Accounts receivable reconciliation tips and strategies that businesses should know

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  1. Introduction
  2. How AR reconciliation works
  3. Why AR reconciliation is so important
  4. AR reconciliation challenges
    1. Data entry errors
    2. Unapplied cash
    3. Timing differences
    4. Customer record errors
    5. Bad debts
    6. Complex transactions
    7. Lack of reconciliation procedures
  5. Using technology for AR reconciliation
  6. Tips for effective AR reconciliation
    1. Preparation
    2. Frequency and timing
    3. Associated technology
    4. Reconciliation processes
    5. Adjustments and discrepancies

Accounts receivable (AR) reconciliation is an important accounting process that ensures a business's record of expected payments matches the money received. This process confirms that all customer payments are accounted for correctly in the company's books.

When a business sells a product or service, it often does so on credit, meaning that the payment is received after the sale takes place. Companies track these pending payments as accounts receivable. Reconciliation is the process of double-checking this tracking, in which businesses compare the accounts receivable ledger, which details what each customer owes, with the general ledger, which contains the company's overall financial records, in order to spot any mismatches or errors. AR processes can be time consuming for businesses: in one survey, 65% of businesses reported spending 14 hours per week on average completing administrative tasks related to collecting payments.

AR reconciliation helps provide an accurate picture of a business's financial health. Errors in AR reconciliation could cause a business to think it has more money coming in than it actually does, which can lead to the wrong business decisions. AR reconciliation should create accurate and trustworthy financial statements to guide these decisions.

Below, we'll cover what you should know about AR reconciliation: how it works, why it matters and best practices for reconciliation processes.

What's in this article?

  • How AR reconciliation works
  • Why AR reconciliation is so important
  • AR reconciliation challenges
  • Using technology for AR reconciliation
  • Tips for effective AR reconciliation

How AR reconciliation works

In AR reconciliation, a business compares two things:

  • Customers' unpaid invoices: The total amount that customers owe based on outstanding bills

  • The company's accounts receivable balance: The total amount that customers owe based on the general ledger

Here's a breakdown of the typical AR reconciliation process:

  • Gather documents: Collect all relevant documents, such as sales invoices, customer payment receipts, credit memos (issued for returns or discounts) and any other related records.

  • Compare entries: Compare entries in the accounts receivable ledger to the corresponding customer invoices and receipts. Match amounts between invoices and recorded receivables, identify duplicate entries and look for any errors in data entry, such as typos in amounts.

  • Investigate discrepancies: If there are mismatches between the two sets of records, investigate the reason for the difference. This might involve contacting customers to confirm invoice accuracy or payment status or reviewing internal processes to identify where discrepancies originated.

  • Record adjustments: Once you understand the cause of discrepancies, you may need to make adjustments to the accounts receivable ledger and customer accounts. This might involve correcting typos in amounts, removing duplicate entries or recording a write-off for uncollectible receivables.

  • Finalise reconciliation: After addressing all the discrepancies and making the necessary adjustments, conduct a final check that the balance in the accounts receivable ledger matches the amount reflected by the customer invoices.

Why AR reconciliation is so important

  • Financial reporting: AR reconciliation confirms that the amounts recorded in the company's books accurately reflect the money owed by customers. Accurate financial statements are important for internal decision-making, investor relations and regulatory compliance.

  • Cash flow management: When all payments are recorded accurately, a business can assess its cash flow correctly. This is important for budgeting, planning and managing day-to-day operations.

  • Error detection: Regular reconciliation helps identify errors and discrepancies in accounting records. These might be caused by data entry mistakes, unrecorded payments or other accounting oversights. The prompt detection and correction of these errors prevents them from being compounded and leading to larger financial inaccuracies.

  • Fraud prevention: Reconciling accounts receivable on a regular basis can help identify irregular patterns or anomalies that might indicate fraudulent activities or misappropriation of funds. Detecting these issues early can help mitigate financial losses.

  • Customer relations: AR reconciliation can reveal issues with billing or payments on the customer side. Addressing these issues promptly can prevent misunderstandings and disputes, and help maintain healthy customer relationships.

  • Audit readiness: In the event of a financial audit, it's important that a business has accurate and reconciled accounts receivable records. This demonstrates the company's commitment to financial accuracy and can reduce the time and resources spent on audit-related activities.

  • Strategic decision-making: Having access to accurate and up-to-date financial information means businesses can make better, more informed decisions about investments, expansions, cost cutting and other strategic moves. Understanding the state of receivables can help a business assess its financial health and plan for the future.

AR reconciliation challenges

AR discrepancies can misrepresent your financial health and disrupt operations. Here are some common causes of AR discrepancies, along with strategies for how to mitigate them.

Data entry errors

Manual entry is prone to human error, which can range from typos to entering information in the wrong accounts. Automating data entry systems or using accounting software can reduce these manual errors, as can regular staff training on data accuracy or periodic audits of the data entry process.

Unapplied cash

Sometimes payments are received but not immediately linked to a specific invoice, leading to discrepancies in the records. Address these errors by establishing a clear procedure for applying payments to invoices as soon as they are received and reviewing unapplied cash accounts regularly to ensure that all payments are attributed to the correct invoices.

Timing differences

Payments and invoices can be recorded in different periods, especially around the end of a month or fiscal year, which can lead to mismatches. Address this by implementing a cut-off policy that records all transactions in the correct accounting period. Regular reconciliation can also help in identifying timing issues quickly, and adjusting policies as appropriate.

Customer record errors

Sometimes, the amount a business records as receivable differs from what the customer shows as payable due to billing errors or misunderstandings. Maintaining open lines of communication with customers can help mitigate these kinds of errors. Send statements to customers on a regular basis and encourage them to report any discrepancies promptly.

Bad debts

Not all receivables are collectible. Customers may default, leading to discrepancies between expected and actual receipts. Address these kinds of errors by reviewing the accounts receivable ageing report regularly to identify overdue accounts, establishing a policy for managing and writing off bad debts, and considering provisions for doubtful accounts in financial planning.

Complex transactions

Special sales agreements, returns, discounts or allowances can complicate AR reconciliation. Proactively avoid these errors by developing policies for recording and tracking complex transactions.

Lack of reconciliation procedures

Without a structured reconciliation process in place, businesses may fail to notice discrepancies or address them only inconsistently. Establishing regular, systematic reconciliation procedures helps minimise errors. Develop a system in which roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, and create a straightforward process for investigating and resolving discrepancies.

Using technology for AR reconciliation

There is a variety of software and digital tools you can use to simplify and improve the accuracy of your AR reconciliation process. Ensure that any technology you use has strong security measures, such as encryption, access controls and regular security audits to protect sensitive financial data. Technology that is commonly used for AR reconciliation includes:

  • Data entry software: Software can automate the input of transaction data, directly extracting details from invoices and payments, and reducing manual errors.

  • Integrated accounting systems: Accounting software that integrates with other business systems – such as customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) – can help unify financial data across the business: when a sale is recorded, it automatically logs the corresponding receivable, and matches payments to invoices.

  • Real-time data processing: Systems that offer real-time data processing can reflect received payments immediately, maintaining records and facilitating timely reconciliation.

  • Digital payment platforms: Digital payment methods for customers can easily be tracked and recorded. They also often include automatic reconciliation features, which match received payments with the correct invoices.

  • Cloud-based accounting software: Cloud-based accounting software makes your financial data accessible from anywhere, allowing for more flexible reconciliation processes and real-time collaboration between multiple team members.

When choosing technology for your AR reconciliation processes, look for options with the following features to further simplify operations and improve accuracy.

  • Reporting and analytics: Technology with strong reporting features can help you quickly identify discrepancies and payment patterns and assess financial health. Advanced analytics can predict future trends based on historical data and can help with strategic decision-making.

  • Automated reminders: Systems that automatically send reminders to customers about upcoming or overdue payments can improve cash flow and reduce the number of overdue accounts, simplifying the reconciliation process.

  • Scheduling: Using software that can schedule regular reconciliation processes means these processes are performed consistently.

Tips for effective AR reconciliation


  • Data verification: Before starting the reconciliation process, verify that all data sources are accurate and up to date. The entries in your AR ledger and general ledger must be complete and reflect all recent transactions. On occasion, take a close look at your financial data beyond the regular checks; this could reveal trends or recurring issues that aren't obvious but that could affect the accuracy of your financial records.

  • Checklist: Develop a comprehensive checklist that outlines all the steps and data points required for the reconciliation process. This ensures consistency and thoroughness in each reconciliation cycle.

  • Team coordination: Coordinate with all relevant team members and departments to ensure that they understand their roles in the reconciliation process.

Frequency and timing

  • Scheduling: Determine the optimal frequency for your reconciliations – daily, weekly, monthly, etc. More frequent reconciliations can help to identify and address discrepancies promptly.

  • Strategic timing: Time your reconciliations strategically with your business cycle and financial reporting requirements. For instance, conducting a thorough reconciliation at the end of each month or quarter can provide you with timely insights for making financial decisions.

  • Event-triggered reconciliations: In addition to regular reconciliations, consider reconciliations triggered by specific events, such as after a major sales event or major client acquisition or before making important financial decisions.

Associated technology

  • Customised software: Customise your reconciliation software to fit your business's specific needs. This could mean setting up the software to automatically recognise and categorise different types of transactions in a way that makes sense for your company.

  • Digitally linked departments: Make sure that the systems used by sales, finance and customer service can talk to each other and create a comprehensive overview of your business's finances.

  • Predictive reconciliation: Implement predictive analytics to forecast future payment behaviours based on past trends. This can help you anticipate discrepancies before they occur, contributing to proactive reconciliation and better cash flow management.

  • Blockchain: Explore the use of blockchain technology to create an immutable ledger for your transactions, with greater payment transparency and traceability.

  • AI-driven anomaly detection: Use artificial intelligence to detect anomalies and learn from them, improving the system's ability to identify and flag issues based on the context and specifics of your business operations.

  • Collaborative reconciliation platforms: Use platforms that enable real-time collaboration among team members from different departments, facilitating immediate discrepancy clarification and resolution.

  • Enhanced visualisation tools: Use advanced data visualisation tools to represent reconciliation data in an intuitive way, helping to quickly identify patterns or anomalies that may not be apparent in traditional spreadsheet formats.

  • Anomaly detection: Use technology that can pick up on unusual transactions or patterns, helping you catch issues early.

Reconciliation processes

  • Human oversight: While automation can improve efficiency and handle routine tasks, retain human oversight for interpreting anomalies or complex situations.

  • Dynamic rule sets: Develop dynamic rules within your reconciliation system that adapt over time, based on the evolving patterns and transaction complexities. As the system processes more data, it will become smarter and more tailored to your business.

  • Micro-reconciliation: Break down the reconciliation process into smaller, more manageable parts, focusing on specific types of transactions or time frames, which allows for deeper scrutiny and quicker resolution of specific issues.

  • Non-financial data: Incorporate non-financial data into the reconciliation process to provide additional context for financial transactions. This could include data from customer interactions, service delivery metrics or operational benchmarks, thereby offering a more comprehensive view of each transaction.

Adjustments and discrepancies

  • Root cause analysis: When your system identifies discrepancies, conduct a root cause analysis to understand why they occurred. This can help you make informed adjustments and prevent similar issues from happening in the future.

  • Documentation: Maintain detailed records of any adjustments made during the reconciliation process, noting the nature of the discrepancy, the adjustment made in response, and the rationale behind it.

  • Continuous improvement: Use the insights gained from resolving discrepancies to refine your reconciliation processes and business practices. This could involve updating your reconciliation checklists, improving data collection methods or strengthening communication among team members.

The content of this article is for general information and education purposes only and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. Stripe does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, completeness, adequacy or currency of the information in the article. You should seek the advice of a competent lawyer or accountant who is licenced to practice in your jurisdiction for advice on your particular situation.

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