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THESE ARE THE U.S. BANKS YOU SHOULD BE TRUSTING WITH TRADE FINANCE AND CASH MANAGEMENT

banks

THESE ARE THE U.S. BANKS YOU SHOULD BE TRUSTING WITH TRADE FINANCE AND CASH MANAGEMENT

Global Finance editors, with input from industry analysts, corporate executives and technology experts selected the best trade finance banks in 97 countries and eight regions.

In addition, Global Finance selected the best banks for trade by U.S. region, a list that was based on various service categories, such as document management and export finance.

This year’s winners were revealed during Global Finance’s 20th annual World’s Best Trade Finance Providers awards luncheon on Jan. 15 in Frankfurt, Germany, during the BAFT Global Annual Meeting.

The American winners were:

New England: Webster Bank
Mid-Atlantic: M&T Bank
Great Lakes: KeyCorp
Plains: Commerce Bank
Southeast: SunTrust Bank
Southwest: Comerica
Rocky Mountains: Zions Bancorp
Far West: U.S. Bancorp 

Globally, HSBC took the top spot in Euromoney’s Trade Finance Survey for the third year running, with Deutsche Bank in second place and UniCredit in third. Citi fell out of the top three to take fourth position. One of the biggest upsets was JPMorgan, which fell to 17th after reaching ninth place in 2018.

“Many of the American banks have enough trade business in their home market,” explains Eric Li, research director at Coalition. “So it’s no surprise that when it comes to a global survey, European banks will thrive.”

Global Finance editors say the winners are those banks and providers that best serve the specialized needs of corporations as they engage in cross-border trade. The winners are not always the biggest institutions, but rather the best—those with qualities that companies should look for when choosing a provider.

A proprietary algorithm with criteria—such as knowledge of local conditions and customer needs, financial strength and safety, strategic relationships and governance, competitive pricing, capital investment and innovation in products and services—weighted for relative importance was employed by Global Finance.

A DIFFERENT TAKE FROM GREENWICH ASSOCIATES

As of press time, the most recent Greenwich Share and Quality Leaders in U.S. Large Corporate Banking was released during the fourth quarter of 2019.

“For a business that is generally considered stable and rather slow to evolve, large corporate banking is changing fast,” notes a statement from Greenwich Associates. “The globalization of U.S. corporate business coupled with a disruptive trade war, the proliferation of digital technology, the rise of fintech providers, and the strategic retreat of certain global banks are just some of the variables shaking up the corporate banking industry and putting more corporate clients and business up for grabs.”

From April through September 2019, Greenwich Associates conducted interviews at U.S.-based companies with $2 billion or more in annual revenue with 422 chief financial officers, treasurers and assistant treasurers, 441 cash managers and other financial professionals in cash management, and 136 corporate trade finance professionals.

Participants were asked about market trends and their relationships with their banks. Trade finance interview topics included product demand, quality of coverage and capabilities in specific product areas.

THE WINNER’S CIRCLE

The 2019 share list is topped by J.P. Morgan, followed by Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi and HSBC—in that order.

The order of the top two changes when it comes to U.S. Large Corporate Cash Management: Bank of America; J.P. Morgan; Wells Fargo; Citi; and HSBC.

“Despite the trade war between the United States and China, the ongoing Brexit saga and other signs suggesting that globalization might have temporarily peaked, U.S. companies actually increased their exposure to overseas markets last year—at least in terms of their banking needs,” according to Greenwich. “For example, the share of large U.S. companies using at least one bank for payments/receivables and/or cash management in Western Europe increased to approximately two-thirds in 2019 from just 58 percent in 2018. The uptick was equally impressive in Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and Africa.”

BANKS CHARGE INTO CASH MANAGEMENT

The biggest U.S. banks are placing a new strategic focus on the cash management business. In part, this new emphasis comes from a desire to capture the cash deposits of large companies, which provide a much-needed source of balance sheet stability.

However, banks are also looking to capitalize on an inefficiency in corporate treasury management by creating new client values. International payments, receivables transactions and even corporate cash transfers often trigger a corresponding foreign exchange trade. Some companies put those trades out to bid—but many don’t.

Even for trades up to $20 million in size, many companies simply pass the trade on to their cash management providers. For that reason, margins for FX transactions on the back-end of international cash management transactions can be especially attractive.

U.S. TRADE FINANCE AMONG LARGE CORPORATES

Trade finance is an area of renewed interest by the major banks. Citi, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan all vie aggressively to be the lead trade finance provider among U.S. large corporates, with each bank doing business with just under half of the market. Wells Fargo and HSBC round out the top five banks. Bank of America, Citi, HSBC, J.P. Morgan, and Wells Fargo are all recognized for distinctive quality and share the title of Greenwich Quality Leader.

GREENWICH EXCELLENCE AWARDS

The accompanying table presents the complete list of 2019 Greenwich Excellence Awards in U.S. Large Corporate Banking and Cash Management.

Greenwich consultants John Colon, Don Raftery and Chris McDonnell specialize in corporate banking, cash management and trade finance services in North America. Consultant Chris McDonnell also specializes in digital banking.

B2B

LATEST: 2020 is Shifting the B2B Payments Scene

B2B payments have historically been slow to adapt to automated payments but COVID may be the vehicle to forever change how business payments are processed. Josh Cyphers, President of Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company that transforms the way firms pay their suppliers, provides insights into the changes and trends businesses are experiencing in B2B and mobile payments and how it’s impacting businesses moving forward.

What are some of the big trends driving B2B payments?

Paper checks still reign supreme in B2B payments, but COVID has created a compelling event that is really pushing companies toward fully automating payments. This is a big shift. Over the course of the last 10 to 15 years, check use has been ticking down ever so slowly. According to the 2019 AFP Electronic Payments Survey Report, organizations made 42 percent of their supplier payments by check in 2019, down from 81 percent in 2004.

Now that accounts payable departments are working remotely, companies are trying to minimize the amount of manual work that requires trips to the office, or to employee’s homes to get them to sign checks. Suppliers are asking to be paid electronically because they get the money faster and they don’t have to go to the bank. It will be interesting to see the 2020 AFP report and see if the pandemic pushes organizations to finally give up checks.

The other thing that’s happening is an extreme focus on managing cash. Given the economic environment we’re in, a lot of companies are looking for ways to conserve cash. They’re looking at the timing of payments; extending payment terms to suppliers or delaying payments. With an automated solution, all of the payment approvals and workflow are online, and you have visibility into every payment as it moves through the system, and that gives you precision control over cash flow.

What are some innovations you’ve noticed in contactless payments lately?

In B2B payments, I would define contactless as not having to do manual work. Cloud-based software is enabling accounts payable departments to automate work they’ve previously had to do manually. That includes the handling of paper checks but also a lot of the work that goes into electronic payments as they’ve historically been done through banks. For example, if you want to do ACH payments, you have to pick up the phone or send out emails and collect suppliers’ banking information and probably manually key that into a system. For card payments, you have to phone or email to find out who will take a card payment, and then you might have to phone the supplier with the card number, and then they enter it into a terminal. There’s a surprising amount of manual work that has to be done to get the funds to move electronically through the banking system.

The cloud is what is enabling payment automation providers to transform that disjointed process, with all its manual touchpoints, into a single automated workflow.

 

The cloud also makes implementation very fast and easy, so automating payments is something that an organization can now accomplish in a matter of weeks.

How has COVID impacted mobile payments?

Having a cloud-based solution allows accounts payable professionals to make payments anytime, anywhere. But up until COVID, that kind of mobile capability was a nice to have, not a must-have for business payments. I’ve never in my finance career seen an AP team that was completely remote. With everyone in the office, mobile just wasn’t a consideration. The construction industry is one exception; in that industry, many of the people who approve payments are out in the field, so mobile capabilities are a real selling point for a payment solution. Now that AP teams have been out of the office, every industry is looking for payment solutions that allow them to work remotely as much as possible.

What do you see as the biggest future trend for mobile payments?

B2B payments are about ten times as big as consumer payments, yet the adoption of cloud-based solutions is still in the single digits. Given the size of the market, the adoption of mobile payments by businesses is a big trend in and of itself.

Mobile payments have changed consumer life by making payment so easy and convenient that you hardly have to think about it. That has had a huge impact on how we live our lives and has really sped up commerce and increased our options. When you think about that same kind of frictionless, mobile payment experience becoming widespread in the business world, which it inevitably will, I think it will fuel all kinds of innovation and change.

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Josh Cyphers is the President of Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR Company. For the past 20 years, Josh has managed successful growth for a variety of companies, from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies. Prior to Nvoicepay, Josh held leadership roles at Microsoft, Nike, Fiserv, and several growth-stage technology companies. Josh is a lapsed CPA, and has a BS in Economics from Eastern Oregon University.

automation

Making Your Case: The Four E’s of Payment Automation

Paying suppliers by check is a practice that has endured for much longer than anyone would have imagined. For a while, it looked like COVID-19 might be the tipping point for companies to go completely electronic. After an initial push in that direction, however, many accounts payable departments still send their workers into the office to process invoices and manage the manual check process.

It’s not enough to want to get rid of paper checks. The case against them is not strong enough on its own. It has to be combined with a strong business case in favor of something else.

Even though manual processes are expensive, there are some rational arguments for relying on check payments. You don’t have to enable suppliers for electronic payments, manage banking data, or worry about ACH fraud. You can even outsource the process. While suppliers generally like the idea of electronic payments, they can also be deterred by complex enrollment processes.

People may also still be attached to the idea of check float. Even though interest rates remain at historic lows, it can provide a sense of security to see money in bank accounts for longer. Some businesses even have tenured employees who are used to older processes.

So is the check-writing process that bad?

The answer might have been different last January, with easy access to check printers. But now that accounts payable teams are sheltering in place, their processes often involve driving into the office and to other residencies to get checks signed. Add in the other check-stuffing and mailing steps, and you’ve got a significantly time-consuming task.

Despite the laborious nature of this process, many organizations have still stuck with it. At any rate, the widely-predicted wave of late payments never formed. People dug in and got things done, despite the unforeseen challenges. The added steps have now become business as usual.

While it seems absurd to add “driving paper around” to anyone’s job description, it speaks to how deeply checks are embedded in the B2B world. Companies hadn’t drawn the line at walking checks around for signatures, keeping a safe full of check stock, or renting an offsite storage space for paper files. What’s one more step?

There are plenty of reasons why it makes sense to stop writing checks, but we’ve narrowed it down to four. These “Four E’s of Going Electronic” make up a compelling business case for payment automation adoption.

Economics. What does it cost your organization to write checks? And not just the sum of material costs like ink, check stock, envelops and stamps–which generally comes out to about 75 cents per check. But also consider the cost of time and people. Industry analysts estimate it’s more like $3 to $5 per check, and it could be as high as $10 in some organizations. Remember to consider opportunity costs in your economic analysis. For example: What could your AP team spend time on instead, once extensive check processes are streamlined?

Efficiency. Even if you only write checks, you might have workflows established for different variations of payments. Perhaps they’re based on the payment amounts, signatures required, or even supporting documentation. All these manual and mechanical workflows could easily be automated, so approvers and signers can do their role in minutes, from any location.

Experience. How do suppliers want to get paid? Do they want to go to the office to handle checks? With ACH or card, suppliers get their money faster, without the threat of a check bounce looming over their heads. If you apply some technology to remittances, cash application experience can be much quicker and painless.

Ease of implementation. It’s easy to do things electronically, but your business case breaks down if you don’t have the resources to contribute towards the implementation process. Suppose you’re going to look for a solution. In that case, the last part of the business case has to be ease of deployment, versus what it would look like if you tried to automate everything yourself.

If you were going to do it yourself, you’d have to find a printing organization to cut the checks. You’d have to get IT to create a file to their specifications. You’d have to keep them supplied with check stock. Then you’d have to get your IT people to create another file for your bank for ACH payments. You’d have to run an enablement campaign to get vendors on board. You’d have to come up with a process for maintaining and storing their information and protecting it from breaches and fraud. You’d have to have IT create a file for your card provider. That’s three separate processes that you have to set up and launch and maintain.

Doing all that on your own is a major undertaking, and when you get right down to it, this is a big part of the reason that checks persist. The case against them isn’t strong enough on its own, and it’s counterbalanced by a case against automation—at least automation as we’ve known it in the past, which is much as I’ve described above–a semi-automated process where you do a ton of work to set it up, only to find yourself managing all these different file types and workflows and data just to be able to move the money electronically—and then you’re still probably doing half your payments by check. People have tried it, and it affirmed their choice to stick with checks.

Compare that to just handing it off to somebody that can automate the whole process and implement in about six weeks with just four hours of IT time. That is what is possible with today’s payment automation solutions. You also get continuous vendor enablement, fraud protection, error resolution and a payment guarantee in the bargain.

What often happens is that employees who want to get rid of checks are the ones most burdened by them. With working from home becoming the new norm, these people are more burdened than ever before. Yet they are not typically the decision-makers when it comes to choosing which projects receive funding. The most significant competition for automation is simply the simplicity of maintaining the status quo.

Perspective is everything. It’s rarely enough to point out how to disrupt the norm–you have to paint a picture for a better future. When writing a business case for payment automation, draw attention to the permanently simplified (and cheaper) workload that automated processes would bring, rather than focusing on the temporary unfamiliarity of your solution. Keeping that kind of mindset may accomplish what years of manual effort have not: eliminating business check writing once and for all.

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Derek Halpern is Senior Vice President of Sales for Nvoicepay. He has over 20 years of technology sales and leadership experience, including 16 years in the fintech and payments space.

carve-outs

Carve-outs are Attractive for M&A, but Complications can Decrease Value

Before the COVID-19 pandemic brought mergers and acquisitions to a standstill, dealmakers increasingly turned to carve-out deals –the sale or divestiture of a business unit or division from a company. Our research shows carve-outs have increased by 200% since 2016, demonstrating the attractiveness of these deals.Our research shows carve-outs have increased by 200% since 2016, demonstrating the attractiveness of these deals.

But carve-outs are far from straightforward, especially across borders. The more jurisdictions involved, the higher the degree of complexity firms must navigate. (Complexity, in this case, refers to the headaches and distractions that arise when complying with new regulations, language barriers, borders, currencies, and laws.)

The increased complexity of a carve-out creates both opportunity and risk for buyers. On the one hand, not many firms have the expertise or resources to re-incorporate a business from a parent structure, meaning the few companies able to do this have a natural advantage. On the other hand, the execution risk is increased significantly, and value can be quickly lost from carve-outs if not executed correctly.

A recent survey by TMF Group found that 34% of senior executives from private equity firms with buy-side experience and 27% from corporations said their most recent cross-border carve-out failed to deliver on expectations, with 24% and 19%, respectively, saying costly overruns significantly impacted the deals. If a deal is delayed by more than four months as a result of business entanglements across jurisdictions, the average resulting cost overrun comes to about 16%.

Consider how one financial executive in India described an overrun deal: “We hadn’t expected it to be seamless, but we weren’t prepared for the effect on costs, and we had to make some hasty financial decisions to get the deal over the line.”

If a transaction takes place across jurisdictions, the complexity of those deals increases once local regulations come into play. Examples of regulations that, though innocuous, can significantly delay the deal-making process include:

-In some markets, it can take up to 60 days to open a bank account

-In others, business licenses are required before the new entity can register for VAT, while the company may need a local fiscal representative or director

-Some markets, such as the U.S., carry significant differences between states for regulations pertaining to licenses, tax registrations, and employment regulations

If these complexities aren’t accounted for at the start of the deal-making process, the monetary value of the deal can decrease, as evidenced by the 1 in 5 deals that create millions of dollars in extra costs. Take it from a head of finance at a Finnish corporation: “Complying with the domestic requirements, such as legal, accounting, and taxation, were the most difficult aspects for us to manage…rather than solving complex operational issues, we were more concerned with getting the company ready for various compliance items.”

Conversely, having a presence in the country in which a deal is conducted increases the likelihood of a deal going well. Those with a limited or no presence in the target’s country were more likely to have disappointing outcomes, with 38% of respondents who had limited or no presence at all in the carve-outs jurisdiction noting their most recent carveout had been mostly unsuccessful in terms of reaching its strategic goals.

There is, of course, the question of when deal activity will return to a pre-COVID-19 pace. It’s a question of when, not if, because private equity firms are sitting on large cash piles, interest rates are historically low and companies are distressed. Companies facing a cash flow crunch may be more likely to sell off non-core assets than consider an outright sale of the entire business. The environment is ripe for carve-outs in the near future, although valuations may look a lot different than six months ago.

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Randy Worzala is Head of Business Development – North America at TMF Group, a multinational professional services firm based in Amsterdam, providing accounting, tax, HR and payroll services to international businesses. The company has around 7,000 employees in 80 countries.

virtual card

It’s Time to Revisit the Benefits of Virtual Card

In the wake of the many changes this year has brought, companies are moving toward making more of their supplier payments electronically. It’s a welcome thing. Check payments have dwindled in consumer life, but across US industries, nearly half of all supplier payments are still made by check. As accounts payable departments went into work from home mode, it became difficult to cut checks. They rushed to set suppliers up for ACH payments, skipping over what might be a better opportunity: paying them by virtual card.

Not every supplier accepts virtual cards, however. Before you set your suppliers up for ACH, you should at least ask about cards—there are compelling benefits for both buyers and suppliers with that option. For suppliers, getting paid by card is the fastest way to get their money in the bank. On the buyer’s side, virtual cards are the most secure payment method, and they can also generate rebates. To get the promised rebates, you need to find the right card program for your business and have a solid plan for continually enabling suppliers. For most companies, it makes sense to consider virtual cards in the broader context of automating the entire payment process.

To be clear, I’m not talking about p-cards. P-cards are a physical card that AP uses to pay suppliers over the phone. Virtual cards are 16-digit “card” numbers issued to a named supplier for a specified amount. These “v-cards” can’t be processed by anyone other than the supplier, or for anything larger than the authorized amount. And, if somehow a fraudulent transaction should occur, virtual card issuers offer the same protections as they do with plastic cards. When it comes to check and ACH payments, money that falls into fraudulent hands can be challenging to get back. Card processes are more traceable and are, therefore, easier to reverse.

There are Challenges of Maintaining In-House Processes

It’s possible for your team to own their own card payment processes instead of handing the reins over to a payment automation partner. But the work required often dissuades companies from doing so.

One of the main reasons checks have persisted as the top payment type in the business world is the minimal setup required. This makes checks an attractive payment method on paper, especially for companies who do business with thousands of suppliers. But the actual process is more labor-intensive because each check must be approved, printed, signed, and mailed—a process that can take days for some companies.

On the reverse side, card payments require an enablement component. Someone must reach out to each supplier to confirm their payment preference. The up-front work often prevents decision-makers from pulling the trigger on implementing such a system. Ironically, many companies turn to ACH or wire as an alternate solution, but these are even costlier and more time-consuming. For these payment types, companies must collect supplier bank account information. Then they must validate store them securely, and maintain tight, protective controls on them.

For smaller companies that are more focused on generating an additional revenue stream, a standalone virtual card program can be a decent option. The caveat is that without a strong enablement effort, any projected rebate may have to be invested back into your process to maintain it.

Standalone Programs Aren’t Permanent Solutions

An independent program works well when companies are highly integrated between their ERP system and their bank. In these scenarios, the company usually has most of their suppliers set up to receive ACH payments, simplifying the reconciliation process.  However, adding more payment automation over the top of existing automation would be redundant, closing the door on additional revenue that might be generated from a card program down the road.

Larger companies should look at comprehensive payment automation solutions with virtual card embedded into them, even if you don’t plan to use them right away.

How Does Payment Automation Resolve These Problems?

Automated solutions wrap all payment types into a single workflow, making it easy to offer several options to suppliers without adding to AP’s daily workload. Because suppliers are continuously enabled for electronic payments via a supplier network, most companies can immediately pay a significant percentage of their suppliers electronically with no effort. Paying by check also becomes as simple as submitting a pay file and approving it. This simplified process cuts out a significant portion of AP’s manual tasks, leaving them more time to focus on higher-level initiatives.

By automating the whole payment process, including enablement, reconciliation, and error resolution, AP teams usually see cost reductions of up to 70 percent. When you add revenue from card payments into the equation, AP can become a profit center.

Card payments still only account for about five percent of B2B payments. There’s a significant opportunity that companies have been missing out on, either because they haven’t researched virtual cards, don’t want to do the supplier outreach, or haven’t found a partner that can help them make it work. Due to processing fees, not every supplier will accept card payments. Still, a surprising number—around 20 percent of suppliers, in my experience—will say yes if they’re asked.

Now that cash flow is king, companies are shifting to accommodate more ACH enablement outreach. While you’re reaching out to your suppliers, it may be worth your time simply asking if they would accept card payments. Wrapping these initiatives into a payment automation solution may enable your AP department to run lean in the cloud indefinitely.

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Kristin is Vice President of Regional Sales at Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR company. Her experience in sales and sales leadership spans 16 years, and includes positions held with companies like Capital One and Billtrust. With Nvoicepay, she delivers scalable payment solutions to mid-market and enterprise companies. Kristin has received several accolades, including Sales Rep of the Year & Quarter, and multiple President’s Awards.

payment

Survey Finds Dramatic Increase in Overdue Payments in North America

Will North American businesses remain resilient in the face of COVID-19 challenges? That answer is increasingly difficult to answer in the affirmative, as virus containment measures continue to negatively impact trade, consumer spending, industrial production, unemployment, corporate debt and supply chains.

According to the annual Payment Practices Barometer survey of businesses in the U.S., Mexico and Canada by trade credit insurer Atradius, companies are facing widespread cash and liquidity pressures. Survey data was collected this spring, and conditions have likely deteriorated further. News recently broke, for instance, that the coronavirus caused the U.S. economy to contract 32.9% in Q2, the worst contraction in modern history.

Needless to say, the bleak economic outlook puts businesses in an extremely tight spot, and it is likely insolvencies will rise dramatically, further exacerbating liquidity challenges among organizations in the supply chain. Some troubling signs of deteriorating payment practices and B2B customer credit risk captured in the survey include:

-Overdue payments have increased dramatically. Across the region, 43% of the total value of issued invoices remain unpaid by the due date, a sharp increase from the 25% reported last year.

-The value of invoices overdue by 90 days or more has doubled to 13%.

-Businesses write off 4% of the total value of outstanding invoices, up from 3% in 2019.

The increase in payment defaults is particularly alarming in the U.S., which saw a 72% year-over-year uptick compared to 2019, and in Canada, which saw an 86% increase. In Mexico, the amount of trade receivables firms have written off has doubled since last year.

These trends put a troubling burden on businesses, which end up having to spend more time, resources and funds chasing down overdue invoices. It also means working capital is tied up for longer than before, limiting businesses’ abilities to pay their own suppliers and make strategic investments. In short, rampant late payments cause a bad domino effect, spreading liquidity issues all throughout the supply chain.

UMSCA Firms Are Tightening Credit Controls

Faced with heightened B2B customer credit risk, many businesses across North America are tightening their credit control procedures, the Payment Practices Barometer found.

Firms typically rely on a mix of outsourced risk management, such as credit insurance, and internal tactics such as reducing risk concentrations and increasing debt collection resources. Notably, more than half of the region’s survey respondents plan on upping the efficiency of their debt collection processes through tactics such as payment reminders or outsourcing collections to an agency.

The Payment Practices Barometer also found that while credit-based B2B sales are on the rise across the region, the trend is slowing. Self-insurance against the risk of payment defaults also saw an increase – 66% of businesses rely on this tool compared to 22% last year.

The most prevalent methods of credit control vary by country:

-Many Canadian firms are planning on adjusting payment terms to better align with the credit capacity of customers – average payment terms are now 26 days, compared to 27 days in 2019. They also widely employ payment reminders and work to avoid concentrations of credit risk.

-In Mexico, a significant proportion of businesses employ credit insurance. Additional popular credit management tactics include suspending deliveries until outstanding invoices are paid, requesting payment on cash from B2B customers and requesting payment guarantees.

-U.S. firms focus more on credit management than their peers in the region. A large majority of U.S. businesses manage customer credit risk in-house through self-insurance. Requiring payment guarantees prior to sales and offering discounts for early payment are also widely used tactics.

UMSCA Businesses Remain Hopeful?

Despite the bleak economic outlook and all signs pointing to widespread liquidity issues, the majority of businesses surveyed in North America predicted growth in the coming months, their optimism rooted in the belief that banks will continue to provide credit to cushion the effects of poor cash flow.

But again, that was a few months ago, and business conditions are rapidly changing for the worse. Consumer sentiment, for instance, has fallen back almost as low as in the early days of the outbreak – optimism that COVID-19 will go away any time soon is now a distant memory.

The only thing that can be said for sure is that the business environment in North America is rife with uncertainty with no indication of sunnier skies in the near future. More than ever, businesses need to take a strategic approach to credit management that ensures adequate cash flows and a solid liquidity position.

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Gordon Cessford is the president and regional director of North America for Atradius Trade Credit Insurance, Inc

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.