Accounts Payable Recovery Audit

What is the Purpose of an Accounts Payable Recovery Audit?

An Accounts Payable Recovery Audit (AP Recovery Audit) is a review of a company's historical accounts payable data to identify and recover mistaken or excessive payments made to vendors. Here are some of the key goals:

  • Identify overpayments: These can occur due to errors like duplicate payments, incorrect pricing or billing, unauthorized purchases, or payments made to inactive vendors.
  • Recover unclaimed credits: Sometimes vendors issue credits for returned goods or discounts that aren't applied correctly. An AP audit can help uncover these.
  • Improve process efficiency: By identifying weaknesses in the accounts payable process, the audit can help prevent future errors and improve overall efficiency.

Beyond recovering funds, an AP audit can also provide valuable insights into a company's financial health and identify areas for improvement in its financial controls. This can lead to more efficient use of resources and better overall financial management. In truth an Accounts Payable (AP) recovery audit is conducted to ensure that a company's accounts payable processes are accurate and efficient, and to recover any funds that have been erroneously paid out. The primary purposes of an AP recovery audit are:

  1. Identifying Overpayments and Errors: The audit seeks to identify any overpayments to suppliers, duplicate payments, payments made for undelivered goods or services, or incorrect invoice amounts. These errors can occur due to various reasons like manual entry errors, misunderstandings of contract terms, or system glitches.

  2. Recovering Lost Funds: Once the errors are identified, the company can recover the overpaid amounts. This recovery directly impacts the company's bottom line by returning lost funds to the business.

  3. Improving Processes: The audit helps in identifying the root causes of the payment errors. This insight is crucial for improving the accounts payable processes, enhancing controls, and preventing similar errors in the future.

  4. Compliance and Risk Management: The audit ensures that the company's AP processes comply with internal policies and external regulatory requirements. It also helps in identifying potential risks in the payment processes and implementing measures to mitigate them.

  5. Vendor Relationship Management: By identifying billing errors, the audit can also serve to correct any inaccuracies in vendor accounts, leading to better vendor relationships and more accurate financial reporting.

  6. Optimizing Cash Flow: By recovering erroneous payments, the audit helps in improving the company’s cash flow. It also ensures that the company only pays for what it has actually received or the services it has genuinely utilized.

In fact, an AP recovery audit is crucial for financial accuracy, operational efficiency, and strategic financial management within a company. It helps in ensuring that funds are used effectively and that the company’s financial operations are running smoothly.

Many of the 'big four' accounting an finance companies have a 'forensic' wing that acts like a sort of special auditing branch of the main company. KPMG have KPMG forensics and HW Fisher have a forensic wing.

How Should I Weigh-up the Pros and Cons of an AP Recovery Audit?

Here's a breakdown of the pros and cons of an AP recovery audit to help you decide if it's right for your company:


  • Cost Recovery: The biggest benefit is potentially recovering significant amounts of money from overpayments, duplicate payments, and missed vendor credits.
  • Improved Process Efficiency: The audit can identify weaknesses in your accounts payable process, leading to streamlining and preventing future errors. This saves time and resources in the long run.
  • Better Financial Controls: The audit can highlight areas where your financial controls are lacking, allowing you to strengthen them and improve overall financial health.
  • Stronger Vendor Relationships: Addressing past errors with vendors can improve communication and build trust.
  • Financial Recovery: The most immediate benefit is the potential recovery of lost funds due to overpayments, duplicate payments, or billing errors. This directly impacts the bottom line.
  • Process Improvement: The audit can uncover inefficiencies and errors in the AP process, providing an opportunity to improve internal controls, enhance accuracy, and increase efficiency.
  • Compliance Assurance: It ensures compliance with financial policies and regulatory requirements, reducing the risk of financial misreporting and fraud.
  • Vendor Relationship Management: Identifying and correcting billing errors can lead to more accurate and trustworthy relationships with vendors.
  • Risk Mitigation: The audit helps in identifying and addressing potential risks in the payment process, including fraudulent activities.


  • Cost: The audit itself can be expensive, involving costs for hiring external auditors, dedicating internal resources, and implementing new systems or processes.
  • Time and Resource Intensive: It can consume significant time and resources, diverting attention from other critical business activities.
  • Potential Strain on Vendor Relationships: If not managed carefully, the audit process could lead to tensions with vendors, especially if it leads to disputes over payments and contract terms.
  • Short-term Focus: Recovery audits often focus on past transactions and might not always contribute to long-term value creation.
  • Diminishing Returns: Over time, especially with repeated audits, the amount of recoverable funds might decrease as processes improve, reducing the financial benefit of subsequent audits.
  • Time Commitment: The audit process can be time-consuming, requiring access to financial records and communication with vendors.
  • Potential Strain on Vendor Relationships: Unearthing past errors might cause friction with vendors, especially if significant amounts are recovered. Clear communication is key.
  • Limited Scope: Audits typically focus on historical data, not necessarily preventing future errors. Follow-up improvements to processes are necessary.

Here are some additional factors to consider:

  • Size and complexity of your AP operation: Larger or more complex operations are more likely to benefit from an audit due to the higher potential for errors.
  • Age of your company: Companies with a longer history are more likely to have accumulated potential errors.
  • Internal expertise: If your staff lacks experience in AP recovery audits, an external firm can provide valuable expertise.

Weighing the Decision

Overall, an AP recovery audit can be a worthwhile investment if the potential cost recovery outweighs the costs and time commitment. Carefully weigh the pros and cons based on your specific situation.

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: Conduct a preliminary assessment to estimate the potential recovery amount versus the audit cost. If the potential recoveries substantially exceed the cost, an audit might be justifiable.
  • Strategic Timing: Consider the timing of the audit to minimize disruption to business operations and align with financial reporting cycles.
  • Vendor Communication: Manage the audit process transparently with vendors to maintain good relationships and mutual trust.
  • Continuous Improvement Focus: Leverage the findings from the audit for long-term process improvements rather than just short-term financial recovery.

At the end of the day, the decision to conduct an AP recovery audit should be based on a strategic assessment of the potential financial recovery, the opportunity to improve business processes, and the impact on vendor relationships and internal resources.

How Can I Prepare My Department for an Audit?

Preparing your department for an audit involves several key steps to ensure that the process is smooth and effective. Here’s how you can prepare:

1. Understand the Audit Scope and Objectives

  • Clarify the purpose of the audit, whether it's financial, compliance, operational, or an AP recovery audit.
  • Understand what the auditors will be looking at, the time frame they will cover, and the outcomes they expect.

2. Communicate with Your Team

  • Inform your team about the upcoming audit, its purpose, and how it will affect them.
  • Assign responsibilities to ensure that everyone knows their role in the audit process.

3. Organize and Review Documents

  • Ensure all relevant documents, such as invoices, contracts, receipts, and financial statements, are complete, organized, and easily accessible.
  • Review these documents beforehand to identify and address any discrepancies or issues.

4. Implement Internal Pre-Audit Checks

  • Conduct a self-assessment or internal audit to identify potential areas of concern.
  • Rectify any identified issues before the external audit begins.

5. Train and Prepare Your Team

  • Provide training or briefings to ensure that your team understands the audit process and is prepared to answer the auditors’ questions.
  • Ensure they know the importance of accuracy and transparency in the audit process.

6. Review Past Audit Findings

  • If your department has been audited before, review the findings and recommendations from previous audits.
  • Implement necessary changes and prepare to demonstrate how past issues have been resolved.

7. Ensure Compliance with Policies and Procedures

  • Verify that all departmental processes and transactions comply with internal policies and regulatory requirements.
  • Update any outdated procedures or policies that could affect the audit outcome.

8. Set Up Communication Channels

  • Establish clear communication channels between your department and the auditors.
  • Designate a point of contact who will coordinate with the auditors and manage information requests.

9. Manage Logistics

  • Arrange for adequate space and resources for the auditors, including access to computers, networks, and physical areas as needed.

10. Stay Engaged and Supportive

  • Remain actively involved in the audit process, supporting the auditors and your team.
  • Address any issues promptly and keep documentation of resolutions and decisions.

Don't forget to take each step as a number of steps, for each stage of the audit preparation process you should remember that the purpose of this exercise, at least in the eyes of your team are to:

Reconcile Accounts:

  • Review Vendor Statements: Reconcile your accounts payable ledger with vendor statements to identify any discrepancies.
  • Investigate Unresolved Items: Focus on outstanding invoices or credits that haven't been cleared or reconciled.
  • Prepare explanations: Be ready to explain any discrepancies or unusual transactions that the auditors might identify.

Streamline Processes:

  • Identify weaknesses: Proactively review your current accounts payable processes to identify areas for improvement.
  • Strengthen controls: Look for opportunities to tighten controls to prevent future errors, such as implementing approval workflows or dual authorization for payments.
  • Automate tasks: Consider automating repetitive tasks like data entry or invoice processing to improve efficiency and reduce errors.


  • Open Communication: Maintain open communication with the suppliers on behalf of the auditors throughout the process as they will need a liaison to keep things moving. Provide any information they request promptly.
  • Vendor Communication: If the audit identifies potential overpayments or needs information from vendors, communicate clearly and professionally. Explain the purpose of the audit and be prepared to answer questions. Vendors may be required to provide several years of accounts data that smaller suppliers may struggle to access easily. Provide clear and concise evidence to the auditors from your records and any vendors that are under audit. The processes here vary depending on who is performing the overpayment collection, but either the vendors or auditors will require this data.

By following these steps, you can help your department be well-prepared for an AP recovery audit. This will minimize disruptions, expedite the process, and potentially improve the outcome.

Here are some other tips you may find helpful as tactics throughout the audit:

  • Assign a point person: Designate a team member as the main point of contact for the auditors.
  • Set realistic expectations: Discuss expectations with the auditors regarding timelines and resource allocation.
  • Maintain a positive attitude: View the audit as an opportunity to improve your department's processes and financial controls.

How Should we Treat Previous Errors Made in AP?

Treating previous errors made in Accounts Payable (AP) involves a structured approach to ensure that they are corrected and do not recur. Here’s how you should handle these errors:

1. Identify and Acknowledge the Errors

  • Conduct a thorough review of AP transactions to identify any errors, such as duplicate payments, incorrect amounts, or payments made to the wrong vendor.
  • Acknowledge these errors as soon as they are discovered to ensure transparency and accountability.

2. Analyze the Root Cause

  • Determine why each error occurred by analyzing the processes and controls in place at the time of the error.
  • Look for common factors or trends that might indicate systemic issues.

3. Correct the Immediate Issue

  • Once an error is identified, take immediate action to correct it, such as recovering overpayments or adjusting future payments to account for underpayments.
  • Communicate with vendors or other affected parties to explain the error and the steps being taken to correct it.

4. Improve Processes and Controls

  • Based on the root cause analysis, implement changes to prevent similar errors in the future. This might include improving internal controls, updating software or systems, or providing additional training to staff.
  • Consider implementing automated solutions or additional checks and balances in the AP process.

5. Document the Errors and Remedial Actions

  • Keep detailed records of the errors, including how and why they occurred, the steps taken to correct them, and any changes made to prevent recurrence.
  • Documentation is crucial for future reference and may be needed for audits or regulatory reviews.

6. Communicate with Stakeholders

  • Inform internal stakeholders, such as management and the finance team, about the errors and the measures taken to address them.
  • Clear communication ensures that everyone is aware of the issues and understands the importance of adherence to updated processes.

7. Monitor the Impact and Results of Changes

  • Regularly review the effectiveness of the changes implemented to correct and prevent errors. This can involve monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) related to AP accuracy and efficiency.
  • Be prepared to make further adjustments as needed to continuously improve the AP process.

8. Foster a Culture of Continuous Improvement

  • Encourage an environment where employees feel comfortable reporting errors and suggesting improvements. This can help in identifying and addressing issues proactively.

There are two main approaches to dealing with previous errors made in Accounts Payable (AP): correcting them and moving forward, or taking a more historical approach with a recovery audit.

Correction and Moving Forward:

This is a good option for minor errors or when the resources required for a full audit outweigh the potential recovery. Here's how to handle it:

  • Identify and quantify errors: Review your AP processes to pinpoint recent errors and their significance (financial impact).
  • Correct the errors: Make the necessary adjustments in your accounting system, such as issuing vendor refunds or reversing incorrect payments.
  • Implement improvements: Based on the identified errors, strengthen your AP processes to prevent similar mistakes in the future. This might involve better communication with vendors, improved approval workflows, or data entry automation.

Recovery Audit:

For potentially significant historical errors or a desire for a more comprehensive review, an AP recovery audit is recommended (discussed previously). This involves a deeper examination of past transactions to identify and recover overpayments.

Here's how to decide which approach is best:

  • Materiality of errors: If the errors are significant and have a material impact on your financial statements, a recovery audit might be necessary.
  • Timeframe: For recent errors, correction and moving forward might be sufficient. For older errors, a recovery audit might be more suitable.
  • Internal expertise: If your staff lacks experience in identifying and correcting AP errors, a recovery audit with an external firm can be beneficial.

General Tips for Addressing Past Errors:

  • Transparency: Be transparent with vendors when you identify errors, especially if recovering funds. Clear communication is key to maintaining good relationships.
  • Documentation: Maintain proper documentation of the errors identified, corrections made, and communication with vendors.
  • Focus on improvement: Use the experience as a learning opportunity to improve your AP processes and prevent future errors.

By taking a proactive approach to addressing past errors, you can minimize their financial impact, strengthen your financial controls, and build trust with vendors. By systematically addressing past errors in AP, not only can you rectify the immediate financial impacts, but you can also strengthen your organization’s financial management practices and reduce the likelihood of future errors.

How Can I Encourage Positive Opinion of an Audit?

Fostering a positive audit experience goes a long way in ensuring a smooth process and potentially even influencing the outcome. Here's how you can encourage a positive opinion of an audit:

Preparation and Openness:

  • Be Proactive: Don't wait for the audit to start preparing. Gather necessary documents, identify key personnel, and understand the audit scope beforehand (as discussed previously in preparing your department). This demonstrates organization and respect for the auditors' time.
  • Open Communication: Maintain clear and open communication with the auditors. Respond promptly to their requests for information and be transparent about any issues. This builds trust and fosters a collaborative environment.
  • Dedicated Point of Contact: Assign a knowledgeable team member as the main point of contact for the auditors. This ensures consistent communication and avoids confusion.

Professionalism and Positive Attitude:

  • Professional Demeanor: Present yourselves and your department professionally. Dress appropriately, be courteous, and demonstrate a willingness to cooperate.
  • Positive Outlook: Maintain a positive and proactive attitude throughout the audit. View the audit as an opportunity to improve your processes and demonstrate your commitment to good financial controls.
  • Highlight Improvements: If you've recently implemented process improvements to address past errors, highlight them to the auditors. This showcases your commitment to accountability and continuous improvement.

Responsiveness and Flexibility:

  • Timely Responses: Strive to respond to the auditors' questions and requests for information in a timely manner. This demonstrates respect for their deadlines and avoids delays.
  • Be Flexible: Audits can sometimes uncover unexpected areas of focus. Be flexible and willing to adapt your approach as needed to facilitate the process.

Additional Tips:

  • Management Support: Demonstrate management support for the audit process. This shows the auditors that the organization takes financial controls seriously.
  • Post-Audit Debrief: After the audit, schedule a debriefing session with the auditors to discuss their findings and recommendations. This demonstrates your commitment to addressing any identified issues.

Encouraging a positive opinion of an audit within your organization involves addressing common concerns and highlighting the benefits of the audit process. Here are some strategies to foster a more positive view of auditing:

1. Communicate the Purpose and Benefits

  • Clearly explain the purpose of the audit and how it can benefit the organization, such as by improving processes, enhancing compliance, and identifying opportunities for cost savings.
  • Emphasize that audits are not solely about finding faults but are also an opportunity for positive change and improvement.

2. Involve Stakeholders Early

  • Engage with key stakeholders, including management and department heads, early in the audit process to discuss objectives and expectations.
  • Involving stakeholders early helps in gaining their support and can make the audit process more collaborative and less confrontational.

3. Educate Employees

  • Provide training or informational sessions to demystify the audit process and reduce fear or anxiety. Explain the steps involved, the roles different people will play, and how findings are typically addressed.
  • Highlight stories or case studies where audits have led to positive outcomes, such as process improvements, financial recoveries, or enhanced controls.

4. Promote Transparency

  • Maintain open lines of communication throughout the audit process. Keep everyone informed about what is happening, why certain information is needed, and how the audit is progressing.
  • Transparency helps to build trust and reduces speculation or misunderstanding about the audit’s purpose and process.

5. Address Concerns Proactively

  • Be proactive in addressing any concerns or fears that employees may have about the audit, such as job security or extra workload.
  • Offer support and reassurance, emphasizing that the audit is a routine process aimed at helping the organization improve.

6. Showcase Improvement Opportunities

  • Focus on how audit findings can lead to positive changes and improvements within the organization. Highlight how these changes can benefit everyone, not just satisfy external requirements or criticisms.
  • Encourage participation in implementing audit recommendations to foster a sense of ownership and involvement in improvements.

7. Celebrate Successes

  • Publicly recognize and celebrate improvements and successes resulting from the audit. This can help in building a positive narrative around the audit process.
  • Celebrating successes reinforces the value of the audit and can change perceptions over time.

8. Encourage a Culture of Continuous Improvement

  • Foster a culture where continuous improvement is valued, and audits are seen as an integral part of this process.
  • Position audits as a tool for learning and development, rather than just assessment and scrutiny.

By implementing these strategies, you can help shift the perception of audits from being a negative or fearful experience to being a valuable opportunity for improvement and growth and you can create a positive and collaborative environment for the audit. This can lead to a more efficient process, a better understanding of your operations by the auditors, and potentially a more favorable outcome.

Remember, open communication, professionalism, and a willingness to cooperate are key to fostering a positive audit experience.

How Much Should I Expect to Recover from an Audit?

The amount you can expect to recover from an audit, particularly an Accounts Payable (AP) recovery audit, varies widely depending on several factors, including the size of your organization, the volume of transactions, the complexity of your AP processes, and the historical accuracy of your payments. Here’s a general guide to help set expectations:

1. Size and Volume of Transactions

  • Larger organizations with higher volumes of transactions typically have more opportunities for errors, leading to potentially higher recovery amounts. However, they may also have more sophisticated controls in place.

2. Industry and Complexity

  • Some industries, due to the complexity of their transactions and contracts, may have higher rates of billing errors. Industries like manufacturing, retail, and healthcare often see significant recoveries due to the complexity and volume of their AP transactions.

3. Historical Accuracy

  • If your organization has a history of high accuracy in AP processes, the potential recovery might be lower. Conversely, if there have been issues in the past, there may be more opportunities for recovery.

4. Scope of the Audit

  • The breadth and depth of the audit can impact recovery amounts. A comprehensive audit that covers several years and multiple types of transactions is likely to identify more opportunities for recovery than a more limited audit.

5. Industry Benchmarks

  • Recovery rates can also vary by industry benchmarks. On average, recovery audits can find recoverable amounts ranging from 0.05% to 0.1% of total annual disbursements. For a company with annual disbursements of $100 million, this could mean recoveries between $50,000 and $100,000.

6. Continuous Monitoring and Previous Audits

  • If your organization regularly conducts AP audits or has robust continuous monitoring in place, the marginal recovery from each subsequent audit may decrease over time as processes improve and fewer errors occur.

Setting Realistic Expectations

  • It’s essential to set realistic expectations based on your organization's specific context and history. An initial assessment or pre-audit can provide a more tailored estimate of potential recoveries.

7. External Factors

  • Changes in technology, the regulatory environment, and business practices can also affect the amount recoverable from an audit over time.

It's difficult to predict a specific amount you'll recover from an Accounts Payable Recovery Audit (AP Recovery Audit) because it depends on several factors:

  • Size and complexity of your AP operation: Larger or more complex operations typically have a higher risk of errors and thus more potential for recovery.
  • Age of your company: Companies with a longer history have had more time for errors to accumulate and potentially go unnoticed.
  • Historical AP practices: Companies with lax controls or frequent staff turnover might have more errors compared to those with stricter protocols.
  • Industry benchmarks: Recovery rates can vary depending on your industry. Some industries are more prone to certain types of errors than others.

However, there are some benchmarks that might give you a rough idea:

  • Industry studies suggest recovery rates between 1% and 5% of total accounts payable. This means for every £100 of accounts payable you have, you might recover between £1 and £5 through the audit.

Here are some resources that might provide more specific data:

  • AP recovery audit firms: These firms often publish case studies or industry benchmarks on their websites.
  • Accounting industry associations: Industry associations might have data on average recovery rates for AP audits.

It's important to remember that these are just estimates. The actual recovery from your audit could be higher or lower.

Focus on Long-Term Benefits:

While recovering funds is a benefit, an AP recovery audit offers more than just that. It can also help you:

  • Improve process efficiency: By identifying weaknesses in your AP processes, you can streamline operations and prevent future errors, potentially saving more money in the long run.
  • Strengthen financial controls: The audit can highlight areas where your controls are lacking, allowing you to improve financial health and mitigate risks.
  • Build trust with vendors: Addressing past errors demonstrates transparency and can improve your relationships with vendors.

Considering these long-term benefits can help you make an informed decision about whether an AP recovery audit is right for your company, even if the exact recovery amount is uncertain and while industry averages can provide a benchmark, the actual amount recoverable will depend on your organization's unique characteristics and history. A preliminary assessment by an experienced auditor can offer a more accurate estimate of potential recovery.