Payables and FCPA Compliance

Payables and FCPA Compliance

The arm of the law is not only long but patient and painstaking. This month, the U.S. Department of Justice charged a former account manager for Swedish telecom giant Ericsson with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The one-time Ericsson employee facilitated the payment of $2 million to two high-ranking officials in Djibouti between 2010 and 2014.

The charges come 21 months after a subsidiary of LM Ericsson pleaded guilty on a charge of conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, and Ericsson itself paid more than $1 billion for this and other violations. So what exactly is the FCPA, and what does it have to do with accounts payable?

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 (FCPA) is a federal law against bribery and false accounting. And bribes, like every other payment outside of payroll, exit the organization through accounts payable (AP).

It is illegal for U.S. citizens and companies to offer a foreign official anything of value to gain an unfair advantage or influence business decisions. And FCPA’s accounting provisions make it a criminal offense to falsify books and records and fail to maintain internal controls.

False Contract and Invoices

In the Djibouti case, an Ericsson account manager participated in a scheme to bribe two government officials and a high-level executive in the state-owned telecommunications company. The plan involved a phony consulting contract and fake invoices. The aim was to obtain a contract with the local telecom worth nearly $24 million.

That was a violation of the FCPA. Not only did the company pay fines, but the DOJ is going after the individual involved. The DOJ has jurisdiction in criminal acts, whereas the SEC is authorized to investigate civil matters under the law. Thus, violators face criminal or civil penalties. The DOJ and the SEC have assessed massive fines against companies convicted under FCPA and sentenced executives to jail.

The AP Department’s Responsibility

AP pays the bills and handles expense reimbursements. Business courtesies, such as gifts, meals, entertainment and travel, are common and legitimate in doing business at home and overseas. But there are, or should be, limits on such courtesies. According to Foley & Lardner LLP, a survey of Fortune 500 companies found gift and entertainment limits are standard policy, typically being less than $250. And while paying for certain travel can be legitimate, say, flying clients to visit a plant or project site, paying for clients’ and spouses’ all-expense-paid weekend in Las Vegas or Monte Carlo is not.

AP staff should be made aware through training of all compliance responsibilities, including the FCPA. An AP staffer should know that if she receives an expense reimbursement request or series of requests that look suspect, she should flag it for the manager’s review. The AP manager should escalate to the controller as necessary. And if asked to ignore concerns or “just pay it,” by senior management, ask that those instructions be put in writing, at least in an email.

Besides T&E, there is the possibility of phony contracts or vendors, as in the Ericsson case, which is why internal controls are essential, whether at vendor onboarding or invoice processing and approval. Vendor validation (including of consultants) should be part of the onboarding process prior to entering an entity into vendor master file. If there are concerns about a vendor or more often an invoice that shows up from a new vendor for “services” that seems suspect, question it. Particularly in a “rush” scenario, AP should not circumvent controls unless it has compensatory controls. Controls are there for a reason.

AP has a fiduciary responsibility to the organization. It is the final set of eyes on payments before they go out the door, the last line of defense against fraud. AP has a significant role in compliance, whether with the IRS, OFAC or the FCPA. Be vigilant about unusual T&E or vendor invoices.

Click here for a Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

For help with Vendor Onboarding, contact us.


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Stop Calls and Emails, Enhance
Service and Increase Profit!

InvoiceInfo saves labor hours and cost by helping suppliers and internal staff easily and instantly get answers online to their invoice-payment questions.

If you are like many finance leaders today, you are being challenged to reduce costs more quickly. InvoiceInfo delivers real bottom-line results almost immediately, allowing you to deploy your customer service staff to focus on more productive, bottom-line oriented tasks.

Let us show you how InvoiceInfo's vendor self-service portal can help your organization eliminate invoice inquiry emails and calls while enhancing service to your accounts payable customers.


Get Up and Running Quickly and Seamlessly

InvoiceInfo and VendorInfo are standalone applications that can be up and running in as little as two weeks, with little or no IT resources required.

The faster your online portal is up and running, the sooner you will start reaping the benefits. InvoiceInfo and VendorInfo are dedicated solely to helping AP and procurement departments slash the time and expense of servicing vendors, while improving customer service for their suppliers.

InvoiceInfo and VendorInfo are simple solutions with big results. They are easy to implement and easy to use. Here’s how one customer described the process: “You give vendors a URL, provide instructions about what they need to know and tell them to go use it.” It really is that easy.


Improve Productivity with a Self-Service Solution

For most organizations, deploying a technology solution is a significant investment, and like most investments, the decision point ultimately comes down to the expected return on that investment.

According to a recent benchmark study by The Accounts Payable Network, 60% of AP customer service calls are from vendors while 40% are from internal customers. Vendor issues actually make up even more of the AP call volume than the 60% identified. Many times when a vendor has an issue, the vendor contacts their buyer or purchasing representative, who in turn contacts AP. Even though the call comes from an internal customer, the question originated with the vendor.

Vendor calls affect productivity in your organization exponentially. When vendors call the requisitioner, they are affecting that person’s productivity. Your internal customer’s productivity shrinks when fielding the vendor’s call and again when making the follow up call to AP and getting back to the vendor. Finally, AP’s productivity suffers as a result of the internal customer’s call, the payment status research and the follow-up communication.

With a minimal investment of IT time and talent, you can start reducing customer service calls and expense in a matter of weeks. In addition, you improve vendor relations since you are giving your vendors what they want — answers to their questions immediately — a win-win for everyone involved!


Easy and Economical Solution to Serve Vendors Around the World

InvoiceInfo can help you provide best-in-class customer service to your vendors around the world at a fraction of the cost.

Many organizations today have offices and operations throughout the world and are dealing with many time zones, different languages, and in some cases multiple ERP systems. InvoiceInfo currently supports different languages and can easily work with multiple ERP systems in different locations.

The key to good customer service is to provide the information that the customer wants when they want it. Whether your customer is a vendor waiting for a payment or a colleague that needs information on payment status, they want their information right away. If your organization has vendors and offices in other countries, they can be challenging and expensive to serve. But, with InvoiceInfo, your international vendors and internal customers can access the information they need when they need it.

With InvoiceInfo, you won’t have to staff your customer service team with 24-hour coverage in multiple languages to provide high-quality customer service around the world.


Enhance AP’s Role As a Strategic Partner

Learn how InvoiceInfo can help AP do more with less while continuously improving productivity and bottom-line results.

Many automation technologies such as scanning, workflow, e-invoicing, ACH, and electronic invoicing require significant investments of money, time and talent, making it difficult to get buy-in from upper management. Not InvoiceInfo!

If your goal for your AP department is to reduce costs quickly, call or email us today to learn more about how InvoiceInfo can help you achieve this goal through a quick, inexpensive and easy implementation of a vendor self-service portal.


Enhance Vendor Relationships

InvoiceInfo helps suppliers’ AR departments with simple and convenient access to invoice payment status online at a cost savings for all involved.

It may seem that the organization paying the vendor should hold all the cards in the relationship. But sometimes the opposite is true. Past-due payments and customer service perceptions can harm supplier relationships and disrupt the supply chain.

Your vendors and vendor relationship managers are living in a dynamic, fast-paced environment, so when invoice information is required, it is needed quickly and expected to be of high quality. With InvoiceInfo, your suppliers get answers to invoice inquiries real time, 24/7 with no need to leave messages and wait for responses. Studies show that confidence in data increases when suppliers access invoice and payment information themselves.


Give Procurement and Buyers the Tool They
Need to Respond to Vendors Quickly

Not only can InvoiceInfo be used by suppliers to learn the status of invoice payments, it can also be used internally within your organization.

In addition to reducing calls from vendors regarding invoice status, you can also reduce internal emails and calls from co-workers wanting to learn the status of invoice payment, and save time and effort and boost efficiency and productivity across the organization. Studies show that 40% of AP customer service calls are from internal customers. Many of these are from requisitioners who have received calls or emails from the supplier checking on payment status. These calls are often more expensive for the company because the internal staff member has taken the call or received an email from the supplier, contacted AP for the payment status and had to return the call or email the supplier.

By providing the vendor with a convenient and credible online option to get the answers it needs regarding payment status, you can eliminate multiple calls/emails between the vendor and the requisitioner saving time and money.


Eliminate Difficult Vendor Calls and See
Productivity and Staff Morale Soar

Reduce invoice payment inquiries and “promote” your vendor service team to more satisfying and profit-producing tasks.

By sharply reducing inbound calls and emails regarding receipt and payment status that your AP staff must handle individually, your staff can focus their efforts on more productive, cost-saving activities, learn new tasks, feel more confident and boost their careers.

According to a recent American Express survey on customer service, more than one-third of consumers have lost their temper with a customer service professional in the past year. Of those who lost their temper, three in ten “hung up the phone.” Your staff will no longer have to deal with difficult collectors who can be upsetting and disruptive. Your staff will feel that their time and talents are being put to better use and will feel better about themselves, their jobs and their organization. Reducing these calls can be a real productivity and morale booster for your AP department!


Simplify and Streamline Vendor Onboarding

According to Price Waterhouse Coopers, the average organization spends about $20 in labor to file each paper document, approximately $120 in labor searching for each misfiled document and $220 in re-creation of a document.

Wouldn’t it be great to have all your W-9’s, W-8’s and other registration documents completed online and instantly filed online for easy access when needed? With Vendor Self-Service Onboarding Module, VendorInfo, you can onboard your new vendors in one convenient location and eliminate paperwork and hassles.


Verify the Accuracy of Vendor Information and Stay in Compliance with IRS and Treasury Department Regulations

Government regulators are increasing the complexity of regulations and penalties associated with vendor-related non-compliance.

Penalties for incorrect 1099’s have more than doubled in recent years. Over the last several years, OFAC has levied more than $1 billion in fines against American companies or subsidiaries that did business with restricted businesses, organizations and individuals on its SDN list. In addition to fining these companies, the Treasury Department posts the names of infringing organizations along with fines paid.

VendorInfo Onboarding Module verifies the accuracy of vendor information and helps protect your organization by avoiding embarrassing penalties and fines.

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