  • Making payments: Approved invoices from vendors are processed for payment in accordance with agreed upon terms.
  • Maintaining records: Thorough documentation of every aspect of the transaction is maintained for accounting and auditing purposes.
  • Managing vendor relationships: Taking actions to nurture relationships that benefit both parties involved.

Throughout this process, it’s vital for the procurement and AP teams to collaborate effectively, ensuring that operations are aligned with the company’s objectives. This cycle serves as a link between the team sourcing and purchasing the items and the team managing financial transactions and payments. The accurate execution of this cycle holds significance as it directly impacts cash flow management for the company while also fostering relationships with suppliers.

AP and procurement team collaboration in full cycle accounts payable

AP plays a key role in this process and here’s why: it goes beyond mere payment processing and strives to manage payments efficiently. A managed AP process keeps an eye on a company’s finances, helping avoid overdue payment penalties, and even taking advantage of discounts for early payments. It revolves around precision – paying the amount to the recipient at just the right time.

This efficiency also has an impact on a company’s reputation. Adopting AP best practices demonstrates that a company is trustworthy and values its partnerships. So even though it may appear to be about settling bills AP actually plays a role in the financial well-being and operational success of a business.

Similarly, procurement also takes the lead in this process. It involves making purchasing decisions that align with the company’s objectives and budget. The procurement team’s responsibility is to search for high-quality goods or services at ideal prices, negotiate terms and establish a solid relationship with suppliers. 

When the AP and procurement departments collaborate effectively it becomes a win-win situation; procurement ensures that the company acquires what it needs without overspending while AP ensures that those expenses are monitored and settled responsibly. This constructive interaction is vital; it's not about spending and paying but doing so in a manner that supports the financial strategy and operational effectiveness of the company. Through collaboration procurement and AP not only manages costs but also contributes value to the entire business.

Gaining insight into complete full cycle accounts payable: Beyond the basics

The P2P process goes beyond paying bills; it plays a role in a company’s financial foundation. This journey encompasses stages and decisions starting from identifying a need within the company and ending with fulfilling that need. 

It all begins with the procurement team identifying needs and selecting vendors. This underestimated stage involves making decisions based on factors such as: 

  • Cost analysis: which vendor brings the best cost-benefit
  • Budget availability: how much the business is willing to pay
  • Features required: any specifications for that product or service
  • Vendor dependability: access vendor’s track record for timely, quality deliveries
  • Contract terms: review obligations, rights and conditions in the vendor contract

Once a purchase is made, attention shifts to the AP department. Their challenge lies in managing invoices, ensuring their accuracy, and making timely payments. This includes invoice processing wherein each invoice is carefully matched with purchase orders and delivery receipts – commonly referred to as three-way matching. This step plays a role in preventing overpayments or fraud while maintaining a cash flow.

As the process progresses further the AP department faces the challenge of managing payment terms and negotiating for payment discounts, occasionally dealing with intricate financial arrangements, like supply chain financing. The use of accounts payable software such as Ramp can facilitate this process by providing complete visibility into the status of every bill and payment so the team can accurately forecast cash flow and ensure bills are paid on time. These financial decisions have an impact on a company’s management of working capital and overall financial strategy. International transactions add another layer of complexity where AP teams must also consider factors such as currency exchange rates and compliance regulations.

In today’s age advanced software solutions are increasingly supporting this process. These solutions automate tasks, minimize errors, and provide insights through data analysis. They empower AP teams to go beyond transaction processing and engage in financial management. However, the adoption of technologies also brings challenges like the need for regular updates and integration with existing systems and staff training.

The role of automation in enhancing accounts payable processes

Automation plays a role in transforming the AP landscape. One notable example is Purchase Order (PO) automation. This tool goes beyond digitizing processes; it revolutionizes procurement by automating the creation, approval, and management of purchase orders. This results in a decrease in the need for work and an improvement in accuracy. Innovative software such as Ramp are leading the way in this approach providing real-time insights into procurement activities. This in turn enhances control over expenses and streamlines expenditure management.

Another game-changing factor is AP automation. It's not a tool but a comprehensive set of functionalities that revolutionizes how invoices are managed. Prominent software solutions like QuickBooks and FreshBooks are spearheading this area by automating the extraction of data from invoices, aligning them with purchase orders and receipts and managing their progress through approval channels. By doing this, automation significantly reduces the time and effort required for invoice processing while also reducing the likelihood of errors. Additionally, these systems come equipped with analytics that provide insights into spending patterns, vendor performance and potential areas for cost savings.

Gone are the days when AP teams were burdened with mundane tasks. Now they can focus their energies on high value-add endeavors, like effectively managing cash flow, nurturing vendor relationships and contributing to important financial decisions. With the help of these tools, AP professionals are better equipped to provide insights that influence the company’s financial strategy leading to cost savings and increased efficiency.

Three-way matching’s role in full cycle AP

To ensure efficiency and prevent fraudulent activities, a crucial control mechanism called Three-Way Matching is implemented. This process plays a role in full-cycle AP by preventing overpayments and fraud. It involves cross-referencing three documents: the Purchase Order (PO), the Delivery Receipt and the Invoice. The PO outlines the items ordered during procurement; the delivery receipt confirms what has been received; and finally, the invoice requests payment for the received goods or services. The objective of three-way matching is to ensure that these documents align perfectly in terms of quantity, price, and specifications. 

By matching these documents companies protect themselves against discrepancies and mistakes that can result in losses. It serves as a system of checks and balances ensuring that valid, accurate and authorized payments are made. This thorough verification process is essential for maintaining integrity and fostering relationships with vendors. It revolves around the principle of paying the right amount for the right goods or services – a fundamental concept in business.


Technology plays a role in enhancing the efficiency and accuracy of the three-way matching process. Manual matching is time-consuming and prone to errors. However, thanks to advancements in AP automation and tools like Oracle NetSuite or Microsoft Dynamics, this process can now be streamlined significantly. These modern software solutions automatically compare purchase orders (POs), delivery receipts and invoices. Discrepancies are flagged for review, reducing workload while minimizing the risk of errors. This technological intervention not only expedites the process but also offers greater control and oversight enabling AP teams to focus on more strategic tasks. Technology doesn't just automate the three-way matching process; it transforms it into a reliable and efficient system – an essential aspect for businesses looking to optimize their AP operations.

Payment authorization and fraud prevention

When it comes to AP there's always a risk of fraud. It can range from mistakes on invoices to complex schemes like making duplicate payments or setting up fake vendors. That's why it's crucial to have controls in place for the payment authorization process. As businesses grow and transactions increase, the complexity and potential for activities also rise. It's a challenge that requires vigilance and smart strategies to protect a company’s assets.

To fight fraud effectively, it's important to implement checks to ensure the legitimacy of payments and separate duties among individuals or teams. The goal is to create a system where no single person has control over all aspects of transactions. This helps minimize the risk of fraud. Regular internal and external audits are also valuable in identifying vulnerabilities and taking action. Advanced AP software can play a role by offering features, like automated detection of payments and digital audit trails which promote transparency and accountability.

An example of an accounting fraud scandal was in September 2021, when a large multinational faced charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for their involvement in a long-term expense management scheme. This scheme led to the revision of reports for years. The company was found guilty of forms of accounting misconduct including recognizing unearned discounts from suppliers and maintaining deceptive supplier contracts that reduced their cost of goods sold. These actions resulted in erroneous EBITDA (a key metric for measuring earnings performance), which misled investors. To settle these charges the company agreed to pay a penalty of $62 million.

Vendor management plays a role in the AP process, yet, it is often overlooked. Building relationships with vendors is not good business etiquette; it also directly impacts the efficiency and effectiveness of the AP cycle. Strong vendor relationships lead to terms, deliveries, and often result in more favorable negotiation outcomes.

In today’s age the use of vendor portals and digital communication channels has become increasingly important. These tools provide efficient and real-time platforms for interactions. They offer vendors the ability to access statuses, facilitate inquiries and often provide options for electronic invoicing and payments, making the entire process more streamlined.

The future of full cycle accounts payable: Machine learning and AI

Looking ahead to the future we see that integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) becomes a game changer. It not only revolutionizes AP but also transforms the entire procurement cycle. These advanced technologies bring a level of automation and intelligence to every step of full-cycle accounts payable. This results in improved operations and empowers strategic decision-making.

In terms of procurement, AI and ML have the potential to reshape how organizations manage sourcing and purchasing. By analyzing data, AI algorithms can predict purchasing needs, optimize inventory levels and even recommend optimal buying times based on pricing trends. Additionally, they can assist in vendor selection and management by evaluating vendor performance data and anticipating risks or disruptions. This predictive analytics capability enables procurement strategies that ensure organizations make smarter purchases while also building stronger supply chains.

In AP, AI and ML can also have a massive impact. These technologies have the capability to streamline and automate the processes of invoice processing and payment minimizing the need for work and decreasing the chances of errors. AI plays a role in not only automating routine tasks but also in improving fraud detection by identifying unusual patterns in invoice data that could potentially indicate fraudulent behavior or mistakes. With each transaction, these systems continuously learn, becoming more efficient and precise resulting in an efficient accounts payable process.

Looking ahead, we can expect to see AI and ML technologies becoming more deeply integrated into AP systems. One advancement is the development of AI-driven decision-making tools that can provide real-time recommendations on cash management and payment strategies. We may also see the rise of intelligent chatbots and virtual assistants that can manage a range of queries from vendors and internal stakeholders, improving communication and efficiency. Another exciting prospect is the use of ML algorithms for more sophisticated contract management, analyzing contract terms to ensure compliance and optimize negotiations.

The future of the full cycle accounts payable process, empowered by AI and ML, is one where procurement and AP are not just about executing transactions but are pivotal in driving business strategy. These technologies promise to elevate the AP process to new levels of efficiency, accuracy, and strategic importance, paving the way for more agile, data-driven organizations.

The road ahead: connecting the dots

A well-orchestrated full AP cycle is not just about efficiency in transactions; it's a key for robust vendor relationships, optimal cash flow management, and the safeguarding of financial integrity. Its significance in an organization's growth and competitive standing is profound, underscoring the impact of these functions in the modern business world.

The mix of technology and automation in AP and procurement processes streamlines operations, strengthens accuracy, and also reshapes the AP department’s role, transitioning it from transactional tasks to strategic operations. The advent of AI and ML is further propelling this transformation, introducing predictive analytics and advanced fraud detection capabilities, thereby enriching decision-making processes with deeper insights.

Peering into the future, the integration of AP and procurement is emerging as a strategic imperative in business management. Therefore, the role of AP and procurement transcends beyond mere transactional functions, becoming instrumental in shaping the business’s strategic trajectory.

Ramp: AP automation across the entire cycle

It’s tough to keep track of vendor management best practices. Even seasoned business owners can have a hard time implementing best practices for invoice processing. It can get overwhelming quickly, especially if your business is growing.

Having a partner like Ramp saves you time by providing forward-thinking automation at every step of the accounts payable workflow.

Ramp is more than a corporate card. It’s a centralized platform that gives you visibility and control over your business spend, right now and as it grows.

Try Ramp for free
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Finance director, Tactic Financial
Carolina is a seasoned finance professional with over 15 years of experience in Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A), holding a Master's degree in Accountancy with a specialization in Data Analytics. Her expertise spans multiple industries and various global locations, lending a rich, diverse perspective to her work. Recognizing a gap in the market for flexible yet robust financial models, Carolina leveraged her years of experience to create a Financial Modeling Framework called TACTIC. The framework facilitates the creation of a modular and flexible model very versatile but at the same time with solid calculations that adapt to different situations. Carolina's multi-industry experience, coupled with a strong academic background, makes her not just a number-cruncher but a strategic planner capable of interpreting data to drive actionable insights.
Ramp is dedicated to helping businesses of all sizes make informed decisions. We adhere to strict editorial guidelines to ensure that our content meets and maintains our high standards.

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