How COVID Changed AP Forever, and Where We’re Headed Now

January 17, 2024

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When COVID hit, many Accounts Payable teams were unprepared, particularly if they relied on paper invoices and checks. Lynn Tate, APM, Accounts Payable & Expense Report Analyst for Urban Science Applications Inc., found herself in a situation that required a significant degree of creativity: In order to get her invoices approved and paid in a timely fashion, she needed to quickly find a way to manage them remotely. 

What she settled on was a cloud-based file sharing service that enabled her to notify her teammates when there were invoices that needed review. She was able to alert them automatically, obtain the approvals and get the payments queued up for processing with minimal delay. 

In this podcast, we’ll not only discuss how she made this decision and got things set up — we’ll explore the lessons she learned along the way and how the challenges of the pandemic actually ended up benefitting her process long-term. 


Lynn Tate
Accounts Payable and Expense Report Analyst, Urban Science Applications Inc

Lynn Tate has worked for Urban Science Applications Inc in Detroit, Michigan as an Accounts Payable and Expense Report Analyst for the past eight years planning to retire in 2025.

Lynn has a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Journalism from Eastern Michigan University.  After deciding against becoming a teacher she took classes in accounting at a local community college and worked as a temp to gain on-the-job experience in accounting.  The shift from teaching to accounting has led to a nearly 40-year career in accounts payable.

Lynn has attained her APM certification for the past six years and is a member of the IOFM Advisory Panel.

In her spare time Lynn is involved in community theatre as an actress, producer, and director.  As “The Crafted Lady by Lynn Tate” she creates one-of-a-kind cards as an accomplished paper crafter.


Royce Grayson Morse

Royce Grayson Morse has been working with IOFM for the past eight years, writing and editing content about Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, automation, and industry trends. She has worked on the IOFM Certification Guides and written the associated examinations; edits the annual 1099 and 1042 Master Guides; conducts podcasts; and manages the IOFM.com website content.

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Transcription

Grace Chlosta: Welcome to the IOFM podcast. This is a podcast for accounts payable and accounts receivable professionals who want to stay in the know with current AP and AR trends and ideas. We'll be interviewing professionals in this space on a wide variety of subjects, including automation, artificial intelligence, career growth, compliance, leadership, and much more. 

Today we have an interview with Lynn Tate. Lynn has worked for Urban Science Applications, Inc., in Detroit, Michigan, as an accounts payable and expense report analyst for the last eight years, planning to retire in 2025. Lynn has a bachelor's degree in English Language and Journalism from Eastern Michigan University. 

00:00:47 

After deciding against becoming a teacher, she took classes in accounting at a local community college, and worked as a temp to gain on-the-job experience in accounting. The shift from teaching to accounting has led to a nearly 40-year career in accounts payable. Lynn has attained her APM certification for the past six years, and is a member of the IOFM Advisory Panel. In her spare time, Lynn is involved in community theater as an actress, producer, and director. As "The Crafted Lady" by Lynn Tate, she creates one-of-a-kind cards as an accomplished paper crafter. She'll be interviewed by IOFM's Royce Grayson Morse.

Royce has been working with IOFM for the past nine years, writing and editing content about accounts payable, accounts receivable, automation, and industry trends. She has worked on the IOFM Certification Guides and written the Associated Examinations, edits the Annual 1099 and 1042 Master Guides, conducts podcasts, and manages the IOFM.com website content.

Royce Morse: Hi, Lynn, and welcome. How are you?

Lynn Tate: I am well. How are you?

Royce Morse: I'm doing well. Thank you. so I'm looking forward to our conversation today. We're going to be talking about how COVID has changed accounts payable, and where we're going to go from here.

00:02:06 

So, before we get started and do the deep dive, tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into AP, how long you've been in AP, and how you ended up there. 

Lynn Tate: Actually, I have a degree, a bachelor's degree in English Language and Journalism from Eastern Michigan University, and I was going to be an English teacher. I did almost a year's worth of teaching, and decided that that was not what I wanted to do. 

I went through a couple of different phases, trying to figure out where I wanted to go, and eventually ended up working in accounting, and went to a local community college and took some classes, and then worked as a temp to gain experience. The shift from teaching to accounting has given me almost a 40-year career. 

Royce Morse: That's amazing. You must like it. You must vibe well with accounts payable.

00:03:10                     

Lynn Tate: You know, I think if I would have studied it in college, I would've gotten bored with it, honestly. [chuckles]

Royce Morse: Well, maybe as an academic subject it's not the thing, but doing the doing seems to appeal to you.

Lynn Tate: Exactly.

Royce Morse: So let's jump forward some number of years. What role were you in when COVID hit, and what did that look like for your organization?

Lynn Tate: Well, we had been on standby since early January 2020. We weren't exactly sure what was going to happen, and I was doing accounts payable, and I was also auditing and approving expense reports at that time.

00:04:01 

On March — I think it was the 16th of 2020 we got the announcement that everybody was to pack up and leave, and we were not to come back to the office because our entire building, which consisted of four towers, was completely closing due to COVID —

Royce Morse: Oh, my goodness.

Lynn Tate: — and the pandemic. So I grabbed what I could, but we weren't sure if we were going to be out for a week, four days, five days — whatever. And so when I realized that we were going to be out for quite a while, the controller packed up my desk in banker's boxes and drove from Downtown Detroit to our place and dropped off the boxes with one of those door drops and waving through the door with masks and everything.

00:04:54 

And so here I had all this stuff. I was basically paper dependent, printing invoices, sending invoices out for approval, and then printing the approvals and then attaching them to the invoices, so it was very labor intensive. And so to try and do that from home, I kind of had to shift a little bit and work through what I needed to do so that I could accomplish my job in a timely manner. Not knowing what I was going to do — and because I didn't have an OCR program, a scanning program, that interacted with our accounting software, I set up an Excel spreadsheet just to track my invoices. 

00:05:51

And so what I would do, as the invoices came in, I would save them to our AP shared drive, and then I would send them out for approval. When I got the approval, I would just attach it to the invoices and close it out in my log, in my Excel file. It was quite a shift. It was quite a shift. 

Royce Morse: Yeah, you had to get creative. So how were you paying? Were you paying by paper check at that point?

Lynn Tate: It was decided at that point that I was going to have to — and I pretty much made the decision that since I couldn't go into the office, I was going to get as many of my vendors who were on check payments to ACH or wires. Luckily, our controller, he took our extra check printer home with him and he would print the checks from home that I needed to print, the few that I couldn't pay ACH.

00:06:55

But our suppliers were so cooperative, had no problem providing me with ACH information, even those who had said to me previously, "Oh, we'll just take a check." Well, now they knew that there was a possibility they weren't going to get paid. 

At this point, now, in 2024, I am at probably 99% of my vendors are ACH or wire payments. 

Royce Morse: Yeah, I think everybody learned a hard lesson. That was kind of the absolute beginning of the end for paper, because everybody was in the same predicament. If you wanted to get paid or you needed to pay your vendors, you were going to have to find another way to do it, so kudos to you for figuring that out because a lot of folks were stumped, in a world of hurt there.

00:07:53 

It sounded like you reacted pretty quickly. How long from the time that you were notified that the office was closed were you up and running, paying by ACH or wire? 

Lynn Tate: It took me approximately six months to get the vendors that I had that were on checks payments to ACH. I basically started working on that right away, and was spending a period of time during the day where I was just concentrating on that. And then I also had some vendors that contacted me and said, "I want to get paid by ACH," so it was both ways. It was my work contacting them, and then others that were coming to me and saying, "Here's my banking information."

Royce Morse: Everybody was kind of up a creek at that point, so we were all working together to try and get it resolved.

Lynn Tate: Correct.

00:08:47                     

Royce Morse: So it sounds like you have kept on doing these same procedures, more or less, since COVID. I mean, you haven't gone back to paper invoices and paper checks, I'm assuming?

Lynn Tate: Oh, no, [laughter] not at all.

Royce Morse: Doing want to go back there.

Lynn Tate: Mm-mm.

Royce Morse: Tell me what you learned during that process of COVID and the changes that you had to implement, kind of just ad hoc, seat-of-the-pants stuff, where you just had to figure out how to deal with it. What did you learn from that?

Lynn Tate: I learned that by past experience and different things, that, being the organized person that I am, I could manage this without much difficulty, as long as I stayed focus and worked towards getting the job done. So that, I think, in a lot of ways, was to my advantage, whereas some other people may have struggled initially.

00:10:01

But it was a smooth transition. In fact, in 2021, I moved from using everything on an Excel spreadsheet to doing everything in SharePoint. I created lists where I could do exactly the same thing, but attach the vendor invoice to the actual list entry, which also meant that I could give permissions to certain members within the accounting department to look at that list in SharePoint, find the invoice that they needed, to see it. So then they weren't bothering me for invoice copies. So it worked really well. I'm continuing with that today, and it seems to be working just fine. 

00:10:50                     

Royce Morse: That's great. That was very creative. The less manual intervention that you have to do, the better off you are, whether that be with manual payments or trying to track down invoices for people or answering phone calls or whatever it might be — emails — trying to give people the power to find out stuff on their own. That's pretty impressive. I'm not sure there are a whole lot of people that would have figured that one out.

So what do you think, in retrospect, the overall benefits to your organization have been as a result of all that you went through to make these changes, to be able to pay electronically?

00:11:42                     

Lynn Tate: Well, I think what's benefitted most is it's helped a lot with cashflow forecasting, because you know the wire payments and ACH payments are either immediate or next day, so we know right away how much money is going to come out of the bank the next day. It's helped with vendors getting their checks in a timely manner, and has prevented checks getting lost in the mail. Initially, towards the end of 2020, I was having issues with vendors not getting their checks. And I don't know where it was originating, but the mail system just totally failed, and so it was those vendors who eventually came to me and said, "Look, just put me on ACH and we'll be fine."

00:12:39  

Eventually, in July of 2020, they allowed us to go back into the building, so I would go in like a couple days a month, because we started issuing payments at that time on the 15th and the 30th of the month, instead of every week, so that was another change we made. So when I was finally able to go in the building, with all the COVID protocol and all this, then I was able to print checks and do stuff like that.

When you've got like March to July where you're trying to manage, that's the hard part. I made it through. I'm amazed. I'm totally amazed at how I got through it. Then 2021 was just, okay, this is just as breeze, and 2022 was a breeze, and it has helped with my workload, as a matter of fact, as I've gotten more and more used to the SharePoint site and the shared drive and emailing and things like that. 

00:13:58 

Working with PDFs of all of the invoices has really made my job a lot easier. When audit time comes around — we just finished interim audit in December, and everything was fine with AP. We documented all of the things that we did, and when they chose things to look at, it was all there. That was a benefit to the organization as well. They were following what we're supposed to do for audit. 

Royce Morse: Yeah, that's super important. When you made the move to SharePoint, did that replace using an in-house serve for storing documents and getting approvals and all that sort of thing?

00:14:48                     

Lynn Tate: No, it didn't. Actually, it worked in combination with a shared drive that we have. It's an accounting drive. And then I just set up a folder for AP, and then I have an "invoice scans" folder, where I put the electronic copies of the invoices in by month, and then log them. And so I always have them. I just have to go back and look for something in 2020, which, if I was still working from home and it had been a paper copy, I wouldn't have been able to do that because it would have been in storage.

So it's helped with pretty much everything — archived past invoices, having access to current invoices, so it's worked really well. 

Royce Morse: Yeah, it sounds like it was a great solution. Do you work with other folks in AP, or are you kind of a one-person shop there for AP?

00:16:00                     

Lynn Tate: I'm kind of a one-person shop, although we have another company within our company that's called Life Beyond Barriers Rehabilitation Group. Basically, what it is, is it's two rehab centers. There's on in Travers City, one in Grand Rapids — both Michigan, of course. The controller wanted someone dedicated to handle that, so that particular side of my work went to someone else, and so that I was originally doing AP for about nine entities, just myself. I always say I'm the Lone Ranger.

00:16:48

Yeah, so that part, all the LBB companies went over to somebody else, and I work in conjunction with him. I had to do all of his training and do all of that, so he's just one of the other financial accountants that the controller wanted to have his eyes on the stuff for those particular clinics. 

Royce Morse: I'm guess that if you had a whole team of people you were working with, this transition might have been more difficult, so it was probably a good thing that you were a one-person shop because you could get it all set up and get it running and not have to try to deal with other people's connections and permissions and all that sort of thing.

Lynn Tate: Correct. And had it been something like that, I think I would have pushed for a supplemental system to work with our accounting system so that it would all be integrated.

00:17:53

But because we're such a small, privately owned company, there hasn't been a need for that type of technology at this point, even though we're a technology company. What we've got now is working fine, although I wouldn't mind having something like that. 

Royce Morse: Well, if and when the day comes, you will know, I'm sure.

Lynn Tate: Oh, yeah.

Royce Morse: Let's future cast a little bit. What do you see going forward? What are the lessons that you've learned from this whole COVID thing? How are they informing your decisions about how to do what you do, now and in the future?

00:18:39                     

Lynn Tate: Well, actually, I will be retiring in 2025. I foresee being able to train someone to do my job, and to do it well. Of course, that's the whole teacher background. This should be a lot easier just working with just one person. At that point, I see, perhaps, he or she will make some changes based on what they feel is necessary at that time. Perhaps, at some point, once we've recovered some of our clients who kind of stepped back a little bit because of the pandemic, that there may be a need for maybe more than one person. Well, there's two of us, but I'm considered the main person. There may be a need to add more to the staff, so what my plan is, is I want to make sure that the person who takes over my position is trained so well that I'll be able to just step away, and he or she will be able to just step in and pick up where I left off.

00:20:03                     

Royce Morse: That sounds ideal. You don't want to getting calls when you're retired: "How do I do this or that?" [laughter]

Lynn Tate: That I don't mind. Sometimes it happens that way because I can't cover everything. My position is so diverse as far as AP is concerned. The types of things that I handle are like nothing I've ever encountered before. And in fact, the controller is pretty sure it might take six months for someone to be trained to do my job.

Royce Morse: Well, yeah, especially if you are managing a lot of different tasks. You've just picked that up over the years, so someone coming in is going to have sensory overload because there's so much to learn.

00:20:52                     

Lynn Tate: Right. I'm trying to document everything. The last thing I want to do is put them in the position I was in when I started with the company because there really wasn't anything for me to go by, so I pretty much had to research what my position entailed, so that's the one thing I just do not want to do to somebody. So when he says six months, it's going to be intense, for sure.

Royce Morse: Yeah, you had to make it up as you went along, but this person, there are systems in place now and procedures and all of that sort of thing that you can share that will probably make that transition easier for the person.

What would you say to other people in AP, who may not have had the level of responsibility that you had in trying to cope with the pandemic, [about] how to prepare for the future? Because you never know. We could end up in another pandemic situation. There could be some massive outage of internet or something. You never know. What would you say to people about how to prepare yourself for the unexpected? 

00:22:08                     

Lynn Tate: I pretty much would tell them that they need to have a really good handle on what they do, how they do it, and what they can do to make it better if it comes to the point where we're back where we were before — as I always say: back to where I was before I got to where I am. I have a contingency plan in place, and I believe that that contingency plan is my SharePoint site. Should anything ever happen, everything is there. Or if for some reason something else — God forbid — happens, there may be a time where you're just going to be totally stopped, and you'll have to prepare to move forward without the benefit of the procedures that you currently have in place.

00:23:15 

So you have to have a backup plan, definitely. 

Royce Morse: For sure. I guess the nice thing about SharePoint, too, is that's cloud storage, right?

Lynn Tate: Correct.

Royce Morse: So that's all backed up and secure, and you don't have to worry about that. You don't have to worry about your computer glitching and your hard drive being destroying, or a virus, or whatever. That's all backed up for you.

Lynn Tate: Right. And then they can also — because it is a cloud-based program, if something where to happen with our particular company, I would probably be able to still work within SharePoint, if nothing else, just to log invoices and keep track of them until at some point the technology can come back up and I can do what I need to do.

00:24:17 

So that can always go on another laptop or a tablet, and I can just work from there. 

Royce Morse: Absolutely. So I guess the short version of what your advice would be for folks is: be ready for anything.

Lynn Tate: That's correct.

Royce Morse: Well, thank you for your time, Lynn. I've enjoyed speaking with you. I appreciate your insights, and I admire your creativity in finding a solution to the problem. I know a lot of people were absolutely flummoxed by it and just didn't know how to proceed, so you were very creative. Congrats to you.

00:24:53                     

Lynn Tate: Thank you.

Royce Morse: Thank you. I enjoyed speaking with you.

Grace Chlosta: Thank you so much for listening to the IOFM podcast. Remember to head on over to the Member Forum to discuss today's episode and provide ideas for our next one. And to stay up to date on IOFM's current events, both in-person and virtually, head on over to IOFM.com.

Continuing Education Credits available:

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Continuing Education Credits available:

Receive 1 CEU towards IOFM programs:

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