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How to Improve the Accuracy of Accounts Payable Forecasting

19 May, 2022
4min read
Bill Sarda, Chief of Staff, Digital Transformation
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What you'll learn

  • Learn the significance of generating A/P forecast
  • Identify the bottlenecks in accounts payable forecasting
  • Tips to improve the accuracy of accounts payable forecasting using a cash flow forecasting system
Guide to accounts payable forecasting
Why is A/P forecasting so difficult?
How to improve accounts payable forecasting
Benefits of accounts payable forecasting
What are the advantages of using the cash flow forecasting system?
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Guide to accounts payable forecasting

What is accounts payable?

Accounts payable is a leading indicator of the entire amount of upcoming liabilities, including supplier payments.

Accounts payable entries are directly connected to companies’ cash cycles. When creating a cash forecast, treasurers need to calculate based on days outstanding or the average number of days required to get paid (accounts receivable), sell finished goods currently on hand (inventory), or pay companies short-term liabilities (accounts payable).

What is the role of forecasting accounts payable?

The main role of forecasting accounts payable is to prevent cash flow from unexpected disruptions. It also provides information on liabilities (costs and debts) that helps with cash management. Additionally, It helps to optimize how much remains to spend on growth and investment.

How are A/P days calculated?

How are AP days calculated?

What is a good DPO? Is a higher or lower DPO better?

Days payable outstanding (DPO) determines the average number of days required to pay a company’s expenses and liabilities.

A high DPO is generally beneficial to a business. If a business needs longer to pay its creditors, the extra cash on hand can be used for short-term investing. On the other hand, a low DPO may imply that a business is not taking full advantage of the credit period provided by creditors.

Higher DPO numbers, while desirable, may not always be favorable for the business since they can indicate a cash shortage and inability to pay.

What is the significance of forecasting accounts payable?

Accounts payable forecasting assists to fine-tune your payment patterns. It captures essential incentives such as early payment discounts when desired. This leads to maintaining a healthy working capital ratio while preserving vendor relationships.

Why is A/P forecasting so difficult?

Accounts payable forecasting is accurate in the short-term, up to the next 2 to 4 weeks. However, due to the uncertainty surrounding payments, accuracy suffers in the long run. With the limitation of spreadsheets, treasurers also have to deal with the unpredictability of accounts payables while creating a cash forecast.

Problems in account payable forecasting

Here are the following barriers while creating account payable forecasts manually:

Challenges in accounts payable forecasting

  • Sudden / Unexpected expenses:
    Unexpected expenses such as breakdowns, an increase in inventory, and sudden payments may arise, which contribute to variance. As an impact, treasurers need to establish additional cash buffers. That helps to absorb the impact of unexpected expenses. Volatility in CAPEX project particulars such as payment dates and timings.
  • Errors caused at record entries: 
    Raising a purchase order to issue a vendor invoice is often a manual operation. That leads to errors such as record duplication and incorrect invoice amount capture. This inaccurate information also gets considered while building a forecast. As a result, there is an increase in the variance and cash buffers.
  • Lost open invoice data:
    Most of the enterprise’s data (invoice data) related to accounts payables is in various systems such as ERPs, CRMs, and Billing Management Systems. Collecting those invoices manually is challenging and also time-taking. Sometimes few of these invoices miss getting considered. This leads to high variances, costs of payments, and an impact on an organization’s creditworthiness.
  • Increase in the cost of goods sold(COGS):
    As spreadsheet is unable to capture market fluctuation such as:

    • Labor costs
    • Manufacturing costs
    • Raw materials cost
    • Increased variability during seasonal rebate programs

    These certain expenses tend to increase, which affects the accuracy of the cash forecast.

  • Lack of granular visibility:
    The possibility of negative variance is primarily due to the lack of granular visibility into inflows and outflows using spreadsheets.
  • Difficulty in predicting payments:
    It is difficult to predict payments for which invoices haven’t arrived yet from suppliers. This unpredictability of cash flow categories negatively impacts other factors such as working capital management and long-term liquidity.

How to improve accounts payable forecasting

Here are some best practices to improve accounts payable forecasting:

  • Analyze historical data by estimating which forecasting period had sudden expenses and high variance. Additionally, identify the reasons behind it.
  • Identify the categories of the payments that suddenly cropped up and the reasons behind them.
  • Determine instances of late payments and the penalty imposed.
  • Identify the payments made on time and the goods/services purchased on the purchase order.
  • Identify payment patterns of repayments related to debt.
  • Calculate the taxes paid during an accounting period.

Benefits of accounts payable forecasting

An accurate A/P forecast gives key insights into how much working capital will be available for innovation and growth once debts are paid.

Additional benefits of accounts payable forecasting

  • Helps to maintain strong relationships with suppliers. 
  • Gives appropriate forewarning about the amount of outgoings.
  • Reduces the chance of missing a payment deadline due to low cash availability.

What are the advantages of using the cash flow forecasting system?

Cash flow analysis tools assist in avoiding last-minute hurdles. Proper cash flow analysis tools help to stay financially stable by planning outlays on capital expenditure in advance.

Here are some key benefits of the HighRadius cash flow forecasting system:

  • Customized AI models designed for specific needs:Our data scientists analyze the company’s data to develop customized cash flow forecasting models that provide high accuracy in A/P forecasts by being aware of your obligations and the DPO of your business.

    Customized AI models for accurate A/P forecast

    An AI-based cash flow forecasting system would compare historical and recent data and run scenarios using different AI algorithms, selecting the most optimistic and realistic cash prediction to produce an accurate A/P estimate. This allows the treasurer to anticipate expenses that may happen throughout the forecast period and cost fluctuations.

  • Integrates with all systems:
    HighRadius cash flow forecasting tool is designed to integrate effortlessly with any ERP, TMS, accounting solution, or other legacy systems through API or sFTP, preventing lost open invoice data for companies’ A/P forecast.
  • Rational scenario planning through Excel-on-Web:
    Risk management becomes more accessible through AI-based scenario planning, which is done by tweaking minor data changes in a spreadsheet. This feature allows enterprises to incorporate sudden expenses into their accounts payable forecast.
  • Drill down into entity-level forecast:
    This feature of the cash flow software allows users to drill down into local-level cash flows and forecast data into categories such as geography, currency, and customer.
  • Easy collaboration:
    The Highsheets feature of the cash flow software allows tweaking of the forecasting models by enabling multiple users to collaborate and modify inputs on a know-how basis.

Transformation story with HighRadius cash flow forecasting system

A leading global children’s entertainment company with a revenue of $155.3 crores was facing challenges in its account payable forecasting:

  • Pulled short-term 30 days for A/P from SAP into spreadsheets.
  • Spent 4,300+ hours/year on data consolidation and lost details in consolidating data.
  • Data was spread across 25 different entities around the world. Performed variance analysis monthly for some of their entities.
  • They had a sweeping structure: 2-4 weeks is the time frame they conducted variance analysis for.

They received the following advantages with HighRadius cash forecasting software:

  • Increased efficiency:
    • ≥ 92% automation rate
    • Elimination of ≥ 3,960 manual hours
    • Integration with SAP, FP&A & other sources
    • Ability to create manual adjustments/overrides
  • Increased forecast frequency (up to 12-month forecast duration).
  • Increased forecast accuracy (> 90% accuracy) globally, with better quarter-ending cash predictions.
  • Improved reliability with clear visualization of available cash.
  • Improved visibility with:
    • Automated variance analysis
    • A greater understanding of past performance
    • Global/regional/entity/invoice level forecasts

Get in touch with our solution experts to learn how to use the AI cash flow forecasting system to increase A/P forecasting accuracy.

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