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How Do Electronic Payment Solutions Fulfill Supplier Needs?

supplier

How Do Electronic Payment Solutions Fulfill Supplier Needs?

Paying all your suppliers electronically makes sense—in theory. At a high level, doing so is a simple enough task—you enable your AP team to make all their payments through electronic means. Then you have yourself a cost-generating solution. But to your AP team—the people at ground level—there’s much more behind the process than sending payments. They also must track sent payments, follow up on uncashed checks, handle fraudulent cases, and work with suppliers who are missing payments for one reason or another.

Unfortunately, most electronic payment businesses that tout themselves as solutions only find value at the high-level glance, which is a detriment to your team. For example, while banks and card networks move money electronically, they don’t provide much supplier support, which is often needed to take payments across the finish line. In the end, that task often falls to your employees once again.

AP also tends to use the oldest equipment of any team in most companies. They’re still running error-prone manual processes, with stacks of checks and invoices on their desks in need of circulation on foot. Process exceptions and one-off requests torment them. Suppliers are calling and emailing, looking for payment. At the same time, AP handles other issues like lost or erroneous invoices, payments landing in the wrong accounts, or which otherwise need attention.

The whole operation is like a house of cards. Even if you know you need to change, nobody wants to touch a single card for fear that the entire thing will fall apart. Asking them to enable suppliers for electronic payments is extra work, and not usually in anybody’s job description. It’s hard enough to get the regular work done; heaven forbid somebody on the team gets ill, goes out on leave, or quits. They’re really under a lot of pressure.

A new generation of payment service providers automates payments in the cloud and offloads much of the support work that AP usually handles instead of focusing on higher-value initiatives. When your process was held together with duct tape and string, it can be hard to imagine confidently handing the work to a service provider. To understand what’s possible today, let’s look at what payment support services look like at scale here at Nvoicepay.

Supplier Enablement

When our customers sign on with Nvoicepay, our implementation team goes right to work with their AP staff to get supplier lists and instructions for reaching out to them. If any suppliers require special arrangements due to prior agreements with them, we take those into account.

Our customers often pay many of the same suppliers. Because Nvoicepay maintains an extensive network of suppliers—about 800,000 of them—many suppliers are instantly payable without additional work. When suppliers aren’t already in our system, we campaign to get them electronically payable in a fashion that meets their individual needs. We prioritize Mastercard due to the ease of payment for all parties involved. As time goes on, the Nvoicepay team maintains supplier data, keeping up with changes on behalf of our customers.

Suppliers that still need to receive physical checks can do so. Even if they do, the process remains electronic on the AP side so that customers can issue check payments in the same batch as other electronic payments. Supplier questions are routed to our in-house support team, alleviating another large responsibility from AP.

Training and Implementation

While suppliers are being enabled, our technical support team trains the accounts payable group that will be using the software in a succinct, one-hour meeting. We know that AP turnover can be high, so we offer additional training by request to ensure that the customer’s entire team remains up-to-speed.

Our technical support team also works with the implementation team to ensure that the initial configuration caters to each company’s specific needs.

Making Payments

In the life of a manual process, AP teams need to fill out bank forms for each ACH batch or access their bank website to make wire payments. Payment automation consolidates those tasks—and more—into a single file from their ERP, which contains all the invoices the company wants to be paid. Nvoicepay disperses those payments based on each suppliers’ preferred payment type, set up in the enablement step, and continuously maintained.

On the back end, customers have total visibility into how those suppliers are getting paid, when checks cleared, and when Mastercard payments were issued. They can also track unprocessed Mastercard payments.

Payment Modification

Nvoicepay guarantees every payment, and as such, the phone number listed on the remittances is ours. If there’s an issue with a payment, your suppliers call our payment support team directly, and we work through any questions they may have. Our software also includes a form that alerts our Payment Modification team of the need to resolve errors, refunds, reissues, or stop-payments. We turn those requests around quickly, as quickly as a customer could call their bank and do it themselves. We take as good care of our customers’ suppliers as they would. No matter where an error occurs, we work to resolve it and to keep our customers informed throughout the process.

If a supplier reaches out to their customer directly, the customers also have visibility into our system. They can handle those one-off events without trouble.

Card Retention

Many AP groups have dealt with card programs that promised significant rebates but didn’t deliver. Making as many payments as you can by card is what helps you maximize rebates. To aid this, another faction of our operations team—the supplier services group—reaches out to suppliers who haven’t processed their cards after a set time. The team works with suppliers to answer any questions they have about the payment, and to support the processing of as many cards as possible.

Within the supplier services team is a retention group, which assists suppliers who may want to stop accepting card payment. That’s the most beneficial payment method due to the rebate. Still, there can be various issues on the supplier end, such as card fees, or challenges with remittance or reconciliation. The retention group learns what the supplier objections are to card. If we can’t work through them, we enable a different payment type.

While most suppliers can process virtual cards through their terminal once they receive the remittance, others have set requirements or separate terminals that require specialized processes. In those cases, our group called AP Concierge will either call the supplier directly to make payments or pay through their terminal. Our internal goal is to have less than three percent of unprocessed cards monthly. After 60 days, unprocessed payments must be refunded to the customer, which creates unnecessary work.

Embracing True Support

Why don’t companies pay all of their suppliers electronically? Because it takes a village to do all the work around making payments! Nvoicepay’s dedicated teams support every piece of the payment process because we know that’s what it takes. It’s a rare AP team that can handle these pieces on top of getting payments out the door, let alone have special teams devoted to each area.

AP teams have been laboring under manual work and partially automated processes for so long; it’s hard to imagine someone taking all that work off their plate. But that’s precisely what we do.

And sometimes, it’s hard to imagine what AP jobs will look like when the payment process becomes automated. We don’t often see companies cut staff when they bring in Nvoicepay. Instead, we have found that companies reduce their staff growth rate, and that existing staff moves onto higher-value work.

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Angela Anastasakis is the SVP of Operations and Customer Success for Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company. She has more than 30 years of leadership experience in operations and product support. At Nvoicepay, Angela has been instrumental in leading Operations through rapid growth, while maintaining our 98% support satisfaction rating through outstanding service.

checks

This is How Rooted Checks are in our History

If your company makes payments, I’m willing to bet you’ve at least Googled cost-effective ways to simplify the process. Perhaps you’re an enterprise making hundreds of payments a day. Or maybe you’re a small- to mid-sized business looking to ease the manual burden on your small-but-plucky AP team.

One of the biggest arguments against checks is that they’re just plain old, invented to support even older banking processes. Of course, the term “old” is relative, so what does it mean when we’re talking about check history? You might be surprised.

Checks used to make a lot of sense

Checks developed alongside banks, with the concept for payment withdrawals based on recorded instruction appearing in history as early as 300 B.C. in India or Rome, depending on who you ask. Paper-based checks made their debut in the Netherlands in the 1500s, and took root in North America about a century before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The oldest surviving checkbook in the U.S. dates back to the late 1700s—and the register even has a notation for a check made out to Alexander Hamilton for legal services.

So, yes, checks are old.

What started as a safe and strategic way to transfer money—one that protected merchants’ safety and livelihoods—ingrained itself in business dealings for hundreds of years. It’s challenging to phase out something like that entirely, even if checks are difficult to adapt to today’s electronic processes.

Hanging onto the past

Each business that holds onto its check process has a reason. Perhaps their AP team’s veteran employees are more comfortable with the familiarity of checks. They may wish to preserve business relationships with suppliers that prefer checks. Some businesses are very likely interested in switching to electronic processes because check payments are expensive—but they hold back due to the perceived process upheaval.

These concerns aren’t unfounded. They’re built upon years—and generations—of business experience. So while plenty of news outlets claim that checks will phase out “soon,” we should more realistically expect that they’ll be incorporated into—not eradicated from—modern business practices. At least for now.

Time for a change

While banks have made efforts to simplify the payee’s ability to cash checks electronically, only a few have attempted to tackle the time-consuming issues that their customers face. They also lack ways to incorporate outdated check processes with the newer ACH and credit card processes their customers are also expected to support.

If checks are here to stay, do companies need to resign themselves to endless signature hunts, letter-stuffing parties, and post office visits? No. Checks have the spectacular ability to evolve as modern needs arise. After all, the first printed checks in the U.S. didn’t have the standardized MICR format that we use today.

Change happens slowly and in easily digestible segments. So although checks aren’t going away any time soon, they’re overdue for another evolution.

A middle ground exists, where business owners can upgrade their processes without causing major supplier or employee upset. Payment automation solutions have been growing in recognition for over a decade. The most successful providers have acknowledged the gray area with checks and incorporated them into their simplified electronic payment workflows. These alternatives reduce AP workloads without forcing suppliers to accept payment types that don’t work for them.

Checks have come a long way since their conceptual days, and their flexibility means we probably won’t see the last of them anytime soon. We are, however, in the midst of their shift into the electronic world, and AP teams are all the happier for it.

Are you interested in the history of wire payments? Check out this article.

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Alyssa Callahan is the Content Strategist at Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company. She has five years of experience in the B2B payment industry, specializing in cross-border B2B payment processes.

financial

Financial Technology Industry Poised for Growth ‘Now Now’ in Africa

MS: Let’s face it – The financial market in Nigeria is frenetic and the country’s banking regulations have a reputation for being tough to navigate; what must companies such as NowNow do in order to be successful in a system that is quickly growing, but facing new challenges every day?

Sahir Berry, Founder and CEO, NowNow: It is true that the Nigerian market is dynamic, and it exudes varying degrees of energies depending on the prevailing market forces. The regulating institutions which are saddled with the responsibility of stabilizing the market and its players are doing as much as they can. However, a lot more can be done in areas of policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

NowNow as a company has been able to navigate its way amidst these challenges by strictly complying with Nigeria’s laws and seeking to engage with law-abiding organizations in strategic alliances towards the common goal of providing sound financial solutions for the populous. NowNow has heavily invested in research and the close monitoring of market trends and their evolution to allow for swift adaptation to what the market is offering at any given period.

Companies such as NowNow should continue to invest heavily in research that would provide quality information aimed at making sound business decisions.

MS: The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) of Nigeria has basically said that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector must be developed domestically from local manufacturing, through the use of Nigerian-made software, hardware and telecommunication products. Has this autonomously-led regulation helped or hindered your ability to keep up with market demand and industry growth, both inside and outside of Nigeria?

Sahir Berry: No. This regulation has not impeded NowNow’s ability to keep up with market demand and industry growth. Rather, what the regulations have done is to avail more of a level playing ground for institutions like NowNow to seek out talents in our various locations and coagulate them to build a super product that will serve consumers, irrespective of their locations.

As NowNow’s tech team is based in Nigeria and India – a good number of our products are developed locally, with an indigenous advantage and local acceptability. This brings about a sense of inclusion to all parties involved in the production process.

MS: How do you make sure that your agents have enough cash to dispense to physical Naira to NowNow users and how do you regulate and monitor their dealings?

Sahir Berry: Our processes are very strategically handpicked, standardized and monitored after thorough KYC compliance. There is a reasonable daily limit to all transactions made by either the agents or consumers. Agents are allowed to hold a daily imprest up to the limited daily amount for the day’s transaction. In some cases, the agents are conversant with the transaction trends in their area and they are able to project a new limit not exceeding the company’s limit for themselves. This is put in place to control the movement of funds from one party to another, and also to forestall money laundering and other financial vices.

MS: How has mobile banking changed the fortunes of not only Nigerians, but Africans across the continent?

Sahir Berry: Mobile banking has assumed a lead position in the banking space. The ease with which people transfer funds from one end of the country to the other can not be overemphasized. This has helped to create a new micro-economy and an ecosystem that has afforded many of the unbanked the access to cross the financial and market inclusion divide.

According to a report undertaken by our team of researchers in-country, it was discovered that financial inclusion in the area of payments and pension rose significantly in less than a decade. An appreciable growth was recorded, with digital payments moving from 22% in 2010 to about 40% in 2018, while pension rose sparingly, from about 4.9% in 2010 to 8% in 2018.

Despite the fact that the financial inclusion goal of 70% by the year 2020 via digital payment has yet to be achieved, tremendous improvement has been made, with over $90 billion worth of transactions executed in over 9 million deals across all fintech platforms by the end of 2018 in Nigeria.

The Nigerian electronic market grew by 19.30% and was worth $174 billion in 2018 alone and as of 2019, we have about 25% growth, worth some $225 billion. These developments have created more jobs via tech startups and also aided financial inclusion in all of its tenets (e.g. equal opportunity and community empowerment). Talented Nigerians are employed by these startups to help create more solutions that will benefit a target of reducing financial exclusion to 20% by the end of 2020.

MS: What do you believe sets NowNow apart from the competition? How is your mobile banking app different from the others that are featuring in Nigeria?

Sahir Berry: NowNow has risen above the stratosphere of mediocrity in the fintech space. We have strived very hard to distinguish ourselves from the rest, by providing the value proposition of being service-focused and customer-centric, and also proving a flexible solution to a myriad of financial challenges, subject to varying levels of market-testing and simulations, our goal well before embarking on production.

We painstakingly evaluate our end-users and potential end-users alike and work with what works for them. At NowNow, the focus is strictly centered on value creation.

Our model is tailored to the agent-consumer-merchant ‘tripod’, such that we have a model that suits all businesses. Our mobile app is a ‘super-app’ model that helps with airtime recharge, utility payment, insurance, health, entertainment, sports and many more.

We chose the brand name NowNow because we live the reality of the name. Everything can be done on our app, our ecosystem, at the snap of one’s fingers.

MS: Considering the ICT sector is entirely domestic, how does NowNow manage data protection for its clients?

Sahir Berry: NowNow has software components that are deployed on an AWS Cloud Platform, which ensures that inherent security is added to our payment platform.

We follow strict data policy procedures in order to keep our consumer information safe from unauthorized access, by making sure our IT systems are given access based on ‘Roles and Permissions’. NowNow as a licensed mobile money operator by the Apex bank in Nigeria. We went through a thorough audit from both internal and external auditors (CBN and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Adhering to industry best practices is a source of pride for us. We do not intend to relent on our efforts to lead, as even more stringent measures are being put in place to forestall data leak from any source.

MS: How will NowNow help its customers during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis?

Sahir Berry: These are turbulent times for all. We have chosen to intensify our efforts in aiding smooth and seamless transactions, even in the face of varying degrees of economic ‘shut-down’ across the globe.

We have ensured that our staff works remotely to provide technical assistance around the clock for all of our agents and consumers. We are aware times like these mean many lean heavily on mobile money transfers and ‘cash-out’ transactions, as people are observing social distancing and trying to reduce physical contact in all facets.

We are abreast of the prevailing circumstances and we have evolved in various ways to meet these challenges. Also, we have lent our voice in the campaign on staying safe and staying indoors to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

MS: How will NowNow remain resilient through a period in which the coronavirus has sent global markets into chaos?

Sahir Berry: We know tough times never last, but tough businesses do.

We are resolute with our vision and we are going to keep devising ways to adjust to the pandemic’s ramifications towards recovery. Presently, we have adopted the remote working style, and we keep track of this and all other events on our platform electronically. This will be intensified, and more security measures will be put in place to guide against possible system compromise.

AI

8 Ways your AP Process Leaks Spend – and How AI can Prevent it

Today’s companies put huge efforts into negotiating the best terms with their suppliers. Procurement teams regularly spend weeks or months going back and forth on contract terms and volume discounts to get the most bang for their buck.

Too often, these savings aren’t realized. Suppliers may ignore the negotiated terms when invoicing, and AP teams, faced with a deluge of invoices and limited time to get payments out the door, only sample select transactions and only do basic 2 or 3 way matching of volume and price. This inevitably means costly invoice problems fall through the cracks — from mismatched invoice and contract terms, to unapplied discounts, to completely bogus charges, and more.

Optimizing your AP process may seem like a big undertaking, but it’s much easier than it might seem, and worth the effort. According to The International Association of Contracts and Commercial Management (IACCM), companies that work to improve controls over invoice payment will see a return of more than 4 percent of invoice value.

Even if you’re ready to improve your AP process, one pesky question remains: How do you actually do it? Once upon a time, it would have been necessary to hire more people to check every transaction. But today, technology can provide a crucial and cost-effective assist for overstretched AP teams.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more common in business contexts. Nearly 90 percent of companies planned to increase AI spend in 2019, according to a Deloitte survey. However, the idea of actually using AI may feel a little unrealistic for some. While more and more corporations are automating AP processes, 30 percent of businesses still rely on manual invoice processing, according to The Institute of Finance and Management.

If you’ve already implemented other technologies in your workflow, AI can fit in seamlessly. AI-powered spend automation software integrates with existing expense management, invoice automation, contract management, and ERP systems to augment rather than disrupt your status quo.

8 common (and costly) invoice problems

Here are just a few of the problems AI-powered solutions can help your team avoid during the spend audit process:

1. Fraudulent invoices: When it comes to invoice fraud, if you can dream it, chances are fraudsters have tried it: From inflated invoices, to completely made-up charges, to shell companies, to vendor impersonation, and more.

Too often, the calls are coming from inside the house. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) found that occupational fraud (fraud committed by employees against employers) resulted in more than $7 billion in total losses in 2018. AI systems with a compliance component can spot risk factors commonly associated with fraud so your team has a chance to review these invoices manually before they’re paid out.

2. Duplicate invoices: Up to two percent of the average company’s invoices a duplicates, according to AuditNet. This may seem like a relatively small number, but for businesses doling out millions or billions on business activities, the figure is far from trivial.

Some vendors might double up charges on purpose, but often duplicate invoices are mistakes (after all, your vendors’ finance teams are overworked too). While some invoice automation systems try to catch these double charges, they usually only succeed if the invoices are labeled with the same number or have the exact same total — which isn’t always the case, particularly if there’s someone scheming behind the scenes.

3. Missing discounts: You fought hard for volume discounts, but how often are you checking invoices to make sure they’re applied? AI-based systems can often  compare contract and invoice terms automatically to make sure you’re not missing out on early payment, loyalty, or quantity discounts. You’ll be notified of any missing discounts so you can remedy the situation before you pay. In the case of early payment discounts, this software notifies you that the invoice should be prioritized to get payment out in ample time.

 4. Mismatched service levels: You signed up for the standard package, but you’re being charged for the premium offering. This type of mismatch is all too easy to overlook amid your monthly deluge of invoices.

The correct AI solution can compare agreed-upon service levels in your contract with every invoice you receive to make sure that this type of costly problem doesn’t fly under the radar. When it comes to physical items, it can ensure you receive all the items you’re being billed for before you pay, by double-checking shipping documents against inventory systems.

5. Double payments: Double payments can happen as a result of vendors submitting duplicate invoices, but the problem can also originate from your own team. Accounting systems hold up an invoice for all sorts of reasons, e.g., it requires further approval or it failed a match. In many cases, an employee might intervene to get the invoice paid manually (to meet a deadline or because they’re being pestered by a supplier or don’t want to damage a relationship). Meanwhile, the invoice is still in your system and when the hold is later cleared up, it’s processed and paid… again.

This is another one of those sources of spend leakage that most companies never become aware of. AI-powered systems constantly cross-check invoices and payments and flag any duplicate payments before you send them out, so the money never leaves the front door.

6. Exorbitant pricing: It can be difficult and time-consuming to keep track of the market rate for all the various services and products your business requires. AI can regularly compare your current costs to thousands of other sources to determine whether your invoices reflect the market rate for the goods or services provided. It can also flag individual invoices where your price exceeds the market rate.

Knowledge is power, and this information helps your business negotiate more effectively with existing suppliers or look to new ones if there’s an opportunity for cost savings without sacrificing quality.

7. Unsatisfactory work activity: When it comes to hiring contractors, there are situations when it’s particularly difficult to understand and assess whether they’re fulfilling their agreed-upon duties, like professional and IT services. AI-based tools can ingest nearly unlimited data to build a profile of what comprises satisfactory work activity — e.g., regular activity in Slack or over email — and highlight changes in the typical patterns. This helps you verify that you’re paying contractors fairly for the work product they’re providing.

8. Overpaying for software: Are you licensed for seven software seats, but only using three? It’s not uncommon for organizations to overpay for software licenses without ever realizing it. AI-based software keeps tabs on your organization’s software usage and compare it to the charges on your monthly invoices to help alert you to savings opportunities.

How AI can help

Implementing a best-in-class AI solution can support a consistent process and add an additional layer of scrutiny. These solutions make it possible to audit 100% of invoice spend prior to payment, automatically and near-instantaneously checking every invoice in your system for risk factors before they’re paid, and flagging the highest risk items for your team to review. This will help your team get ahead of problems and potential leakage, rather than try to recover it afterwards.

Below are the critical requirements for considering an AI solution for AP spend management:

1. Audit 100%, prepayment. Automatically audit 100% of invoices before reimbursement with AI.

2. Understand documents. Instantly scan every line of every invoice to understand charges and track the correct spend category.

3. Enrich with intelligence. Check online sources to identify better prices for similar goods and services.

4. Assess and refine risk. Flag suspicious addresses or billing changes to avoid fraud. Spot duplicate charges from other invoices, other invoice systems, or from expenses.

5. Streamline process. Integrate into your existing AP automation system to audit every invoice in real time to spot errors, waste, and fraud.

Conclusion

The best AI software can help your team regain control over your spend by checking every single transaction to identify high-risk invoices in your pipeline — saving time, streamlining processes, and ultimately reducing spend leakage.

If your AP team’s efforts to find problematic spend feels neverending, you’re not alone — but it doesn’t have to be that way. AI has changed the paradigm for modern finance teams, giving them greater visibility into their AP process and the time they need to address the highest risk issues. Not only can AI transform the way finance teams operate, it also saves them business money by spotting problems consistently and before invoices are paid. By implementing a leading AI solution, your team can audit 100% of spend, make sure that every invoice complies with its contract terms, and ensure you’re receiving every savings opportunity you’re entitled to — all while paying your bills on time.

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Anant Kale founded AppZen in 2012 to bring AI into back offices around the world. As CEO he is responsible for the product vision and execution of the company’s broad mission. Previously he was the VP of Applications at Fujitsu America from 2009-2012, responsible for product management, and delivery of Fujitsu’s applications and infrastructure for enterprise. He has 15+ years of experience in software development. He has an MBA and a BS in Finance and Engineering from Mumbai University.

efficiency

The Five Most Common Efficiency Issues and How to Fix Them

Undertaking productivity reviews to identify efficiency issues and quantify opportunities for improvement are important. We recommend using a range of work-study and observational techniques that provide diagnostic insights supported by process deep dives.

Work-study options include detailed analysis of a process to measure how long each individual stage takes, giving valuable insights on where to focus to speed up the process and to enable resource planning based on accurate workload calculations. A diagnostic efficiency study can look at teams from warehousing to admin and sales to quantify what proportion of time is spent adding value, undertaking essential tasks and how much time is lost.

We’ve identified the top five efficiency issues:

1. Paper-based processes don’t need measurement to spot them. Paper is slower, less efficient and creates filing and storage requirements compared to digital equivalents. At some stage, paper interfaces with a system and there is a need for data input into an accounting system. Look out for paper in your business and review options to eliminate it and increase your efficiency.

2. Moving to systems from paper doesn’t always mean things run smoothly. Time can be lost due to system delays. This downtime is created when systems don’t work as quickly as the human using them. Typical causes of delays are slow systems and connections that mean colleagues watch the screen loading graphics rather than completing their tasks. Work Studies have found that some contact center teams become so accustomed to working around their slow systems that they instinctively timed their general chat during the call with the delays. Speeding things up would mean a quicker call for the customer and more calls per hour handled by an agent.

Another common system delay issue is dual entry of data as colleagues move between systems that are not integrated at the right points. Colleagues working in multiple systems work most efficiently with dual monitors. Good workstation set up helps too – uncomfortable chairs, missing wrist supports, and monitors at the wrong height are all factors that can impact efficiency.

3. Physical work lends itself more easily to ongoing output measure and monitoring, for example, the number of delivery units handled, or widgets manufactured per hour. Office based activity can be harder to get to grips on and efficiency studies provide a measure of how much time is spent on essential activities and time lost. We’ve worked with a client who found that team leaders in their owned and operated customer services teams spent more time coaching colleagues than their peers in the franchised parts of their operation, which explained the variance in customer experience measurement and business outcomes. Another client found a surprisingly high proportion of time spent on internal emails, calls, and meetings. The route cause was a mix of unclear accountabilities and incomplete customer records that required supporting communication.

Additionally, there was a delay in response times as offices in different parts of the world shut down overnight. We recommended a slight shift in office working hours to give more overlap time between markets and an option to move an offshore support team to mirror the working hours of the team they support. Emails, calls, and meetings can add significant value, yet in many businesess, email and call volume is cited as a significant barrier to getting work done. Efficiency study measures the issue and the opportunity size.

4. Efficiency analysis looks at resource versus demand and shows where a demand peak overwhelms available resources, which in some businesses creates potential lost sales. The opposite of this is where teams are not fully occupied, and work-study observations show a slowdown in the pace of work and increased downtime in ad hoc breaks. We’ve often observed significant variance in downtime across teams within the same business and multi-skilling can help create a more flexible team that can be deployed to better match changing demand. Workload models that calculate how much resource is needed in a team help businesses size their teams accurately and create a global benchmark to eliminate variance.

5. Businesses that move stock have two common efficiency issues. The first is when the volume of stock held overwhelms the storage space it creates inefficiency. Stock needs to be held in an organized way so it can be accessed easily. Too often we see stock stacked behind other lines, making it difficult to find and only accessible if other stock is first moved. And stock in multiple locations, unless all accurately logged in a stock management system, is a recipe for wasted time trying to find stock. To maximize efficiency, measure how many times stock is handled as it goes through your operation. Eliminating unnecessary stock handling will improve productivity and reduce handling costs.

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Article by Simon Hedaux, founder and CEO of Rethink Productivity, a world-leading productivity partner that helps businesses to drive efficiency, boost productivity, and optimize budgets.

banks

OUT WITH THE OLD: WHY BANKS MUST ADOPT FINANCE TECHNOLOGY TO REMAIN RELEVANT

The term “FinTech” continues to saturate the news and financial institution reporting in recent years. It’s not surprising that streamlining financial services in the age of automation is something traditional banks struggle with adopting as global markets capitalize on technology. The trade sector on a high level is already purging antiquated, traditional processes involving paper, phone calls, Excel spreadsheets and tedious, unreliable methods of tracking and invoicing.

Now that FinTech is part of the bigger financial picture, it only makes sense that more companies in the global trade market are adopting FinTech as the norm rather than an option. This presents its own set of challenges for banks to overcome as much as it presents opportunities in optimization and risk mitigation. FinTech has its own challenges to overcome as well before it can successfully replace the traditional financial processes currently in place.

To understand exactly how FinTech fits into the bigger picture, we must break it down and evaluate all angles. To start, trends in emerging finance technology include variables from governments and dominating players to emerging acquisitions positioning big tech as a disruptor and solution to trade finance. So, what are some of the top emerging trends currently found in the financial technology space? According to experts at Azlo, a no-fee digital banking platform, government regulation will weed out fly-by-night FinTech while ownership of a self-sovereign identity will become more prevalent for risk modeling. Additionally, FAANG companies are currently positioned to become major players in the FinTech space as they continue to raise the bar for consumers and businesses alike.

Azlo also maintains that banks must adopt FinTech and emerging tech to remain a relevant part of the financial industry, warning that if they don’t, European, African and Asian markets, which possess less regulation and oversight, will own the space very soon. Additionally, optics, trust and inevitable obsolescence will ultimately serve as supporting reasons behind the adoption of emerging tech in the banking space in the near future.

From a safety and risk mitigation point of view, cybersecurity requires a sophisticated and advanced system to combat various strategies hackers utilize to disrupt the financial industry. Cybersecurity goes hand-in-hand with the recent surge in FinTech and will present itself as a challenge for financial companies to mitigate. How will this risk impact banks from a cost perspective? Think of it in terms of compliance and regulation. Circling back to Azlo’s expert point that once the government starts implementing harsher regulations, the days of FinTech will take a different stance in the financial industry. An example of this is found in Mexico’s FinTech law that took full effect this year and in the Latin America markets. As noted in a November Nasdaq article: “The goal of the FinTech law was to help bring more people into the formal economy. Additionally, it would help to reduce the amount of cash in circulation, which would cut down on money laundering and corruption as well.”

Nasdaq experts also point out the significant progress FinTech has made within the Mexico and Latin America markets. “In January 2019, Albo raised $7.4 million, sparking a surge in investor interest in Mexican neobanks,” states the article. “In March 2019, Mexican neobank, Fondeadora, announced a $1.5 million round of investment, and in May 2019, Nubank, Brazil’s largest neobank with over 15 million users, announced its plans to expand into Mexico.”

Considering the reputation for cash dependency in Mexico paired with the more than 273 FinTech ventures operating in the country, it’s no surprise that FinTech is disrupting and recreating opportunities for global markets while changing the way cash flow is approached.

FinTech will not necessarily hurt the traditional banking model, as it does offer an automated and sustainable approach for customers while keeping up with what is expected of companies on a cultural scale. To remain relevant, banks should consider what customer generations are emerging while maintaining the changing ecosystem supporting efficiency, sustainability and cost-savings.

Furthermore, FinTech is changing the way investments and lending are assessed. FinTech allows for much larger sets of data, providing a new level of visibility. Possessing the ability to manage multiple information streams that reflect the health of a company is found as an unmatched solution provided by FinTech, according to Azlo. With this information, companies can further evaluate next-step approaches and what actions in place need to be revisited, revamped or completely eliminated. The name of the game is data visibility, folks, and that is exactly what FinTech is doing to redefine how finances are approached.

“FinTechs are relying on different information when underwriting consumers, looking at things traditional banks have never considered and providing more people with access to personal and business capital,” explains Donna Fuscaldo in her blog, “The Rise of Fintech: What You Need to Know & Financial Services Now Offered.”

“Traditional financial institutions may be late to the FinTech party, but they haven’t missed it altogether,” Fuscaldo writes. “Many of them are creating their own services or partnering with established FinTechs to bring services to their clients. It’s happening in every aspect of FinTech from robo advisors with Charles Schwab’s Schwab Intelligent Portfolios to digital payments with Visa’s Visa Pay digital payment service. Even heavy hitters like JPMorgan are turning to FinTech’s data to evaluate applications for loans, and Quicken Loans, the online mortgage lender, launched its Rocket Mortgage app that can churn out mortgage approvals and rejections in minutes. All of this action on the part of the traditional financial services industry make for more choices beyond just the startups.”

With cybersecurity and automation consistently creating new ways for companies to optimize their payments while maximizing data and integration, only time will tell how much regulation global governments will impose and whether that reshapes the FinTech marketplace. One thing is certain: Traditional banking will continue to be challenged to redefine how customers are served, transactions are protected and how the investment and lending sectors approach opportunities throughout the international and domestic markets.

AR

How to Create an Enduring Workflow for AR

Please note: Vocabulary in the payment automation world varies. While customers (i.e., clients, buyers) and their suppliers (i.e., vendors, beneficiaries, sellers) are both considered customers to payment automation companies like Nvoicepay, this article will use the terms “customer” and “supplier” to distinguish between them.

Imagine having to switch out old railroad tracks while a rusted steam engine thunders across. Adopting modern electronic payments runs about as smoothly for banks.

When you think about how old banks are in the U.S., it’s an understandable plight. They’ve been running on the same tracks since the first bank’s founding. Additional features, like wire payments and credit cards, were added over time as a complement to the old system. But the rise of nimbler financial technology (fintech) companies has lit a fire under them. Now they face the challenge of converting their processes to electronic means without disturbing their clients’ day-to-day business.

In a way, fintechs have it easy. Their very nature makes competing against banks a breeze, primarily because banks were built to last, and fintechs were built to adapt. They can easily shift gears to meet demand and immediate needs. Meanwhile, banks are frequently caught up in bureaucratic processes that make it virtually impossible to react quickly to problems.

Financial and fintech industries feel the contrast most often when tackling payment security—specifically when it comes to cards. Even though check payments incur 25% more fraud instances than card payments, according to the 2019 AFP Payment Fraud and Control Survey, many companies hesitate to make the switch to more electronic means.

Kim Lockett—the Director of Supplier Services at Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company—offers a glimpse into why companies are hesitating to shift gears: “Fraud is not a new issue to companies,” she states. “But what we’ve learned is that fear of change overrides the fear of potential fraud loss, even among companies who have already incurred those losses.”

With almost 30 years of experience in payments and financial services, Lockett possesses a holistic perspective on supplier expectations for seamlessly receiving payments, with payment fraud protection listed as one of the highest priorities. She’s heard all the horror stories, from a small business whose checks were stolen out of their mailbox and cashed, to a company whose employee tried to use business deposit information to clear her personal checks.

That’s not to say that errors and fraud don’t occur for card payments as well. But they occur significantly less and are much easier and faster to resolve than check, ACH, and wire payment issues.

What’s the Holdup?

In the last decade, fintech companies have improved the tracks on which many accounts receivable (AR) teams function. From providing lower processing costs for card payments to offering user-friendly portals for reliable payment retrieval, fintechs transform painful AR workflows into a functional process.

Meanwhile, banks have just begun to offer pseudo-solutions that appear to be tech-friendly but still run on old tracks. An excellent example of this is lockbox technology, where banks mitigate the processing of check payments and their data for their larger customers by taking on the work themselves. This sort of offering likely extended the life of check payments. Still, it didn’t eradicate the underlying problem: that even though work has been lifted directly from their customer’s shoulders, someone at the bank still has to process checks and submit data for manual reconciliation. The process is hardly automated, and the advent of payment processing technology has all but made the entire process impractical.

Embracing the Future

Of course, the best way to avoid check issues is to avoid checks. These days, electronic payment methods offer higher levels of security. But if electronic options like virtual card numbers are such a fantastic option, why are so many companies avoiding them?

Lockett states: “In general, I think companies are afraid of handling credit card numbers because they feel there is risk involved.”

It’s not the dangers of check payments, but misconceptions about electronic payments that cause companies to refrain from accepting them. Many AR teams rationalize that they’d rather respond to the inevitable check fraud cases they understand than walk unprepared into the relatively unknown territory of card fraud.

When checks are stolen and cashed, there’s very little that can be done. At the end of the day, someone will be out that money. Other electronic payment types like ACH and wire are significantly safer, but can still experience fraud, especially internal instances, such as when a company’s employee submits their personal bank account information to receive company payments. Whether these issues are reversible is dependent on each unique scenario.

Card payments, particularly the virtual card numbers provided by fintech companies, are typically protected by two-factor authentication. Whether this means that AR is supplied with a login to access secure details or a portion of a card number, the information is much more difficult for bad actors to access, securing the payment process and reducing the risk of fraud.

In the end, not every company will have the capacity to accept card payments, so leaving alternate options open like check and ACH truly boils down to how much individual payment providers value customer service.

Taking Suppliers Along for the Automation Journey

In many cases, banks have rushed to cater to customer’s needs, leaving suppliers in the dust when it comes to follow-through on electronic payments. Despite these efforts to change, most larger banks still follow their old tracks, and their customers and suppliers experience the same lack of customer service they always did.

With over 10 years of support development behind them, fintechs have expanded their offerings to suppliers, catering to their specific needs, whether they require something as simple as customizable file formats or a more significant request like payment aggregation. Fintechs that follow through with supplier support are truly delivering on their promise of offering an end-to-end solution. They are building tracks that support the advanced bullet trains that companies have become.

“Ten years ago, companies were reluctant to add virtual card payments to their list of accepted payment types,” says Lockett. “Education, experience, and word-of-mouth have established virtual card payments as a mainstream and relevant way to conduct business.”

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Alyssa Callahan is the Content Strategist at Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company. She has five years of experience in the B2B payment industry, specializing in cross-border B2B payment processes.

rates

230 years of Data Show Rates Will Soon Hit to 0.50 Percent

While everyone has been concerned about the sell-off in the stock market in the past two weeks, this decline should be contrasted with the rapid rise in the price of government bonds. For the first time in history, the yield on the 10-year government bond fell below 1%.

As Figure 1 illustrates, the 75-year interest rate pyramid is continuing its path toward new lows. The pyramid began on November 30, 1945, when the 10-year bond yielded 1.55%. The yield gradually rose for the next 36 years, peaking at 15.84% on September 30, 1981. The yield has trended downward for the past 39 years and now has sunk below 1%. The past 75 years have provided a near mirror image in bond yields.  So what does it mean?

Before the current downturn, the lowest yield on the 10-year bond was 1.37% which occurred on July 5, 2016. We analyzed the 75-year interest rate pyramid in the blog “Government Bond Yields and Returns in the 2020s” which was published on January 8. We predicted the continued decline in government bond yields in the United States during the coming decade. With negative interest rates on most 10-year bonds in Europe and Japan, there is no reason why yields in the United States shouldn’t continue to decline.

The 10-year bond yielded over 3% in November 2018 and by December 31, 2019, the yield on the 10-year bond had fallen to 1.92%.  Today, the yield is half that. This decline has provided an 8% return to fixed-income investors during the past two months as the price of government bonds has risen. A 10-basis point decline in the yield rewards investors with a short-term gain of about 1%.

In the blog “300 Years of the Equity-risk Premium” published on February 5, we predicted that the total return to government bonds over the next 10 years will be around 2% per annum or less. This return can only occur through the continued decline in bond yields and increase in the price of government bonds. As we explained, government bonds have outperformed stocks since 2000; however, our analysis indicates that the return to bonds will be lower than the return to stocks over the coming decade.

The 5-year bond yield fell to almost 0.5% back in 2012.  So why can’t the 10-year bond yield decline to 0.5%in 2020? Figure 2 provides 230 years of bond yield data, which shows each decline building a deeper valley indicating that interest rates will soon reach a lower low. We believe it is only a matter of time before the yield on the U.S. 10-year bond hits 0.5%.

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Dr. Bryan Taylor is President and Chief Economist for Global Financial Data. He received his Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University in Economics writing about the economics of the arts. He has taught both economics and finance at numerous universities in southern California and in Switzerland. He began putting together the Global Financial Database in 1990, collecting and transcribing financial and economic data from historical archives around the world. Dr. Taylor has published numerous articles and blogs based upon the Global Financial Database, the US Stocks and the GFD Indices. Dr. Taylor’s research has uncovered previously unknown aspects of financial history. He has written two books on financial history.

trade finance

Industry Advocacy Required to Enable Trade Finance Market Access and Growth

In a whitepaper released last year, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) urged the trade finance industry to work together to ensure that regulation does not hinder the availability of trade finance. Olivier Paul, Director, Finance for Development at ICC, explains how a fair regulatory environment across regions is key to the industry’s growth.

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007, regulation and compliance requirements have had the unintended consequence of negatively impacting trade finance provision. As banks adapt to ever greater compliance and regulatory requirements, they seek to minimize risk by reducing their number of correspondent banking relationships. This phenomenon, known as “de-risking”, especially affects small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in emerging markets that need financing the most.

Accessing adequate trade finance is already tough for SMEs, who often lack the collateral, documented history of past transactions and knowledge of the financial instruments available to them. This has led to a US$1.5 trillion gap between the demand and supply of trade finance – or gap – as SMEs find themselves most neglected by financiers.

In its report, Banking regulation and the campaign to mitigate the unintended consequences for trade finance, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) outlines how some post-crisis banking regulation has unintentionally led to the widening of this trade finance gap. The report argues that industry advocacy is necessary to ensure fairer treatment of trade finance, as several examples already demonstrate.

Unintended Consequences and Successful Advocacy

Despite well-meaning capital and liquidity requirements contributing to the resilience of the financial system, they have also limited banks’ ability to invest in cross-border relationships, leading to concerns relating to the treatment of trade finance instruments across regions.

For example, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) introduced the third installment of the Basel Accords – a set of international banking regulation recommendations – in 2010. However, the BCBS does not have the authority to enforce its recommendations, leaving national – or supranational – institutions to write the recommendations into law.

What’s more, these recommendations allow significant room for interpretation, allowing each jurisdiction to adapt them accordingly. This results in inconsistencies across jurisdictions, leaving emerging market banks subject to the resulting ambiguity.

In particular, the Net Stable Funding Ratio (NSFR) for financial instruments supporting trade finance caused concern among many industry practitioners. The European Commission and Council, as well as the European Banking Authority, recommended that NSFR have a variable rate of 5%-15% depending on the maturity of the transaction. In many jurisdictions outside the European Union, however, the NSFR rate is either flat – at a maximum level of 5% – or non-existent.

This represented a clear disadvantage, and one affecting the whole market. As such, the industry-led by ICC – advocated for a fairer treatment of NSFR ratios for trade finance. This resulted in a significant reduction in the spectrum of rates which now stand at 5% for a transaction maturity of under six months, 7.5% for a transaction maturity of under a year, and 10% for maturity of over 12 months.

Early Start

To ensure the highest success rate, it is essential that discussions between industry members and regulatory authorities take place at the earliest stages of the decision-making process. With regulatory adoption and implementation processes taking up to a decade in some cases, the industry must work together with regulators and maintain a proactive approach to promoting fair regulatory treatment of trade finance.

The document outlining the finalization of the Basel III framework was published in 2017 but will only be enforced between 2022 and 2027. Action is needed today if the industry’s voice is to be heard and acted on.

Banks have already identified several areas relating to trade finance – such as the treatment of unconditionally cancellable commitments, the minimum durations to calculate risk-weighted assets and the treatment of subsidiaries in large groups – where discussion is needed. Over the next few years, banks and industry bodies will need to engage with these topics, as national regulators translate the finalization package into national legislation.

Next steps

Some 80% of international trade flows involve the recourse to a financial instrument, according to the World Trade Organization. To encourage the use of trade finance worldwide – and ensure the widest market access especially for SMEs – harmonization of regulations will be required.

Much work has already been done to promote the fair treatment of trade finance within banking regulations. However, regulations will not adapt unless all stakeholders voice their concerns. It is up to the entire industry – and ICC, as the largest and most authoritative voice in trade finance – to be at the forefront of this work.

cash flow

How to Take Charge of your Cash Flow

Small business owners in nearly every industry struggle with cash flow and how to best utilize their working capital. Nearly 60% of failed businesses cite cash-flow issues as a primary reason for their failure, which shows how cash flow management can make or break your business.

Here are 4 ways you can set your business up for cash flow success:

Better manage your inventory costs

Inventory can significantly sway your ability to stay on top of your cash flow because there are so many moving pieces to consider: Whether your business benefits from keeping inventory long-term or selling goods quickly, how much it costs to store and how much you can save by buying in larger quantities, are just a few considerations.

Regardless of the best inventory management strategy for your business, it is critical to keep a line of credit on hand to take advantage of the best deals from a vendor or ship items out quickly to maximize customer satisfaction.

Negotiate payment dates with your inventory suppliers to align with your known cash-ins and outs so you know you will have cash on hand to make your payments on time.

Get paid faster

Late payments from customers can really hurt your ability to manage your business, yet they are all too common. Worst of all, late payments create gaps in cash flow which can affect your ability to keep your business moving.

It is important to make sure you are using the best practices to invoice promptly and thoroughly. Using an online tool can reduce room for human error by automating recurring invoices, ensuring you send a confirmation of receipt and track to follow up.

Offering multiple, convenient ways to pay can reduce the payment cycle and improve your customer experience. With payment technology developing so quickly, you can find affordable payment solutions that help you accept payments in ways your customers like to pay, increasing the probability of more business and prompt payments.

Seek out same-day settlement options

Whether you’re borrowing or getting paid, new technologies allow small businesses to access the capital they need faster. FinTech companies are partnering with solutions such as INGO Money to receive loan funds immediately, allowing business owners to manage unforeseen expenses as they arise or on the weekends when typical bank transfers aren’t possible.

New solutions allow for same-date settlement of payments, too. Usually, business owners receiving credit card payments through customers would need to wait up to 72 hours for those funds to hit their accounts. Seek out solutions that offer a same-day settlement to ensure you have access to the funds you earned sooner.

Refocus your time on your business, not your books

A study of 400 small business owners showed that more than 30% of businesses will seek investments in new technologies to improve productivity. Consider how a similar strategy could make an impact for your business. Every hour spent selling your products and working with customers instead of managing your books is another hour you can proactively increase sales for your company, and, effectively, your cash flow.

Most new technology solutions are focused on solving this issue while providing greater customer experiences than previously available in the market. New lending solutions give you an approval in minutes, payment solutions reduce the time to be paid and disbursements are now nearly immediate. All of that adds up to more time available to business owners to focus on doing what they love and selling.

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Aditya Narula is the head of customer experience at Kabbage.  Kabbage has pioneered a financial services data and technology platform to provide access to automated funding to small businesses in minutes.  Since 2011, the company has helped more than 200,000 small businesses access more than $8 billion.