What is Accounts Payable? Job Description and Responsibilities

It’s no secret that most businesses need goods and services to operate daily, whether these are provided by a vendor or an employee with specific responsibilities or a technology service, and processing reports and payment for those essentials and providers is the responsibility of the accounts payable specialist position.

As an account payable specialist, also referred to as a clerk, you will receive invoices from various vendors and supply companies and keep track of the information with the assistance of accounting software programs. This will follow a specific process or processes and your accountant supervisor may have to approve large bank deposits or credits. Once an invoice has been completed, the accounts payable specialist issues payment and logs the details of transactions. Their overall responsibilities can be incredibly broad including sending an email or letter to a vendor with late accounts, sending out legal documents when necessary, running program reports or pulling statements or files before audits, analying data, review log or ledger entries, documenting payments received within an office or location, cash checks, engaging in research on problem accounts, tracking cash flow, and even checking the accounts to ensure they're accurate when the controller goes to balance them at the end of the month or year.

Accounts payable specialists also organize a company’s bills using spreadsheets and databases in addition to software programs to make records of invoices, contracts, and payment due dates. As a result, the company is able to ensure that all of its bills are paid on time and avoid additional charges or contract problems for a project.

The need for an accounts payable specialist is usually at large firms, businesses, and various organizations across the business sector (and in every geographic location) in such places as temporary agency positions, law firms, medical offices, industrial businesses, and retail stores, and even Fortune 500 companies, to name a few.

If you are deadline driven and don’t mind working overtime during busier times of the year you might want to consider a career as an accounts payable specialist.


Skills Needed for Job Seekers

While this position does not necessarily require advanced knowledge, it's best to have some ability with numbers, among other things. In addition to work experience and some education, though it's possible to be hired to an entry-level position as a clerk while still a student completing your education, employers prefer accounts payable specialists who have a set of important skills. On average, these will include:

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General Computer Skills:

Bookkeeping and accounts payable clerks should know the basics of using and maintaining computer spreadsheets and bookkeeping software including excel or Quickbooks functions and practice with the ten-key pad.

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Extra Detail Oriented:

Bookkeeping, and accounts payable clerks are responsible for producing accurate financial records. They must pay attention to all details to avoid making mistakes and be able to correct errors that others have made.

3

Good Character:

Accounts payable clerks have significant access and control of a company’s financial records, which they must use correctly and keep confidential. However, an accounts payable specialist must also allow for record transparency during audits and keep abreast of any misuse of a company’s funds, making their manager, employer, or project management aware of any issues or questions they have.

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Mathematical Skills:

Bookkeeping, and accounts payable clerks use numbers daily and should be comfortable with basic arithmetic skills and problem solving. A post-secondary education in accounting or economics may not be a requirement, but would be a great aid to your resume.

Educational Requirements: Diploma, Bachelor's, Master's, or Doctorate

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If you want to pursue a career as an accounts payable specialist, some future employers will have a policy that requires a candidate only to have a high school diploma or its equivalent rather than a college degree. While many employers offer entry-level positions that do not require prior experience or training, employers may search for candidates with several years of accounting-related experience proving their ability or formal post-secondary education, such as a bachelor's or master of business administration (MBA) over those without.

It’s not unusual for an accounts payable specialist to earn an associate degree in accounting or finance. Candidates with more specialized skills and training who have made the commitment to gain extra level of education in the subject may have an advantage over those who simply have on-the-job experience.

It is not as common for corporate entities to look for people with a bachelor’s degree in this or a related area for an accounts payable specialist position. However, those who have earned a bachelor’s degree sometimes look for clerk positions to gain employment in a select company, area, locations, or industry, while ultimately setting themselves on a path to pursue a higher position.

Many online and campus-based colleges and technical schools offer certificate programs specific to accounts payable specialists. Should you opt to enroll in said programs, courses often include: basic financial accounting, business math, computerized records, and written business communication.

Certification

In terms of getting certified to become an accounts payable specialist, the Institute of Financial Operations is a professional association where you can earn two distinct levels of accounts payable certifications:

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Certified Accounts Payable Associates

This is a designation for those who have less than 5 years of experience. This certificate lets an accounts payable specialist show their skills within the profession while working at an entry-level position within a company or organization. CAPA candidates need at least 1 year of experience working with accounts payable and an associate degree in this or a related field, or 3 years of relevant work experience in lieu of a formal education. Once experience and/or educational qualifications are completed, candidates may take the CAPA exam. The CAPA designation is given after successful completion of the exam.

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Certified Accounts Payable Professional

This is a designation for accounts payable workers who meet one of the following qualifications:

  • At least 2 years of managerial experience with a bachelor’s degree or higher;
  • At least 3 years of managerial experience with an associate degree or higher;
  • At least 5 years of managerial experience with no degree required; and
  • All candidates must successfully complete the CAPP certification exam.

If those certifications are of no interest to the candidate, an alternative certification is offered via the American Institute of Bookkeepers. This association offers the Certified Bookkeeper Designation to qualified candidates. To qualify for the designation, candidates must have at least 2 years of experience in accounting, bookkeeping, accounts payable, or a related area. After the minimum qualifications are met, candidates are required to pass a 4-part exam covering various related topics. The first two portions of the exam must be taken at one of the 300 Prometric Testing centers located nationwide. The remaining two sections are in offered in an open-book format and are available online. However, this may not serve you as well as the other certifications as it certifies you are a bookkeeper rather than an AP specialist.

Accounts Payable Salary

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Sometimes, bookkeeping and accounts payable specialists may work longer hours to meet deadlines at the end of the fiscal year, when taxes are due, or when monthly or yearly audits are required.

According to Salaray.com, bookkeeping, accounting, and accounts payable specialists held about 1.7 million jobs in 2016. The largest employers of bookkeeping, accounting, and accounts payable clerks were as follows:

  • Professional, scientific, and technical services 12%
  • Retail trade 10%
  • Wholesale trade 7%
  • Healthcare and social assistance 7%
  • Finance and insurance 7%

This services industry includes the accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services sub-industry.

Workplace

Bookkeeping and accounts payable specialists typically work in offices. Bookkeepers who work for numerous firms simultaneously by visiting various places of business. They often work solo, but sometimes collaborate with other accountants, managers, and auditing clerks from other departments.

Most bookkeeping and accounts payable specialists work full-time. However, according to Salary.com, about 1 in 4 worked part-time in 2016. Again, it is not unusual that these employees work additional hours to meet deadlines at the end of the fiscal year or when monthly or yearly accounting audits are required.

Salary

According to Salary.com the the median annual accounts payable specialist salary is $39,246, as of April 29, 2018, with a range usually between $35,243 to $43,790, however this can vary widely depending on where you live.

For example, in California, Salary.com cites these examples:

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California Accounts Payable Clerk Salaries:

Job TitleSalaryLocation
Accounts Payable Clerk$44,919Antioch, CA
Accounts Payable Clerk$41,685Apple Valley, CA
Accounts Payable Clerk$42,237Bakersfield, CA
Accounts Payable Clerk$46,496Berkeley, CA
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New York Accounts Payable Clerk Salaries:

Job TitleSalaryLocation
Accounts Payable Clerk$38,089Binghamton, NY
Accounts Payable Clerk$42,870Binghamton, NY
Accounts Payable Clerk$47,454Bronx, NY
Accounts Payable Clerk$47,454Brooklyn, NY
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Texas Accounts Payable Clerk Salaries

Job TitleSalaryLocation
Accounts Payable Clerk$34,705Harlingen, TX
Accounts Payable Clerk$39,910Houston, TX
Accounts Payable Clerk$39,161Irving, TX
Accounts Payable Clerk$35,336Killeen, TX

Related Alternative Careers

If you can’t find a position as an accounts payable clerk, there are alternatives. For instance, large organizations typically have several different types of specialized accounting clerks, so you might get a similar job in the same setting. To illustrate, as an accounts receivable clerk, you would keep track of a company's invoices to make sure that clients and those who purchase products make appropriate payments. Alternatively, you could work as an auditing clerk, where your role would be to verify the mathematical accuracy of financial documents and postings. For either of these positions, you need a high school diploma, and you may need to have some postsecondary courses, too.

Future Forecast

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As for the outlook for the employment of bookkeeping, accounting, and as an accounts payable specialist, it is projected to show little or no change from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The BLS reports technological change is expected to reduce demand for these workers. Software innovations, such as cloud computing, have automated many of the duties performed by bookkeepers and accounts payable clerks. As a result, the same amount of bookkeeping work can be completed by less employees, which is expected to lead to job losses for bookkeepers over the next 10 years.

With more routinized tasks automated, these roles are expected to take on a more analytical and advisory role over the next 10 years, the BLS adds. For example, rather than performing manual data entry, bookkeepers will focus their attentions on analyzing a business’ books and honing in on possible areas for efficiency gains.

Since bookkeeping, accounting, and accounts payable specialists make up a large group, there will be many job openings from workers leaving the occupation. In the end, this means opportunities to enter this profession should increase, despite the slightly projected decline in employment.


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