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How to Create an Enduring Workflow for AR

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.

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.