What is AP automation?
AP automation simplifies and eliminates manual steps in the vendor bill payment process using software, workflow planning, and change management.
Using technologies like RPA and AI, accounts payable software solutions process invoices faster and at scale – including electronic invoice data capture, invoice and supplier verification, matching, account coding, approval workflows, and payments – and analyze business spending.
Why is AP automation important?
Businesses use AP automation to boost operational efficiency, focus team efforts away from low-value manual tasks, improve accuracy, reduce fraud risk and duplicate payments, eliminate fees and vendor relationship damage caused by late payments, and reduce processing costs.
AP automation is popular among CFOs and finance teams for these reasons. It reduces costs and allows earlier-stage companies and small businesses to get by without having to dedicate headcount to an entire accounts payable department.
For example, some vendors may use e-invoicing to charge customers, but others still use a paper-based billing process. Processing these payments as a part of the procurement process can require significant hours, mindshare, and money, depending on volume.
Like introducing automation to other finance processes like accounting, AP automation starts with finance teams outlining a workflow outline and segmenting automation-driven efficiency opportunities by impact level, the effort required, and relative priority.
Not doing so can create headaches. For example, you want to ensure any AP software you introduce works well with your ERP, the single source of truth for many organizations.
As your team executes quick-win scenarios, a key benefit is that you simultaneously learn and gain knowledge to tackle other processes like order-to-cash automation.
What are the challenges with manual AP processes?
Manual AP processes can create many challenges and headaches for finance organizations, including:
1. Manual AP is time-consuming for finance teams
Whether a business has a one-person finance team or is a larger organization with an entire accounts payable department, paper-based, manual AP tasks require significant hours and attention.
Consider the tasks involved in a typical AP workflow:
- Requesting missing or lost invoices from suppliers
- Collecting W-9 or W-8 tax forms from suppliers to prepare 1099s
- Performing manual data entry of invoices and payments into the accounting or ERP (enterprise resource planning) system to create a digital format
- Three-way matching between invoices, purchase orders, and order receipts
- Manually coding invoices
- Matching paper documents like supporting POs and receiving reports with invoices
- Routing documents to approvers
- Providing payment status to vendors
- Printing and distributing paper checks by mail at the post office
- Filing paper check copies and invoices and boxing them later for storage
- Establishing a clear audit trail
- Manually searching for differences and reconciling accounts payable to the general ledger.
2. Manual AP is susceptible to human errors
With manual data entry in accounts payable, human error happens.
Errors may occur in supplier data accuracy, inaccurate account coding, paying the wrong invoice amount, duplicate invoices, or fraudulent invoices.
Accounting may need more time to reconcile accounts payable on a timely basis, or this task will delay the accounting close.
3. Manual AP may put a strain on headcount resourcing and morale
The accounts payable organization may need additional staffing as the volume of invoices increases with business growth. Bottlenecks in accounts payable and invoice processing workflows slow down the AP team.
Problems with inaccurate vendor invoices, follow-ups with invoice approvers, and handling repeated customer calls about payment status are frustrating. When the accounts payable workload is too high, this can result in poor employee morale.
4. Manual AP may cause delays and vendor relationship strain
With a time lag in recording supplier invoices into the accounting system, the accounts payable balance isn’t up to date in recording current liabilities. Invoices won’t be processed in time to take early payment discounts, costing the company extra money.
At month-end, the accounting department will need to manually accrue more AP invoices to make financial statements more accurate. The finance team won’t have a good handle on cash requirements for paying bills.
AP automation vs. AR automation
Although accounts payable and accounts receivable are both balance sheet accounts to accumulate invoices with credit terms, the primary difference in accounts payable vs. receivable is that accounts payable relates to vendor invoices requiring payment when due.
In contrast, accounts receivable refers to customer invoices for which cash will later be received.
What are the benefits of AP automation?
AP automation provides benefits in efficiency, financial accuracy, time savings, financial transparency, and fraud prevention. Here’s a look at the benefits:
1. Better efficiency
AP automation adds significant efficiency to accounts payable and invoice processing by streamlining workflows with best practices, and eliminating paper-based manual processes.
2. Financial accuracy and peace of mind
With AP automation, invoice payments, account coding, and financial statements are more accurate because human errors are reduced through exception flagging, automatic coding, and timely accounts payable data synced between integrated accounting systems for easier reconciliation.
3. Time saving
Efficiencies built into the accounts payable automation software save your AP and accounting departments time. Invoice processing takes less time, global payments are efficient, and the books can be closed faster to produce financial statements.
4. Better financial transparency
AP automation platform users gain visibility into spend management, with more metrics and analysis. All users with role permissions have views of the same information.
5. Fraud prevention
Businesses improve invoice fraud prevention when they use AP automation systems. Automatically matching invoices with approved purchase orders and receiving reports also helps reduce fraud compared to manually completing these processes.
How does accounts payable automation work?
Accounts payable automation streamlines invoice processing tasks relating to accounts payable by integrating add-on software with an ERP or accounting software.
One key step in implementing AP automation is mapping corresponding fields and data syncing between the ERP and AP automation solution.
What are some AP automation tools that make AP automation work?
AP automation tools for processing accounts payable and vendor invoices for payment include artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) and robotic process automation (RPA) for completing routine tasks digitally rather than with manual processing and manual data entry.
These AP automation tools also provide business intelligence and better spend control.
The top accounts payable tasks to automate
The following accounts payable tasks to automate with AP automation are :
- Vendor onboarding and management
- Digital data entry without manual processes or paper documents
- Verifying invoices and checking for duplicates
- 3-way or 2-way invoice matching
- Automatically coding invoices
- Routing approvals
- Scheduling and making payments
- Tax form compliance
- Expense reporting and reimbursement
- Detecting fraud and errors
- Reconciliation of accounts payable and payments
- Intelligent analytics and metrics
When your business automates AP flow, it gains more visibility and control over cash flow needs and cash forecasting.
A sample AP automation process
The following steps comprise an example of the AP automation process:
- Onboard vendors to collect supplier W-9 or W-8 tax forms, contact and payment information for their choice of payment method.
- Electronically capture invoice data using email, upload, or intelligent OCR (optical character recognition).
- Check vendor invoices for accuracy, fraud risks, and duplicates.
- Code invoices and record accounts payable and expenditures.
- Route invoices to approvers to obtain payment approvals.
- Schedule, make, and reconcile large-batch supplier payments for accounts payable.
- Provide analytics and reports.
Get the vendors involved in onboarding to provide accurate information for automatic entry into your AP automation system.
When you collect W-9 or W-8 tax forms upfront through your AP automation solution, you won’t need to scramble to get them when 1099 supplier and nonemployee compensation information returns are due.
Capturing invoice data by line item with headers digitally means your company won’t waste time on manual data entry for paper invoices.
The AP automation system has better automatic detection of fraud and errors than humans can do on their own. That means making fewer payment errors and duplicate payments, and getting rid of fraudulent invoices that shouldn’t be paid.
AP automation can do autocoding using artificial intelligence with machine learning. The integrated AP automation software syncs with your ERP or accounting software, so you don’t need to record payable accounts in each system separately.
This makes the reconciliation of accounts payable easier.
Approvers can approve digital invoices from anywhere. This means no waiting for them to get back to the office from a business trip, resulting in faster invoice approvals.
With AP automation, you can pay large batches of supplier invoices with the click of a button.
Finally, AP automation gives your company employees the same views and metrics for better visibility and business intelligence to manage and control spend.
How to get buy-in for AP automation at your company
To get buy-in for AP automation at your company, perform the following steps.
Step 1 - Identify the pain points and costs of not using accounts payable automation
AP automation solves challenges and eliminates the frustrations and pain that the accounts payable staff and entire accounting/finance department experience from spending too much time on routine, bottlenecked error-prone accounts payable processes.
Identify and list those pain points that apply to your business.
Step 2 - Identify and summarize the benefits of AP automation
Overcome the challenges of manual data entry with paper-based documents when you digitize accounts payable invoice processing with AP automation.
Document additional AP automation benefits on this summarized list.
Step 3 - Collaboratively prepare a list of features and results your business needs for AP automation
To make buy-in easier and ensure that you choose the right AP automation software for your business, get as much input upfront from key stakeholders at the company and external advisors like your CPA firm.
What features are required in an AP automation system? What is the wish list for features that would be nice to have? What results are system participants and executive management seeking from AP automation?
Step 4 - Evaluate AP automation software in relation to selection criteria and cost vs. company budget
After you compile the requirements and nice-to-have features list from stakeholders, evaluate AP automation solutions provided by competing software vendors.
Obtain complete quotes, including software platform for the needed features and number of users, implementation and training costs, payment transaction fees, and other costs.
Compare the needed features and cost of each AP automation software choice in relation to your company’s budget.
Step 5 - Compute and compare the ROI of AP automation software
Besides identifying a feature-rich system that matches your business needs and falls within your budget range, compute and compare the ROI of each scalable AP automation software system that your company can afford.
Step 6 - Communicate with employees
Communicate with all employees the selection, training, implementation, and launch procedures for the AP automation software.
How to pick the best AP automation software
It’s important to make the right decision when picking AP automation software. Consider the following criteria and your company’s imperatives when selecting the best AP automation software to meet your unique business needs.
Criteria 1 - Scalability
To meet your company’s growth needs in a system, the best AP automation software provides scalability to handle a larger volume of invoices and complex multi-entity functionality.
Suppose your company later needs to upgrade its accounting from basic accounting software to a mid-range system like NetSuite. In that case, the AP automation solution should provide an easy integration path with the new ERP.
Criteria 2 - Low human intervention in automated processes
The AP automation system should help your company avoid manual data processing for accounts payable, with a high level of automation that doesn’t require human intervention.
Criteria 3 - Fraud and error detection
The best AP automation system should use artificial intelligence/machine learning technology to detect errors, duplicate invoices, and fraud risks to prevent your company from making overpayments.
Criteria 4 - Unified finance automation system
The cloud-based AP automation system should seamlessly integrate with your ERP system or accounting software and work together in a unified finance automation system platform with other complementary finance automation products provided by the software provider.
Criteria 5 - Low-cost payment transactions
Consider your vendor invoice volume for calculating payment transaction fees to compute your total use cost for the AP automation platform.
For example, Rho offers no-fee global payments for transfers in USD and a small foreign currency conversion (FX) fee for global payments in other currencies.
Criteria 6 - Visibility into real-time spend management
With AP automation, your business needs a way to view its spend as it happens for proper spend control and cash management.
Top AP automation solutions in 2024
Our favorite AP automation solutions in 2024 focus on Rho and also offer glimpses into AP automation software from NetSuite and AirBase.
Rho offers Rho AP, an AI-powered AP automation solution built into the finance platform, that adds efficiency and controls to the procure-to-pay cycle, giving lean finance teams the ability to do the work of an entire AP department in seconds.
- Captures bill data with intelligent OCR from invoices by email, upload, or import from your ERP system
- Intelligently processes thousands of digital supplier invoices with invoice matching and makes approved payments in seconds with one click of a button
- Indicates payment processing status
- Pulls vendor and payment data from the invoice and checks for duplicates and invites vendors for onboarding
- Records accounts payable invoice transactions and syncs data with your ERP
- Offers a choice of payment method: ACH, card, checks, or wire transfer
- Provides multi-level approval process routing with controls for spend management
- Global payment and foreign currency support
- Paperless system, eliminating manual data entry extraction with intelligence
- Timely invoice processing enables taking early payment discounts on invoices
- Scalable for global growth
- Customers have a centralized banking account integrated with cards, expenses, and AP solutions with FDIC insurance coverage of $250,000 per client (and up to $75mm per client in FDIC insurance for a Treasury Management account)
- Rho virtual card offers up to 1.25% cash back on vendor payments
- Free domestic payments and low-cost international cross-border payments with currency conversion fees
- Access to commercial-grade banking as part of the Rho platform
- Rho is a newer entrant to AP automation
- NetSuite ERP integration and QuickBooks Online accounting software integration can be implemented directly from Rho. NetSuite integration supports multi-entity features in Rho.
- Sage Intacct accounting software integration
- ERP-agnostic CSV accounting automation features
Pricing & fees
The Rho platform, including the Rho AP capability, does not charge platform fees. Learn more about our pricing here.
For payments, Rho pricing for ACH and domestic wire transfers is $0 (free). Rho doesn’t add costs to the USD international wire fees that your business will incur from other parties to the wire transaction.
International wires in USD can be subject to additional fees set by recipient, correspondent, or intermediary banks, in addition to the SWIFT network. Rho charges a 1% FX fee for payments in global currencies and a $30 wire transfer recall fee.
NetSuite, owned by Oracle, is the provider of a robust, mid-range ERP system with many modules called Suites.
NetSuite later added its own AP automation system, NetSuite Accounts Payable, as an option because it recognized that its core accounts payable system requires automation to reduce time-consuming manual, paper-based processes.
- Eliminates manual invoice processing tasks
- Electronic invoice management with the ability to recognize lost and fraudulent bills
- Calculates discounts
- Automatically handles exceptions in invoice matching with purchase orders
- Routes approvals
- Multi-entity with NetSuite OneWorld
- Makes efficient global payments
- Reduces errors and fraud risk
- Increases spend management visibility and provides real-time analytics
- Well-known software provider with many customers
- Provides typical AP automation features in a fully-featured system
- Multi-entity capabilities
- Higher-cost AP automation system with transaction fees
- U.S.-only implementation of NetSuite AP automation
- Isn’t intended for use with other ERP systems besides NetSuite or accounting software
NetSuite Accounts Payable for AP automation is currently only available for U.S.-based companies.
Pricing & fees
NetSuite Sales provides custom quotes for the AP automation add-on Suite and transaction fees. The custom quote is based on your business needs for AP automation and the number of users.
Did you know? NetSuite integrates with Rho
You can automate accounting with Rho’s NetSuite integration. Use Rho’s integration to automate manual data entry, save time, and avoid human error. All data is accurately entered and mapped to the right NetSuite accounts every time.
Using Rho AP, finance teams can capture bill data fed from invoices into Rho and schedule thousands of corresponding payments using supported payment methods (ACH, card, checks, and wires) in seconds.
Use a wide range of Rho attributes to define custom mapping rules that meet your needs.
AirBase provides modern AP automation software for the procure-to-pay cycle.
- Self-service vendor portal with W-9 and information collection
- Invoice capture through email or vendor portal with attached correspondence
- Simple bill pay to complex PO-matched invoice payment using OCR
- Automated approval routing with approvals by email, Slack, desktop, or mobile app
- FX payments
- International, multi-subsidiary capabilities
- Choice of available payment methods in 200 countries with 145+ currencies
- Payment status visibility for vendors
- Advanced functionality
- Payments in many countries and currencies
- Amortization functionality
- Doesn’t sync updated vendor information from AirBase with ERP
- May require customer support for some tasks, like unapply a credit to an invoice
- NetSuite, Sage, QuickBooks, Xero for accounting
Pricing & fees
AirBase pricing and fees is quoted by sales for the SaaS plan tier that matches the number of employees in a company. The plans include:
- Standard - up to 200 employees
- Premier - up to 500 employees
- Enterprise - up to 5,000 employees
The Enterprise plan can include all modules with full functionality depth required by large companies, whereas other AirBase plans may not include all modules or functionality.
Airbase vs. Rho
Airbase is an effective expense management and procurement system but lacks the robust banking and treasury features built into the Rho platform.
Airbase follows a subscription-based software fee model; costs can add up, whereas the Rho platform is free.
Tipalti is a payment automation and accounts payable software built for managing global payments workflows.
Tipalti’s software streamlines purchase requests, approval, vendor selection with real-time visibility. The platform executes payments using a variety of methods and currencies with automated payment approvals and fraud detection.
- Strong global payment support – Customers can make global payments to 196 countries in each country’s global currency, and Tipalti provides global tax compliance
- Invoice management automation – The company offers automated PO matching and invoice scanning
- Integration support – Includes NetSuite, Quickbooks, and Sage Intacct
- Tax compliance – Tipalti offers advanced global tax compliance features including W-9s, 1099s, and eFiling integrations
- Expensive – Tipalti’s fee for the core platform is relatively expensive, and customers must pay higher fees to upgrade to other features and tools
- Extensive implementation – G2 customer reviews suggest that an implementation can take months
- Point solution limitations – AP point solutions make it difficult to establish full control and visibility over spending compared to integrated finance solutions with AP capabilities
Tipalti integrates with NetSuite, Intacct, Quickbooks, Sage, Microsoft Solutions, Xero, and many other ERPs.
Pricing starts at $149 for the platform fee, which allows customers to use Tipali’s core product offering. To access advanced capabilities, including W-8 tax forms, international tax IDs, and multi-entity support, you must upgrade your Tipalti account.
You also have to reach out to Tipalti’s sales team to receive a specific quote.
Tipalti vs. Rho
For US-based businesses looking to automate their accounts payable process, Rho’s AP solution is a great, free-to-use solution that helps unify and scale your finance stack.
For businesses with complex global payment networks looking for a point-solution, Tipalti can support your AP automation needs, assuming the high costs and implementation time are acceptable.
AvidXchange provides end-to-end automation solutions to move your purchase-to-pay functionality online. The platform automates with your current accounting system or ERP, and is connected to one of the largest supplier networks to facilitate payments.
Users can process invoices and make payments without touching any paper. AvidXchange offers 3-way PO matching, automated AP, and paperless payments. Data is automatically captured and available for review and analysis.
- Invoice automation – Invoice processing automation is effective and saves time
- Intuitive user interface – The AvidXchange portal is easy to navigate
- Robust ERP integrations – Ensure data remains synced between platform and ERP
- Opaque pricing – AvidXchange doesn’t publish pricing on their site, but some customer reviews suggest the annual subscription prices can run up to $5,000
- Slow implementation – The company states that it will build an AP portal and fully implement the solution in 45 days or less, which is not as fast as many competitors
- Point solution limitations – AP point-solutions make it difficult to establish full control and visibility over spending compared to integrated finance solutions with AP capabilities
AvidXchange provides more than 225 accounting system integration systems.
Establishing exact pricing requires a call with the AvidXchange sales team, but some reviews report costs reaching as high as $5,000 annually, depending on the features and tools purchased.
AvidExchange vs. Rho
Some users comment that AvidXchange’s customer support is sometimes slow to respond, which can hurt business productivity. Rho provides live, expert support via chat or phone 7 days a week, between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM EST.
AvidXchange remittance details are only available for domestic transactions, while Rho supports international payments and provides supporting documentation. Finally, Rho provides commercial banking and treasury management services.
6. BILL (formerly Bill.com)
Bill.com is a popular AP automation solution used by SMBs and middle-market companies to automate the AP and AR functions.
The company offers AP automation, vendor management, and AR automation. BILL provides check, ACH, and other payment options, including international payments.
- Invoice processing – The solution generates invoices using email attachments from vendors
- Approval workflows – BILL can manage multiple invoice approvers
- AR support – BILL offers both AP and AR support
- UX – AP process and workflows are more complex than other AP automation providers
- Expensive – Solution can get expensive depending on your organization size and payments volume
- Extensive workflows – Paying vendors requires more steps than other AP automation solutions
- Errors – G2 reviews indicate issues with payment times and responsive customer support
BILL's corporate pricing level provides integrations QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Pro/Premier, and Xero. The Enterprise pricing level integrates with QuickBooks Enterprise, Oracle NetSuite, Sage Intacct, Microsoft Dynamics, and other ERPs.
BILL’s corporate pricing level is $79 per user per month, and BILL offers Enterprise (custom pricing) for more complex organizations. There are additional fees for some ACH, check, and wire payments, which can quickly add up depending on your payment volume.
BILL vs. Rho
Thanks to integrated banking, Rho gives users more control over payment timing and better transparency over payments. BILL debits your third-party bank account, waits until the payment clears, then pays your vendor.
Rho also offers corporate cards so you can consolidate all you spend – vendor and expenses – in one place for cleaner records and fewer manual processes at month end.
Lastly, BILL can be expensive for organizations with significant payments volume, whereas Rho is free to use.
Stampli provides AP automation for companies that want to improve efficiency without the need to rework their ERP or change existing AP processes.
Stampli’s platform is easy to navigate and provides integrations with dozens of ERPs. The Stampli solution can be deployed in a matter of days, with no disruption to your business.
- Visibility – Invoice tracking at every stage of the approval process
- Invoice management – Centralized communication hub that includes all invoice documentation
- Customer support – Experienced and responsive customer support team
- International payments – New functionality that is unproven for customers
- UX – Credit memo processing can be confusing, and some ERP interfaces do not smoothly sync all invoice data
- Point solution limitations – AP point-solutions make it difficult to establish full control and visibility over spending compared to integrated finance solutions with AP capabilities
Stampli offers more than 70 ERP integrations.
Stampli uses month-to-month pricing that varies based on the needed services. You have to reach out to Stampli’s sales team to get a specific quote.
Stampli vs. Rho
Rho provides an all-in-one platform for spend and cash management. Stampli provides AP automation but does not offer cash or treasury management functionality. Stampli users must rely on other solutions for cash and treasury management.
Wrap-up: All about AP automation
AP automation is here and now. Although only 10% of companies are using AP automation, more companies recognize the need for being automated in accounts payable through digital transformation. AP automation has gained immense popularity among users because it yields impressive benefits.
Get started with Rho’s One-Click AP. Your finance and accounting department manages cash, employee expenses and reimbursements, accounts payable, budgets, and accounting using the Rho multi-function finance automation system that includes One-Click AP.
Competitive data was collected as of January 10, 2024, and is subject to change or update.
Frequently asked questions about AP automation
The following FAQs and answers relate to accounts payable (AP) automation software.
What problems does AP automation solve?
AP automation solves or reduces these problems:
- Siloed systems that require separate data entry into each system
- Time-consuming manual data entry tasks and follow-up
- Physical storage of paper documents
- Bottlenecks in accounts payable and invoice processing.
- Fraud-prone paper checks
- Invoice payment errors, duplicate invoice payments, and fraud risks
- Excessive fees for making cross-border, international wire transfers
Who should use AP automation?
Businesses of all sizes should use AP automation software once they can justify the cost savings in relation to their volume of accounts payable invoices and payments.
The higher the company’s planned and actual growth rate and globalization of its operations, the bigger the payoff is from using AP automation software.
AP automation is perfect for venture-backed high-growth companies and an ideal solution for multi-entity, global mid-size and enterprise companies. With its scalability, AP automation software can prevent the need for hiring additional accounts payable and accounting staff.
What are the best AP tasks to automate?
The best AP tasks to automate are:
- Digital vendor invoice data capture
- Invoice accuracy exceptions flagging
- 3-way or 2-way matching with PO and receiving report
- Approvals routing with access to electronic invoices and supporting documents
- Global payments in local currencies
- Syncing data between the AP automation and ERP system for financial reporting and reconciliation
If I have AP automation, do I still need accountants and bookkeepers?
Yes. Your company’s accountants and bookkeepers are still needed to perform higher-level tasks requiring judgment instead of routine, repetitive tasks that AP automation handles. With the extra time provided by AP automation, they can shift to more strategic work.
Can AP automation handle multi-currency and international payments?
AP automation handles multi-currency and international payments when the integrated ERP or accounting software and AP automation software provide that functionality.