Freight forwarders and shipping executives have plenty on their minds these days. Years of extraordinary central bank intervention and cheap finance have fueled a massive increase in global manufacturing capacity, and put margins in global supply chains under pressure as never before. And there’s no apparent end in sight for foreign currency volatility.
Whether it’s the British pound’s dramatic post-Brexit vote crash to its lowest level against the US dollar in more than three decades, or the extended slide in the Chinese yuan, which has hit a six-year low, the global currency market continues to see big moves. Major G20 currencies rarely move more than a fraction of a percent in a day.
However, there have been small signs of change bubbling over with factors such as the US election, US interest rate moves and Chinese concerns over the effects of the strong dollar all working to positively influence currency rates and general sentiment.
The good news, if you look past the headline noise, is that the global economy isn’t going to come to a standstill any time soon, despite all the global instability. And, according to AFEX’s first annual State of International Payments Report, North American exporters and importers expect to make more international payments this year than they did in 2015. They also anticipate faster growth in international markets rather than domestic ones.
Challenges multiply rapidly when a business enters new markets and starts handling higher volumes of more complex international payments. Dealing with different banking and payment systems, and complying with different financial reporting requirements in multiple foreign jurisdictions – often with dynamic local tax laws and regulations – can be very costly and time consuming. One country might require a payer to utilize a SWIFT code, while a routing number might suffice elsewhere. And, payees may demand a myriad of payment methods.
That’s why a growing number of transportation, logistics, and supply-chain executives are partnering with leading global payments technology companies. Having an FX and risk management team at their disposal can make all the difference when they’re organizing shipments for people or corporations from all around the world. With margins cut to the bone, payments are an area where it’s easy to increase operational efficiency and improve service, by automating back office functions more seamlessly. And by managing currency exposure more effectively, automated payment systems can serve as one component to a currency risk mitigation strategy.
Payments-related challenges are often one of the biggest obstacles to rapid international expansion, so it’s important that a payments partner has a global footprint if they’re planning to expand overseas. Your provider should also have detailed knowledge of your business and your industry, so they can help plan your annual expenditures and currency exposures more efficiently.
Besides streamlining your service, the best global payment systems providers will provide unique, tailor-made solutions that account for your future needs. For example, the maritime industry has seen a surge in the utilization of prepaid cards that provide a robust and flexible solution for crew remittances. Maritime companies can initiate bulk wire payments on behalf of their crew in more than 150 currencies. With many crew members paid in US dollars and wired to non-USD accounts, there’s demand to provide wire transfer services to crews at a more affordable rate than traditional banks can offer.
Before engaging a global payments partner, here are some important considerations:
Automated payment infrastructure: Ensure the automated payments system can integrate with existing infrastructure through a developer-friendly application program interface (API). By integrating with a best-in-class global payments platform, clients can tailor their own interface to suit their needs, automate international payments and offer seamless functionality to their customers.
Access to the broadest range of currencies: Ensure the partner has global insight and experience in managing multiple foreign exchange exposures, including sending and receiving payments. For example, not all payment providers deal with China or offer exchange in either smaller or exotic currencies.
Risk management: Make sure there is a suitable risk and customized management strategy in place to mitigate the threat of currency risk. While spot or forward contracts are sufficient for the hedging requirements of most businesses, more sophisticated products such as options can help expand a business and smooth short-term fluctuations in exchange rates and their impact on payables and receivables.
Data protection: Be sure to inquire about what security protocols are in place to protect data and payments, such as TLS/SSL encryption. Dynamic, intelligent fraud protection systems can detect suspicious activity within an account and block payments temporarily, until the client can verify them.
Customer Service: Technology is only as good as the support and service backing it. Look for a global payments partner that fully understands your business model and can offer expert guidance when questions arise, ideally with a single, dedicated point of contact.
As we’ve learned since the onset of the eurozone crisis in the early 2000s, geopolitical events will continue to impact the major currencies of developed nations, particularly the larger trading partners and those affecting the shipping industry. While the pace of globalization may have slowed, more logistics and supply-chain executives are finding themselves facing important decisions when it comes to managing their firms’ international payments needs. And with several potential market-moving events on the horizon, developing and implementing an automated payments solution is of utmost importance.
Christian Spaltenstein is General Manager of the Americas at AFEX.