New Articles

From Execution to Insight: How Fintech is Shaping the Future of Accounts Payable

From Execution to Insight: How Fintech is Shaping the Future of Accounts Payable

From Execution to Insight: How Fintech is Shaping the Future of Accounts Payable

You have to spend money to make money. That’s an old adage, and it’s true. But actually making the payments takes up a lot of people’s time. It’s critical to your business operations, but it’s not why you’re in business. 

That means there are opportunity costs. You have to spend money on the spending of the money instead of on revenue-generating activities. 

There are also mindshare costs. Making vendor payments is a brute-force activity. Accounts payable (AP) teams are stuck on a hamster wheel, always having to scramble to get payments out the door and then reconcile them on the back end. They’re dealing with a lot of manual work and multiple partially-automated, partially-integrated systems. They spend a lot of time correcting errors. 

It’s all about execution and dealing with all kinds of administrative details along the way. They don’t have the systems and the visibility they need to work more strategically. 

But within the next ten years, AP will go from brute force execution to strategic decision-making, thanks to new fintech offerings. 

We haven’t really seen true fintech offerings for business payments in the market until recently. To make business payments efficiently, you need three things: money, infrastructure, and process. A true fintech brings all three.

Most companies today still make payments through their banks, and there’s no question that they are at the heart and the soul of payments. But banks only help with about one-and-a-half of those three things. They have all kinds of lending products that can help you fund your spending, so they can help with liquidity. 

They also have part of the infrastructure. They are chartered by governments to steward money and move money around. They invest significantly in licensing, regulatory compliance, networks to move money and data, and fraud protection.

But there’s one big piece of B2B payment infrastructure that they don’t have: vendor networks. That has meant that it has been up to each individual company to conduct its own enablement campaigns to move vendors to electronic payments. That’s holding companies back. 

Fintechs are now building B2B vendor networks at scale. Companies can plug right into them and start paying about 80 percent of their vendors electronically right out of the gate.

Where banks really fall down is in the area of process. Process automation is where technology companies, on the other hand, excel. We’ve seen a lot of ERP, procurement, and invoice automation vendors start to offer payments as an add-on. It makes sense because people are already using their software to automate the workflow that leads up to the point of payment. But the software providers do not have vendor networks or the ability to offer liquidity.

This is why making vendor payments is such a disjointed process. Up until recently, no provider has offered the combination of the “fin” and the “tech” needed to address the process from end to end.

Today’s fintechs deliver technology and services that take costs and inefficiencies out of the process. They give AP teams visibility into the status of approvals and payments. But most importantly, they free up mindshare for them to be able to use payments as a strategic lever.

AP teams can get out of the payments processing game and still have all the visibility and control they need to run the business. They have the insight they need to become a management- and decision-making group. They have time to think, versus just trying to keep things moving. 

They can use their knowledge of the inner workings of the company to contribute in any number of areas cash management, job cost accounting, and cost and process optimization. The efficiency gains, combined with increased rebates from leveraging the B2B vendor network to pay more vendors by card, can turn the back office from a cost center into a revenue generator. 

For far too long, companies have had to live with a set of back-office deficiencies that they are well aware of. They recognize the challenges of working with disparate systems. They know there’s too much manual, non-value-added work, and that the time-intensity on error remediation is significant. They’ve resigned themselves to these deficiencies because it’s been that way for decades, and there hasn’t been a better way. 

There is now. It’s been a long time coming because business payments are complicated. To really solve the problem, you need to be a true fintech with a complete set of assets the relationships with the banks and the credit card companies, the network, and the technology. You need to have them at scale because the volume of B2B payments is massive. It’s a new solution that’s been 50 years in the making. It means that vendor payments don’t have to be suboptimal anymore.

Rick Fletcher is Group President of Corpay Payables, which enables businesses to spend less through smarter payment methods.



6 B2B payment trends in 2022

CFOs face a daunting list of challenges in 2022: Managing cash flow and controlling overhead. Getting access to capital. Protecting the organization against fraud. Supply chain chaos. The Great Resignation and the talent shortage. Digital transformation.

How a business makes its payments touches on all of them.

The new imperatives of work from home drove more change in the long overlooked area of B2B payments than we’ve seen in decades. But there’s more room for improvement. This is a huge market–$22 trillion domestically–where banks still have 90% market share. The bank to fintech share shift movie we’ve seen in consumer payments over the past decade is really just beginning to play out in B2B. Here are some of the things I think we’ll see unfold in the year ahead:


Check use declines

Just a few years ago, over 50% of US B2B payments were made by check. Now we’re closer to 40%. That’s still a lot of checks, but the percentage will keep dropping. In Europe and LATAM, they don’t use checks, period. They have to transmit data to the government to report and remit VAT. They have to be able to transmit data across borders and banking systems. Imagine trying to do all that using paper.

Checks have persisted in US businesses because they are the only payment method that enjoys near universal acceptance. But as the whole world becomes more digital, maintaining manual check processes will become an increasingly unacceptable burden.

Greater focus on efficient processes

According to the 2022 AFP Payments Cost Benchmark Survey, efficiency–rather than cost savings–is now the top reason for moving to electronic payments. But just shifting to electronic payment types doesn’t create efficiency.

What does payment process efficiency look like? Technology that gives you a single workflow for any type of payment; centralization of digitized information in the cloud; support services such as error resolution, and outsourced vendor enrollment and data management.

Fintechs gain market share

There are a lot of companies in the check elimination business, but not all approaches are equally effective. Banks mainly offer check replacements such as cards or ACH. They’re not offering the combination of technology and services that companies need to become fully digital.

For example, enrolling vendors for electronic payments, and managing and securing their data has historically been a big obstacle to digitization. It can be cost prohibitive to do in-house. Fintech providers use both technology and services to offer a complete solution.

Cards see wider adoption

The percentage of card payments will rise because credit cards simply offer too many benefits to ignore.

On the customer side, you get an electronic process that reduces costs and makes expense tracking and reconciliation easier. Cards free up working capital, and generate rebates. They fight fraud–it’s easier to cancel payment, and to control spend through limits and category blocks.

On the vendor side, payments are received and cleared faster, and they don’t bounce, all of which means improved cash flow. You get better remittance data than you do with an ACH or even with a check. Perhaps more subtly, it enhances the image of your business when you’re big enough to accept credit cards.

Fighting fraud at scale

Criminals always follow the money. When money moved by stagecoach, they robbed stagecoaches. When it moved by train, we had train robbers. As money moves digitally and more people become computer literate, hackers are the new robbers.

Unfortunately today’s robbers enjoy all the same advantages of scale that legitimate businesses do. As it gets harder and harder for individual companies to keep up with fraud at scale, they’ll turn to payment service providers that take on the risk for them.

Blockchain yes, crypto not yet

Cryptocurrencies and NFTs made headlines in 2021. But, it’s still too early to fully understand how cryptocurrencies and blockchain/distributed ledgers will impact business payments.

Blockchain has made banks a tad bit uncomfortable with promises of being able to offer close to real-time transactions while reducing operational costs. In fact, FLEETCOR already partners with RippleNet in our global payments business. Their distributed ledger technology lets our clients pay their beneficiaries in hours instead of the days it would take using the SWIFT settlement network. For customers that are on RippleNet, all the KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti Money Laundering) information is vetted and there are bank accounts–not crypto accounts–on either side.

Cryptocurrencies still don’t have those required regulatory frameworks in place. Their untraceable nature, volatility, and lack of widespread acceptance are big challenges that must be overcome before we see mainstream business adoption.

In a nutshell

The digitization of B2B payments is happening. It will take a lot longer than it has with consumer payments, because change happens slower and the market is so big. There’s also more complexity. It’s not enough just to move the money electronically. You have to make all the surrounding processes electronic too.

In 2022, we’ll continue to see companies replace checks with electronic payments. But we’ll also see a growing realization that this isn’t true digital transformation.

Even if you’re making 100% of your payments via ACH and credit card, you still have people doing manual work that could be done much more efficiently through a full service payments provider. That reduces your costs, frees up people and capital, generates rebates, and makes your vendors happier because it’s more efficient for them too.

Rick Fletcher, Group President of Corpay Payables, entered the world of payables through leadership roles at Deloitte Consulting, GE Capital, and Comdata. His passion lies in helping customers operate better through making better decisions and gaining payment efficiency. Rick holds a degree in management from Northwestern University.

credit cards

Why Credit Cards Could Be the Next Big Opportunity in B2B Payments

With the advent of widespread remote work, businesses have made impressive leaps in eliminating checks and adopting electronic supplier payments. These changes primarily translated to increasing the number of ACH or Direct Deposit payments made. According to Nacha—the governing body for the ACH network—business-to-business payments for supply chains, supplier payments, bills, and other transfers increased by almost 11% in 2020. But as organizations adopt electronic payment processes, there’s another strategic opportunity for AP to consider: electronic credit card.

Most companies’ payments flow through AP, yet few AP departments today are making significant use of credit cards to their fullest potential. Historically, companies use credit cards as a decentralized way to manage expenses. In order to do their jobs, employees need to spend efficiently, without going through a bureaucratic process. Traditional commercial programs have been focused on companies giving their employees purchasing cards (p-cards) or travel and entertainment cards (T&E cards) which they could use for supplies, meals, or departmental expenses such as software subscriptions, and marketing expenses—items that would be classified as indirect spending. However, while the benefits of these programs are clear, even in a depressed travel environment, it falls short of the full potential of complete credit card utilization.

Old vs. New

Companies can establish guardrails for spending on these cards. They can add controls to limit employee spending or only allow them to spend in certain places. There are also mechanisms in place to do post-transaction reviews and allow for remediation for inappropriate spending. Due to the combination of convenience and control, finance departments often think about cards as tools for employee productivity, with customizable spending controls.

This only touches on one aspect of company spending, however. Companies spend far more of their budget through traditional purchase orders and invoices for direct expenses like materials, components, freight, and labor. The idea that AP could utilize a card for direct expenses has still not been widely accepted.

Cards provide easy access to working capital and offer rewards like cash back or points. Many companies appreciate that cards are a better electronic payment option due to these benefits. The question then becomes: how do you build a successful card program in accounts payable? Generally, businesses have to make card processes work within their pre-existing AP infrastructure, which usually includes a supplier interaction component and a technical component that traditional players (banking institutions) in this space are not fully equipped to handle.

For example, banks primarily look at credit cards as another form of lending. They offer credit lines, which their customers spend against and pay back. Paying supplier by card usually enables businesses to reach their top 10 or 20 suppliers. That’s usually considered a successful lending program, but to interact with more suppliers, integrate with an ERP, or offer enhanced reconciliation data, banks don’t usually have the technical resources, because it’s beyond their traditional lending model.

Incorporating the New

Bank business models usually focus on building and maintaining a vast merchant acceptance network. You can walk into tens of millions of locations worldwide and if they have the Mastercard or Visa logo, you can use your credit card there, no questions asked. But when it comes to payments for suppliers, the acceptance network is inconsistent. Some suppliers don’t accept payment by card, or only accept them from certain customers depending on speed of payment, the margins, and the type of product that they’re selling. Due to these factors, paying by bank-issued card requires the vendor engagement process to include finding suppliers that already accept specific card types, ensure they accept that payment type from other customers, and locate new card-accepting suppliers.

That’s where fintechs really shine, because their business models are built to incorporate a supplier engagement process aimed at getting more spend on cards. Where banks generally looking for the top 10 to 20 suppliers, which might account for 70 percent of your total spend, fintechs go after the tail—that 30 percent of spend that probably accounts for more than 60 percent of your suppliers and takes more work to get on board. Essentially, they build out a B2B acceptance network inside the credit card acceptance network.

Scaling the Mountain Towards Change

Operationalized re-engagement models are a particularly important component of this business model because most companies churn 10 to 20 percent of their suppliers each year. Within two years, business’ supplier pools are different by 20 percent from when they began, so they must reach out constantly to maintain certain payment acceptances. While banks don’t always have the capacity to offer supplier acceptance maintenance, fintechs thrive when they include those services in their business model.

There are multiple benefits of capturing tail spend on cards. For example, doing so opens the door to paying more suppliers electronically, earning businesses more working capital and a higher potential for rebates. Virtual cards come with security and controls that plastic cards do not usually possess, including single-use numbers that are tied to unique suppliers and payment amounts. Tag on reconciliation data options, and the system becomes something that benefits accounts receivable as much as accounts payable. This opens more suppliers up to the idea of accepting electronic forms of payment.

Fintechs—technology-focused by nature—build their systems with a holistic viewpoint in mind, preferring to create software that doesn’t sacrifice one business’ operations for another’s. By enhancing the system end-to-end, previously reluctant accounts receivable teams, who felt strong-armed into giving up outdated payment processes, often become more willing and interested to learn about electronic alternatives.


Rick Fletcher is the Comdata President of Corporate Payments, where he specializes in sales, marketing and product strategy, operations, and customer service.