What Does an Accounts Payable Specialist Do?

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An accounts payable specialist is a key part of any financial team. Learn more about how you can get started in accounts payable and a financial reporting career.

[Featured image] An accounts payable employee sits at a desktop computer.

Businesses and organizations often spend money on goods and services to help them achieve their goals. This money owed to vendors is known as accounts payable (AP) and is a key element in an organization’s overall financial picture. In most organizations, the person in charge of paying the bills is the accounts payable specialist. This is a common entry-level position that can lead to a long career in accounting. 

What is an accounts payable specialist?

An accounts payable specialist handles the AP—the bills or liability—for an organization. This person makes sure that bills are accurate and paid on time and that any invoices received are authorized. This is critical to the health of the company as it impacts budget and cash flow. 

Tasks and responsibilities

While accounts payable specialists work in just about every industry, the day-to-day tasks tend to be similar and might include:

  • Reviewing invoices for accuracy and proper approvals

  • Matching invoices to purchase orders

  • Ensuring bills are paid or negotiated by their due dates

  • Entering transactions to maintain accurate revenue reports

  • Performing bank and credit card reconciliations

  • Assisting with the setup of new suppliers

  • Generating monthly, quarterly, or annual statements

  • Assisting the accounting team with other duties

At a small business, you may be asked to take on financial tasks beyond the scope of accounts payable. Many larger companies have a specific accounts payable department to manage this particular aspect of their financials.

Accounts payable specialists skills

The skills and knowledge you’ll use in your role as an accounts payable specialist will vary somewhat depending on the industry you work for, but there’s plenty of overlap as well. Set yourself up for success by building a core set of essential skills:

  • Understanding of double-entry bookkeeping

  • Proficiency with accounting software, like Quickbook, MS Excel, SAP, or Oracle

  • Verbal and written communication skills

  • Attention to detail

  • Organizational skills

  • Mathematical aptitude

Accounts payable specialist salary

While the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t list accounts payable specialists in their Occupational Outlook Handbook, they do report that the median annual pay for bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks in the US was $45,560 in 2021 [1]. Your pay can vary depending on what part of the country you live in and the company you work for.

How to become an accounts payable specialist

While it’s not necessary to have a degree to get hired as an accounts payable specialist, you can boost your chances for success by taking college-level courses in accounting and business. Some people begin their career path with work experience, while others pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree in accounting. Many use a combination. 

Another way to enhance your resume is through certification. Options include the Certified Bookkeeper (CB) designation from the American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers or the Certified Public Bookkeeper (CPB) certification from the National Association of Certified Public Bookkeepers. Both involve passing an exam to validate your skills in accounting procedures.

Accounts payable specialist career path

A job as an accounts payable clerk can be the first step in a financial reporting career. As you gain experience, you might advance into a managerial role within the AP department. 

Given that accounts payable skills are used in other financial and management positions, many people who start in this role move into more complex financial management positions in budgeting, expense management, or procurement. 

Among the jobs you may qualify for after a successful stint as an accounts payable specialist and with additional training are:

  • Administrative assistant

  • Accounts receivable specialist

  • Bookkeeper

  • Billing specialist

  • Staff accountant

  • Accounting clerk

  • General ledger accountant

  • Loan officer

  • Purchasing agent

Get started with Coursera.

Working as an accounts payable specialist can be a rewarding way to contribute to an organization’s success, and it can lead to further steps in a financial reporting career. Experience for yourself whether a job in accounting is a good fit by taking a course like the Fundamentals of Accounting from the University of Illinois. If you’re ready to advance in your career, build upon your skill set with Microsoft 365 Fundamentals.

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks.htm." Accessed July 8, 2022.

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