Email invoices tax compliant?Is your handling of invoices tax compliant? Receiving invoices by email is both a blessing and a curse. Which you get depends on how well set up you are.

For example, many of the accounts payable staff I talk with tell me that they hate getting email invoices. They have to print them out so they can be processed. Even companies that scan their invoices find themselves printing them out.

That’s an example of an organisation in the not-so-well-set-up category.

Other companies, those who have adopted an automated approach, say they not only welcome emailed invoices, they actively encourage them as they can easily forward them to their approvers electronically. Those approvers reply by email that the invoice is approved and may even enter the coding in the emailed document. Printing is eliminated entirely. Efficient, traceable and simple- or is it?

Clearly, invoices via email present problems as well as opportunities. Let’s take a look at both, starting with the problems.

Approvals via email

Emails can be easily edited. So if an invoice is sent from an approver, a staffer with bad intent and access could change the details. Details in the text could be altered or the invoice could be printed, changed and reattached.

Auditors are very concerned about email invoice approvals. They are not Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliant as there is no adequate reliable audit trail.

Multiple Invoices in One Attachment

Some suppliers may attach a file that contains more than one invoice. This means that the invoices will need to be split so that each can be approved and filed as an individual invoice. That, of course, takes staff time and opens the door to errors.


The department intending to adopt an emailed invoice capacity must first answer a number of questions. How will the email invoice be filed? Will it be stored in the email account or in a folder on the network? How will it be indexed? How can it be made accessible for the length of time to ensure its compliance with accounting and corporate governance rules?

So how do you work with email invoices?

The best solution is to make it part of your accounts payable automation.

With the proper solution, email invoices can be processed as easily as those submitted on paper. And at much lower cost.

That’s because paper invoices arrive inside envelopes that must be opened before the invoices can be scanned. Time spent doing that adds up and contributes toward your labour costs, not to mention the cost of buying a scanner.

And you can get by without buying one. Research shows that 72% of suppliers will send their invoices by email if asked. So if you receive

5000 invoices each month, 28% would arrive in paper form and if you spread this over twenty-two working days per month, that would be only 64 invoices a day.

You can scan that small number on your MFD copier and email the electronic copies to the same address your email invoices go to. 

What about those multiple invoices in one attachment?

A good automation solution will spot this straightaway and split the invoices into individual files automatically.

And illegal modifications?

You can avoid that by insisting that all your email invoices be sent in the PDF format. PDFs aren’t easily modified like invoices sent in Word, Excel or TIFF. And they can be easily created and viewed.

PDF files can also be converted to PDF/A standard which is the only electronic format recognised by the International Standards Organisation as being of archive quality.

To ensure that your vendors conform, simply prepare an automated email advising the supplier that the invoice attachment was invalid and providing instructions on preparing the invoice as a PDF.

Speaking of illegal modifications …

Because emailed invoices can be easily printed, modified and reattached, you’ll want to include the application of a digital signature. With one of those, the signature disappears if the file is modified. So if the invoice is printed and scanned back in, it won’t have a signature. The signature is applied in the process and cannot be replicated by users or suppliers so gives a high level of security.

My understanding is that invoices with a digital signature are SOX compliant.

Let’s face it

More and more email invoices are coming your way like it or not. But if you implement the correct processes now, you’ll be ready for them.

And as you see how much time and money you’re saving, you’ll never want to go back to the old way of doing things.