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How Do Electronic Payment Solutions Fulfill Supplier Needs?

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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.

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How to Make Important Adjustments to Your Payment Strategy

The first couple of weeks of sheltering in place regulations saw finance and accounts payable organizations scrambling to set up remote operations and get payments out the door. Most were able to accomplish these goals quite well. Now we’ve moved into the next step–establishing efficient workflows and productive practices. It’s still challenging, however. Companies have to find ways to keep people safe while executing paper-based processes that keep their teams office-bound. For example, many companies still have to go into the office to pick up mail, circulate invoices for approval, and prepare checks for mailing.

They also must consider the best way to move forward and develop strategies for managing their teams through economic uncertainty. The Conference Board, a non-partisan economic think tank, recently sketched out three possible scenarios. Their best-case scenario predicts a 3.6% decline in US GDP for 2020, while the worst case would see a 7.4% decline. In other words, nobody knows what the next six to 12 months are going to look like.

That means AP needs to focus on conserving cash while keeping operations moving. They can expect more calls from suppliers since Accounts Receivable teams typically ramp up their efforts in tough times. They need to prioritize payments and capture early pay discounts. Procurement is going to reach out to try and renegotiate prices or terms. Treasury is going to be very interested in the timing of payments and managing working capital. It’s on the AP team’s shoulders to make sure they’re engaging with these teams and coordinating efforts.

At the same time, they’ve got to consider the efficiency and the productivity of their own team as we continue to work remotely. Among other things, that means coming up with a strategy for shifting to electronic payments at scale.

Many organizations have had this goal for a long time, but, depending on the research you look at, around 40 percent of business payments still issue by check. This number is down from a decade ago, but still problematic in a remote work environment. So why don’t businesses pay more of their suppliers electronically? Well, as everyone who rushed to shift suppliers to ACH payments when shelter at home orders took effect has learned, you can’t just flip a switch and move all your suppliers.

It’s easy enough to find a bank to handle ACH transactions for you. It also sounds a lot cheaper upfront than checks—if you only look at transaction processing costs, which are usually well below $1.

But with ACH, you have to enable your suppliers one by one, and then store and update their data securely. That becomes a fixed cost because there’s a constant churn of suppliers and their bank data–changes usually around once every four years per supplier. You should also expect to manage exceptions that arise with ACH file submissions and more nuanced supplier questions.

Thinking ACH is cheap or straightforward is one of the biggest misconceptions holding companies back from paying electronically. That’s not to say you shouldn’t make ACH payments. That said, they should be part of a holistic strategy that addresses the entire payments workflow, encompassing all forms of payment, including international wire payments.

What does that look like?

Card first

If you’re going to reach out to suppliers to enable them for electronic payments, you should first ask them to accept payment by credit card.

Virtual cards–sometimes known as single-use ghost accounts or SUGAs–are not as well-known as they should be in finance and accounting circles. Still, they can be an incredibly valuable part of your payment strategy. Unlike P-cards or company-issued credit cards, virtual cards exist to pay suppliers easily. Each card has a unique number that can only be used by the assigned recipient in the designated amount. That provides AP with substantial control and makes it one of the most secure, fraud-proof payment methods. You also should expect to receive rebates to offset some of your AP costs.

The main challenges are enablement and outreach, which don’t require significant effort on the part of AP teams since virtual card payment and remittance are relatively straightforward for suppliers. All that’s left is to structure your rebate program to support your team’s efforts and then some.

ACH for most

If a supplier declines to accept card, which often happens due to the interchange fee, your second request should be to enable them for ACH. Most vendors will say yes to this; in fact, they’d prefer it to check. Just be sure you have a realistic appreciation of the true ACH payment operating costs, including enablement and data management, as well as fraud support.

Check for holdouts

While the number is dwindling, there are some suppliers with a ride-or-die mentality who won’t accept anything but checks. For these suppliers, an outsourced payment provider can do a print check from an electronic file, so your team doesn’t have to handle all the paper.

Your payment strategy should include automating the payment workflow. Fintech ePayment providers wrap these disparate workflows into one interface so that all AP has to do is click “pay.” Then their payments will issue to their suppliers in the method they elected to receive. Because these platforms are in the cloud, payments can be approved and scheduled remotely, with visibility for multiple team members.

Heightened fraud protection

Your payment strategy should also include fraud protection. The pandemic, the move to remote work, and challenging economic conditions have created a perfect storm for a rise in all types of crime, including payment fraud. It’s essential to have strong internal controls, especially now that sensitive information is residing in your teams’ homes and on their personal networks. Preventing theft is a key component of cash management.

It used to be that organizations mainly worried about check fraud, and that’s still a problem, but it’s reduced quite a bit thanks to controls such as Positive Pay, Positive Payee, and watermarks on checks. So far, there aren’t similar controls for ACH. As businesses have gravitated towards ACH solutions, such payments have become more of a target for fraudsters. That’s a problem because the funds move faster, making it much harder to recover a fraudulent ACH.

Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes are the most common type of attack. These involve fraudsters masquerading as suppliers, company executives, or other high-ranking personnel, requesting that funds route to a new, fraudulent bank account. We’re already seeing that the pandemic has provided BEC scammers with new material to convince an overwhelmed AP to comply with these requests.

To protect your team, you need a partner who can support your enablement and fraud protection goals, so your team can stay focused on cash management.

Finance and AP have long intended to go electronic, but the transition has been slow. It’s not just the flip of a switch or the sudden addition of a new payment type. Very few businesses realize how strategic the shift is until after they’ve committed to an update. Many companies that don’t plan accordingly have had to revert to check payments when they realized the actual cost and effort it takes to switch suppliers over. Rather than trying to attack a single pain point, you have to address the whole process from top to bottom.

Now we are going to see an acceleration of this shift with the remote workforce and challenging economic conditions. There is a new imperative, and there is also new technology. Interestingly enough, a lot of the fintechs providing B2B payments technology got their start during the great recession, when the financial system collapsed, and cloud technology was being born. These are now mature companies, ready to “cross the chasm” and transition their partners to 100 percent electronic payments.

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Derek Halpern is the SVP of Sales for Nvoicepay. He has over 20 years of technology sales and leadership experience, including 16 years in the fintech and payments space. Derek’s previous positions include VP of Sales at Billtrust, an AR automation technology company, and Sales Director at TranZero, a payments company. Previously, Derek co-founded a company called ProService Software, which was sold to Solomon Software. Derek became the Western Region Sales Manager for Solomon following the acquisition. Derek earned a BS in Business Management from Pepperdine University.

Josh Cyphers is the Vice President of Product & Strategy for Nvoicepay. 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 was a Senior Manager and Consultant at Microsoft, Vice President of Finance at Visa, and Business Planning and Analysis Manager at Nike. Josh is a lapsed CPA, and has a BS in Economics from Eastern Oregon University.