Reflecting on IOFM Spring with Debra Richardson: Key Takeaways and Event History

June 17, 2024


31 min
Whether you're a seasoned professional or new to the field, Debra's insights are sure to inspire and inform. Don't miss this deep dive into the highlights and takeaways from this spring’s conference!
Debra Richardson
Grace Chlosta, Content Manager, IOFM

In this episode, we sit down with Debra Richardson, a beloved and long-time speaker at IOFM events. Known for her engaging sessions on fraud prevention, vendor master file management, and the integration of AI in accounts payable, Debra has become a crowd favorite over the years. Join us as Debra shares her journey into the world of public speaking, her extensive experience with IOFM conferences, and why she believes attending these events is crucial for staying ahead in the industry. Whether you're a seasoned professional or new to the field, Debra's insights are sure to inspire and inform. Don't miss this deep dive into the highlights and takeaways from this spring’s conference!

Debra Richardson

Debra is an accounts payable speaker, consultant, and trainer with over 20 years of experience in AP, AR, GL, and financial reporting for Fortune 500 companies. For over a decade, Debra has focused on Global Vendor Maintenance. A Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Debra works with vendor teams to add authentication, internal controls, best practices and validations to prevent fraud, fines, and bad vendor data.

She is the President of the Central Atlantic Region IOFM Chapter and the IOFM Ask the Expert for the Vendor Master File category. She has a YouTube channel and a podcast, “Putting the AP in hAPpy”.

Grace Chlosta
Content Manager, IOFM

Grace Chlosta joined the Institute of Finance & Management (IOFM) in 2022 in a new role for the team as the Content Manager. She is responsible for the planning, organization, development, and implementation of all the content for IOFM’s digital products and (virtual and in-person) events. Grace is committed to ensuring that IOFM’s content stays timely, relevant, and actionable for all financial operations professionals, and works closely with a team of content developers, industry leaders, and subject matter experts to guarantee this happens.

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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'll be interviewing Debra Richardson. Debra is an accounts payable speaker, consultant, and trainer, with over 20 years of experience in AP, AR, GL, and financial reporting for Fortune 500 companies. For over a decade, Debra has focused on global vendor maintenance. A Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE), Debra works with vendor teams to add authentication, internal controls, best practices and validations to prevent fraud, fines, and bad vendor data. 


She is the president of the Central Atlantic Region IOFM Chapter and the IOFM Ask the Expert for the Vendor Master File category. She has a YouTube channel and a podcast, "Putting the AP in hAPpy." She'll be interviewed by me, Grace Chlosta, Content Manager at IOFM. I joined IOFM in 2022 in a new role for our team as the content manager. I'm responsible for the planning, organization, development, and implementation of all content for IOFM's digital products and events. I'm committed to ensuring that IOFM's content stays timely, relevant, and actionable for all financial operations professionals, and I work closely with a team of content developers, industry leaders, and subject matter experts to guarantee this happens.


All right, good morning, Debra. How you doing today? 

Debra Richardson: Good morning, Grace. I am doing fine. I hope you are, too.

Grace Chlosta: Yeah, absolutely. We're recording on a Friday, so happy Friday to you.

Debra Richardson: Well, happy Friday to you – TGIF. Although my favorite day of the week is Monday, so I always do TTIM. [laughter]

Grace Chlosta: Oh, that's good of you. Mine's still Friday. [laughter] Well, we're so excited to have you today. we're going to do a little bit of a recap on our spring conference. It just happened a couple of weeks ago. Time is flying by. So giving us a little bit of time to kind of reflect, and I wanted to learn a little bit more about your history with the conference, and kind of how this one compared to previous events, and kind of some our key takeaways. I thought that'd be a good way to spend some time today.

Debra Richardson: I think so, too, because many may not know. I had a history, a real history, with the conferences with the conferences before I started being a speaker, so this'll be fun.

Grace Chlosta: Yeah, that's super exciting to learn about. Let's go ahead and get started with the history. So tell me about how you kind of found AP, how you found IOFM, and kind of give us that brief rundown of how it all started.


Debra Richardson: Well, you know, like most folks that end up in AP – and I say "end up," but I absolutely love it. But most people that get to AP, there's a roundabout way that happens, and that happened to me. I was always in financial reporting, and so I never really had gotten into AP until I got a comptroller's position, and so I'm like, okay, so this is AP. I need some education, need some help with that. So I found what's now IOFM, with the AP education. At that time, I don't remember what the certification was, but I became certified in 2013, and the real driver of that is not only did I fall into AP, but I ended up building an AP department from the ground up, but then I wanted to move to a bigger company, too, and so the certification was a part of that, as well as just education in the current trends in accounts payable.


So I got my certification, again in 2013. It actually did help me land my AP senior manager job at my next position at Verizon, and so I started going to the conferences as an attendee, and I've been going there since 2014 as a practitioner. The main reason why – so not just the fact that you get a lot of CEUs – because you've got to maintain that certification – but I really wanted to see what was new, what the trends were. In the current position I was at, we were looking at just streamlining some of our processes. And I don't talk about it a lot, but I was also over payment for two and a half, maybe three, years. We had a lot of payments. 


Between payments and the global vendor maintenance that I was also over, I wanted to just go to the exhibitors' room and see who had platforms that could help me. That was really the big thing, and then also talking to practitioners as well. That was really good. 

I've got a story, too, about when I was a practitioner. That was really the first time I started to speak at the conferences, because we implemented a vendor software registration portal. Grace, you don't want me to tell you what happened. 

Grace Chlosta: Maybe I do! [laughter]


Debra Richardson: The first time that I was asked to teach – I love that. I wasn't yet a consultant, hadn't been doing a lot of speaking, but I had done something. They were like, "Hey, come talk about it." I'm like, "Sure." And I don't even remember what year that was, but the prior couple of years or so I had gone to the conference, looking for a vendor software registration portal. And again, when you're looking for stuff like that and you go to conferences, you go into the exhibitors' hall and you talk to everyone that has a platform that meets what you want.

It was actually really good because I got a lot of demos, but we ultimately went with a provider, and so I went through that whole journey. So, yeah, I'll come and talk about that journey. You want to know how that went? 

Grace Chlosta: Yeah, I do.


Debra Richardson: Just sometimes, right, we're practitioners, we're doing the job, so we know how to do the job, and then you have to go and talk about the job. I had a session. I only had one session. I went to the conference, did my normal thing, but I had a session. The name of the session was "Journey to a Vendor Software Registration Portal," or something like that was the title.

I don't remember what day it was on, but the days that it wasn't on before the session, I was so nervous. I do know now that the fact of you being nervous is really a good sign, because that means you want to do a good job. It doesn't mean that you don't do it. It means that you want to do a good job. I would like to say that as great as I was with the implementation of that portal, talking about it did not go off so good. I was so bad. I even had – oh, my God. 


What I should've done is I should've gone in ahead of time, because it was the first time I was presenting at an IOFM conference. I wasn't used to the laptop and the platform that was being used for it, and the fact that it had a separate – what's that thing called? A projector for it. I hadn't really gone on it earlier and kind of tested what that would look like, as far as how I would present on it, especially because I had a video that I wanted to play. And now I know I'm supposed to tell you when I have a video, but I didn't tell anybody that. 


And it was a really good video because as a part of our journey we created this video for all of our internal team members to get really pepped and hyped up on, as much as you can get them pepped and hyped for a new platform to come on. But it was a really great video and I was like, "Yes, I'm going to play this!" So I couldn't figure out where to move it to get it on the projector so that it would project to everyone. It wouldn't play. You couldn't hear the sound. And then I don't know what I did, but everything went blank. You know how people will give the attendees – they're really great. AP folks are really great. 

Grace Chlosta: They understand for the most part.

Debra Richardson: They understand. They will understand up to a point, so when you get to the point where you're like five, ten minutes trying to figure stuff out up there, people start going to get – they start leaving. Maybe they'll come back. Maybe they won't.

Grace Chlosta: Get a coffee.

Debra Richardson: Oh, my God. It was so bad. But what ended up happening is people started asking questions kind of on their own. It turned out fine. But in answering those questions, it really did kind of give them what they wanted to hear. It wasn't what I necessarily wanted to plant or wanted to talk about in the order that I wanted to talk about it in, but the ones that stayed ended up asking enough questions for the entire session that I was able to give them what they wanted. But it definitely was not the way that I had planned for it.

It doesn't mean that I shouldn't have done it, because I actually grew from that. What I did learn is that whenever I go into a new conference area or a new conference, new areas, new equipment, I need to test it first, because it might not go as planned.


Grace Chlosta: You can be as prepared as you possibly can be, but technical issues can always derail – but it can only go up from there. That's a hilarious first story to start with, now seeing where you are today, you know what I mean? And also sometimes those networking sessions – we hear all the time, especially from some of our newer speakers, who maybe don't fill the whole time and they leave a little bit more time for Q&A, sometimes those conversations can really make the conference for some attendees. So it might not have been that bad.

Debra Richardson: Yeah, so that was – and I came back and I did more, so that's great. It didn't stop me from doing things in the future. Overall, it was a learning experience. But I really still kept coming back to the conferences as an attendee. One of the things that I really liked about it is – and I'm sure this is true for a lot of IOFM members as well – you may have a big team and not everyone will get approval to go to the conference. Somebody has to stay and do the work.


And so I had a team of 17. I was the one that was going to the conference. So what I did was I would go – you go to all of the exhibitors in the exhibitor hall, and they all had this great flag. I would get all the flags, and I would always take my bigger luggage so I could bring all the flags back. My team members would always wait for me to come back, because I would bring that big bag and I'd put it in the middle of the table, and they'd all come get their flags. 

Grace Chlosta: That's awesome.

Debra Richardson: Yeah, so that was really good. But, again, I really like going to the conferences, especially for the fact – and still, to this day, I like going to see who in the exhibitors' hall who has what, what's new.


And I also love talking to, in real life, the other practitioners to see what pain points they have. And when I was a practitioner, too, I would talk to them about the pain points that I had to see how they solved them. You guys always have some type of breakout session that'll bring folks with the same pain points together, and so that was always really good. So, yeah, I enjoy it. 

Grace Chlosta: I'm so happy. It really is true. It's really to go to stay current, to attend the sessions, but then so much here, time and time again – kind of what I just said – those times when you can network and get your information from your peers, commiserate in a way [about] some of the things that are plaguing you, and then talk about ways to help fix those things and get that information. Maybe if three months down the line you're having an issue, you can reach out to someone who's in a similar situation to you. I feel like that's so pivotal to these events.


Debra Richardson: Yes. And I will tell you – I didn't do this, but a couple years back I talked to an attendee and what she had said is that she had been part of one of the breakout rooms or breakout sessions where you bring people of similar pain points together. What that group ended up doing is they ended up getting like an email list so that they could talk further once they got back from the conference, so they can keep in touch. I think, for that particular one, they were implementing like the similar portal, and so they wanted to just kind of make sure they had someone to reach out to, to see how they solved the particular issue that may have come up. You know when you're implementing things, you always have this one way you think it's going to go, and it might go that way, but it's going to take several diversions before it actually gets there, and it's always great to have someone to talk about that with that's experiencing the same thing.


Grace Chlosta: Yeah, it's really important. I feel like we break them out by different groups each time, and I know we had done it by ERP in the past, and people really enjoyed that, especially for that exact reason of the pain points that come later, throughout the year, so that's a really great point.

Tell me a little bit about this conference. Being a speaker at IOFM, what has that been like for you? How did it kind of go for this events, and what are you looking forward to in the future? 

Debra Richardson:   Yeah, so after I left as a practitioner, I kind of went out on my own, really focusing on the vendor setup and maintenance process, and so when I come now as a speaker I come and I do sessions related to vendor setup and maintenance. And so I do that at both the spring and the fall conferences. I did that at the recent spring conference. Florida could have turned off the humidity while we were there.


Grace Chlosta: Oh, wouldn't that have been nice. [laughter] I wish!

Debra Richardson: It was good, especially the – what was the event that was in the marina part? It was really nice there, against the water.

Grace Chlosta: Actually, that evening was great weather. There was a breeze. We got a little bit of a reprieve, which I was thankful for. I think everyone was thankful for that.

Debra Richardson: Yes. That was a nice event. It was right by the water. It was towards the evening, so it wasn't as hot and humid. But the other times they probably could've turned that off, but that's okay.


This time, I think for the first time, I had four sessions instead of three. I did the workshop, which the first day – well, the preconference day is when all the certifications and workshops take place. So I did a half-day workshop. I also did something on AI like at the user level. And then I did a deep dive into the recent frauds and scam alerts that we've seen, and some practical ways at the user level that you can avoid them. And then, for the first time, I introduced – and I hope it went over well – customized vendor validation. I had a bunch of validations out there that I gave to all the attendees, but then we walked through how to identify what you need for your specific company. 


I see all the time where they're either not doing the correct validations, or they're doing validations that really don't even apply, because maybe they did it at the company before so they go to the next company and do the same thing. That was the first time we did that. I think it went over well. I enjoy going to the sessions because I really enjoy talking to practitioners now to see what their pain points are, but I also like attending sessions because I always learn something new. 

Grace Chlosta: What did you get to attend this time around? It's always so interesting to learn about.

Debra Richardson: I – innocently, right – went into – there was a session, and I think it was called "The 12 Steps of Fraud Prevention," or something. So with fraud I'm going to go in. It was for both AR and AP attendees, and it was packed. It was good. But I found a seat because I came a little late. I think I had a session right before it.


But I got in within like five minutes or so, so I sat down. I tell you, I learned a couple of things about the AR folks. 

Grace Chlosta: That's awesome.

Debra Richardson: I don't know when they were talking about it, but two things. One, an AR team member said that she had definitely been told not to validate banking over the phone, and so I'm jumping back a little because I already the confirmation call is not enough alone when there's a change to vendor banking, or really a change to vendor remittance address if it's a check payment, because processors are not only after electronic payments, but they're after checks, too. So I've always known that a confirmation call is not enough when there is a change. You really need to surround it with other controls.


But what I didn't know – and I had actually kind of been told this, but by just one person in the past – that when they try to confirm the banking changes, they're told that the folks they contact (be it AR or another contact at the vendor's company) have been told not to validate banking over the phone. But this is the first time that I heard it from an AR team member and then brought that up within the session. So I'm like, okay, so now you really need to have other controls, best practices, authentication techniques in place if they've been told not to validate banking over the phone. 


But when you think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense, because they don't know who we are calling, either. We're just calling over the phone, asking to verify your banking. It was like, "What?" And some companies are very big and the person that requested it is not necessarily the person. And it's best practice not to contact the person that requested it anyway, in case that was a fraudulent request, but then it also means you're calling someone out of the blue, right, saying, "Here, can you verify this banking request?" So that was one, because I had never heard of that from the vendors or the AR side before. 

And then the second one was from an AP team member. That team member said that they record the confirmation call. That sparked – like 100 hands came up at the same time because they were like, "Did you get their permission? What state are you in? Are you breaking any laws?" 


You just hear things that you may not think of from other people that are attending the same sessions that you are that really make you think, and that might be something that you can see if you can implement at your company, or in the case of the AR team member that said they've been told not to validate banking over the phone, now you know that you may run into that, too, and so you may need to put other controls or best practices in place in case you do. So it's always great to go and learn things like that. Even me as a speaker, it's great for me to hear that as well. 

Grace Chlosta: Yeah, that's really, really great advice. Tell me a little bit about the chapters. So I know you had mentioned to me in the past kind of: If you can't go to the events, chapters are a great way to kind of get your foot in the door and kind of keep this networking conversation going. Did you have a chance to sit with the chapters that did attend this past event? And what was that like?


Debra Richardson: Yeah. I think it's very important to make sure that, especially for those folks that can't attend the conference – like I talked about my team members. I'd bring the swag back. But at that time I had started an Oklahoma Central Region Chapter so that they could at least go to chapter meetings and kind of give the experience – not necessarily of the conference, but still give that networking opportunity, still give that opportunity to earn CEUs, to talk about pain points with colleagues from other companies, and that is still important today. I am the president of the Central Atlantic Region IOFM Chapter, and so we always have kind of quarterly meetings.


What I like to do when I go in as a speaker [is] in each one of my presentations I always have a slide on all of the IOFM chapters, especially this year because there is a new, very recent AR chapter. As a matter of fact, their first meeting is June 17, 2024. 

Grace Chlosta: Please attend if you would like to.

Debra Richardson: Yes. I not only this time included the slide on the chapters – and by the way, whenever I show that slide, there is always a few folks that have never heard of the IOFM chapters, so it's great. But this year, in addition to that slide, I also had – they had produced a flyer about the first meeting, so I had a flyer with the QR code. It was on the slide, but I also had a separate flyer that I put on the conference table, so when I advanced past the slide and they still wanted to get more information, they could go ahead and get more information on that. But, yeah, I always include a slide for the chapters.


What's great this year is that there was a table – actually, there were two tables where you go to eat. There was one that's always dedicated to like the Florida Chapter members because that's their home state. But this year, for the first conference, in the spring they added a second table for all other chapter leaders. Whenever we were there for breakfast or lunch, we would sit at that table, and that way any other chapter leaders that are attending could all sit together and just talk about: "What are you doing for your chapter? What kind of engagement do you have? What speaker do you have for your next meeting that maybe I can get for my next meeting that would be interesting for my chapter members as well?" 


So that was really great to have and just really great to talk to other chapter leaders, because, otherwise, we really don't have a venue to do that with or an outlet. 

Grace Chlosta: That's huge. I can't believe that was the first time one of our team members thought of what idea. And immediately we were all like, "Of course we should do that. I can't' believe we haven't been doing that yet. In your mind, you're like, "Oh, they'll find each other." But how could you? So it's great. We could have a few tables that are just dedicated to specific groups. So I'm glad that was a hit. That's really great to hear.

Debra Richardson: Yeah. And I will tell you, too, I was happy to see that. When it was suggested, it was like two weeks out from the conference, so it was like, "Can you get that done?" "Yes, we can get that done, so thanks for that." But in the past it was just us. If we knew a chapter leader and we knew that they were going to the conference, we would just kind of get together.


It reminds me, too, that – it was the chapter leader of the Texas Chapter, Virginia. We had been talking about something. I was like, "Are you going to the conference?" "Yeah, I'm going to the conference." I think it was two years ago in Florida. We met. We talked about some stuff. And then we went to the IOFM event that you guys always have the first night of the conference, and we took a picture. It's so funny because in the picture Virginia is sitting there, all business and nice. Me, though? I have a look on my face like I am about to cause some trouble. [laughter] I'm like, okay. So she is like the poster of the perfect president of an IOFM chapter, and I'm like I'm looking for something to get into. [laughter] 


Grace Chlosta: Those first-night events can go a couple different ways.

Debra Richardson: Yes, it can. It was very evident in that picture. It's so funny, too, because I posted it. When we got back, I posted it on LinkedIn and the IOFM groups that you have, and it was just hilarious.

Grace Chlosta: That is awesome. I love that. I need to go look at that. [laughter] Well, tell me any more key takeaways, anything that you would recommend to maybe people who were on the fence about joining, or attending rather, and just anything else that you would want to wrap us up with today.

Debra Richardson: Yeah, I think it is very worth it. I will tell you, I still enjoy going into the exhibitors' hall to see what is new, to see what they have available, because there are always new features of exhibitors that have been there in the past. They continue to – but they always have new features in their platform, so you need to know what those are, because that might be something that can help you.


And not only that, but there are always one or two new exhibitors there that have something that might be able to help you as well. Again, as a practitioner and even as a speaker, I go around to every booth to see what they have, to see what they're doing new, to see who's new, to understand what those trends are and those features are that can maybe help me or other practitioners that I know. So I think it's very important to go for that. 

I think it's very important to go to meet with folks. What I like to do is to say, "Hey, if you're going to go to the conference, let's eat at a table together for breakfast or for lunch." And if you don't do that, no problem at all. After you get your breakfast or lunch, just go in there and sit at a table with folks you don't know. I love doing that because you may strike up a conversation. You always have something in common. 


You might find out that they are doing the same thing you're doing. They may have some insight. But, if not, it's just great to talk with new folks, so I love that. And then, lastly, we talked about this before at the IOFM chapter meetings – for those folks that are unable to go to the conference, make sure that you sign up or become members of the IOFM chapter that is relevant for your state, so that they can earn CEUs, or you can earn CEUs at both the conference and the chapter meetings. 


Grace Chlosta: Absolutely. Such great advice. Thank you so much, Debra. This has been such a fun conversation. We should recap after every event, because we'll definitely see you in fall. [laughter]

Debra Richardson: I know. It was a really great event, and I am looking forward to the fall event in Vegas, in November.

Grace Chlosta: Yes, me too. Thank you so, so much. We will talk to you soon.

Debra Richardson: All right, thanks, Grace.

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

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