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6 B2B payment trends in 2022

B2B

6 B2B payment trends in 2022

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

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

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


 

Check use declines

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

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

Greater focus on efficient processes

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

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

Fintechs gain market share

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

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

Cards see wider adoption

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

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

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

Fighting fraud at scale

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

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

Blockchain yes, crypto not yet

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

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

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

In a nutshell

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

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

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

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

trade finance

DIGITIZATION’S NEXT FRONTIER: NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS ARE A GAME CHANGER FOR TRADE FINANCE

Trade finance is known for its stubbornness in the face of change. Even as the world has gone digital, paper-based manual processes remain commonplace across the complex network of counterparties involved in financing global trade. Thankfully, the tide is now turning. To digitize or not digitize is no longer the question–it’s now a case of “when,” not “if.”

The operational challenges of relying on manual processes and systems are well known and much maligned across the industry–incorrect documentation and KYC, non-interoperable systems, manual reconciliation, poor visibility, excessive costs, to name just a few.

Digital solutions have emerged in many different shapes and sizes, but one of the technologies which seems most encouraging is enterprise blockchain. Trade is a fundamentally decentralized system. The industry is heavily intermediated–predominantly by banks that help to facilitate transactions and provide the financing behind them, but also by insurers, customs officials and other market participants. Firms have tried countless times to apply centralized solutions to this decentralized system but, unsurprisingly, none have really worked. 

The decentralized nature of blockchain makes it a perfect fit for trade finance. For the first time, the entire industry is getting behind a technology and moving it into real world deployment at a record pace. The architecture underpinning the entire ecosystem of trade is undergoing complete digital transformation, and exciting new blockchain-enabled developments continue to emerge. One such development is non-fungible tokens, or NFTs. But what are they and how do they benefit participants? 

WHAT IS AN NFT?

A non-fungible token is a unique and non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a digital ledger. NFTs use blockchain technology to provide a public proof of ownership. You’ve probably heard of NFTs in the entertainment industry, largely because they can be associated as unique items with easily reproducible items such as photos, videos, audio and other types of digital files. But they also have wide applicability in the financial services space–and specifically in trade finance. 

It’s important to note that an NFT is simply a specific type of tokenization. Once a trade finance document or obligation has been tokenized, it can be referred to as an NFT. By contrast, a smart contract is a digital contract, stored on blockchain, which will execute once specified conditions are met. In the case of trade finance asset distribution, both smart contracts and tokenization work together to facilitate this activity.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF NFTs IN TRADE FINANCE?

In reality, NFTs for trade finance have been around for some time, though we’ve only just begun to describe them this way. You could think of trade finance as a practical implementation of the NFTs in the news today. Marco Polo is one such platform which already tokenizes payment obligations and invoices. 

Storing ownership data on blockchain reduces the costs and complications of paperwork that is otherwise required to verify the process. This is no small feat when you consider many of the processes and technologies underpinning trade finance have not been modernized in decades.

Take, for example, invoice financing. While a common activity, managing invoice payments and terms can be slow and inefficient for companies and their trading partners. They must navigate different currencies and jurisdictions, each with unique requirements in terms of contract terms and payments. 

By digitizing these manual processes and storing the data as an NFT, a technology such as blockchain has a real impact on reducing the costs, risks and delays to participants involved in trade finance. 

MAKING TRADE FINANCE MORE ACCESSIBLE TO SMEs

It is complicated and legally difficult to provide an optimal level of credit support to small companies. Nearly $1.5 trillion of demand for trade finance is rejected by banks, according to the Asian Development Bank, with 60% of banks expecting this figure to increase over the next two years. SMEs in developing markets that rely heavily on access to trade can be severely hindered through these outdated processes.

Tokenizing the payment guarantee of the final buyer can make it easier to provide this support, but there are important caveats to this. While tokenizing payment guarantees makes it cheaper and easier to execute credit support, there is no guarantee that these processes will then be used to extend supply chain financing through to the long tail of suppliers. It certainly could be used in this way, but it also might not be. This needs to be adopted at the industry level as suppliers would need to pass the NFT onto their own suppliers in turn for the tokenization of payment guarantees to truly be effective.

Although tokenizing the payment guarantee of the final buyer is a frequently mentioned use case, NFTs can also be used to digitize invoices for factoring, for example. Asset originators can tokenize invoices which can then be financed. This could be a very helpful step in enabling small companies to access the financing they need to grow trade.

EXPANDING THE TRADE ASSET ECOSYSTEM

Beyond their immediate benefits to banks and trading businesses, NFTs can also enable institutional investors to expand their activity in trade finance assets. These assets have historically struggled to scale for well-known reasons: investors find them complicated, there aren’t trusted quantitative benchmarks available and there often isn’t the necessary infrastructure to process them properly. Tokenizing trade finance receivables and payment obligations can simplify the process of asset transfer and solve one of these challenges, thus contributing to the scaling of trade finance assets.

Interest in trade finance as an asset class has grown over the past couple of years for reasons unrelated to NFTs. NFTs, as we think of them today, are relatively new and tend to be associated with digital content rather than physical goods. This framework suits trade finance assets because while they are linked to physical assets, the securities themselves are digital.

Programmable contracts used in combination with NFTs have shown great promise in tackling the problem of trade finance asset distribution. The use of the two functionalities together has promise as a way to support the building momentum around trade finance as an asset class.

OLD MEETS NEW

In order to get the most out of NFTs and blockchain for trade finance–like any nascent technology–they must be used alongside existing systems. In reality, most businesses will continue to use their long-standing legacy systems throughout this transition to a fully digitized space. 

It is crucial, therefore, that disruption is kept to a minimum. NFTs and enterprise blockchain platforms should be viewed as a means of supporting and improving current processes, rather than replacing them. In other words, integration is the single most important factor in helping this industry to keep up with the rapidly digitizing world around it.   

_______________________________________________________________

As head of Trade and Supply Chain at R3, a Dublin, Ireland-headquartered enterprise technology and services provider with offices around the world, Alisa DiCaprio is responsible for trade strategy, standards and governance design. She was previously a senior economist at the Asian Development Bank and holds a doctorate from MIT.

DeFI

DeFi World has a new star called DAO

As financial markets wrap up the year 2021 and launch into 2022 at warp speed, the “DeFi” world has a new star called the “DAO”.

Decentralized finance, short-handed as “DeFi”, refers to peer-to-peer finance enabled by Ethereum, Avalanche, Solana, Cardano and other Layer-1 blockchain protocols, as distinguished from centralized finance (“CeFi”) or traditional finance (“TradFi”), in which buyers and sellers, payment transmitters and receivers, rely upon trusted intermediaries such as banks, brokers, custodians and clearing firms. DeFi app users “self-custody” their assets in their wallets, where they are protected by their private keys. By eliminating the need for trusted intermediaries, DeFi apps dramatically increase the speed and lower the cost of financial transactions. Because open-source blockchain blocks are visible to all, DeFi also enhances the transparency of transactions and resulting asset and liability positions.

Although the proliferation of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, may have gathered more headlines in 2021, crypto assets have become a legitimate, mainstream and extraordinarily profitable asset class since they were invented a mere 11 years ago.  The Ethereum blockchain and its digitally native token, Ether, was the wellspring for DeFi because Ether could be used as “gas” to run Layer-2 apps built to run on top of Ethereum. Since then, Avalanche, Solana and Cardano, among other proof-of-stake protocols, have launched on mainnet, providing the gas and the foundation for breathtaking app development which is limited only by the creativity and industry of development teams.

Avalanche and its digitally native token AVAX exemplify this phenomenon. Launched on mainnet a little more than a year ago, Avalanche already hosts more than 50 fully-launched Layer-2 apps. The AVAX token is secured by more than 1,000 validators. Recently, the Avalanche Foundation raised $230 million in a private sale of AVAX tokens for the purpose of supporting DeFi projects and other enhancements of the fully functional Avalanche ecosystem. Coinbase, which is a CeFi institution offering custodial services to its customers, facilitates purchases and sales of the Avalanche, Solana, Cardano and other Layer-1 blockchain tokens, as well as the native tokens of DeFi exchanges such as Uniswap, Sushiswap, Maker and Curve. So formidable is DeFi in its potential to dominate the industry that Coinbase, when it went public in 2021, cited competition from DeFi as one of the company’s primary risk factors.

If DeFi were “a company,” like Coinbase, the market capitalization of AVAX would be shareholder wealth. But DeFi is code, not a company. Uniswap is a DeFi exchange that processed $52 billion in trading volume in September 2021 without the help of a single employee. Small wonder that CeFi and TradFi exchanges are concerned.

DeFi apps require “DAOs,” or Decentralized Autonomous Organizations, to operate. DAOs manage DeFi apps through the individual decisions made by decentralized validator nodes who own or possess tokens sufficient in amount to approve blocks. Unlike joint stock companies, corporations, limited partnerships and limited liability companies, however, DAOs have no code (although, ironically, they are creatures of code). In other words, there is no “Model DAO Act” the way there is a “Model Business Corporation Act.” DAOs are “teal organizations” within the business organization scheme theorized by Frederic Lalou in his 2014 book, “Reinventing Organizations.” They are fundamentally unprecedented in law.

Just as NFTs have been a game changer for creators, artists and athletes, our legal system will need to evolve to account for the creation of the DAOs that govern NFTs and other crypto assets. (NFTs are a species of crypto asset.) Adapting our legal system to account for DAOs represents the next wave of possibility for more numerous and extensive community efforts.

A DAO is fundamentally communitarian in orientation. The group of individuals is typically bound by a charter or bylaws encoded on the blockchain, subject to amendments if, as and when approved by a majority (or some other portion) of the validator nodes. Some DAOs are governed less formally than that.

The vast majority of Blockchain networks and smart contract-based apps are organized as DAOs. Blockchain networks can use a variety of validation mechanisms.  Smart contract apps have governance protocols built into the code.  These governance protocols are hard-wired into the smart contracts like the rails for payments to occur, fully automated, and at scale.

In a DAO, there is no centralized authority — no CEO, no CFO, no Board of Directors, nor are there stockholders to obey or serve. Instead, community members submit proposals to the group, and each node can vote on each proposal. Those proposals supported by the majority (or other prescribed portion) of the nodes are adopted and enforced by the rules coded into the smart contract.  Smart contracts are therefore the foundation of a DAO, laying out the rules and executing the agreed-upon decisions.

There are numerous benefits to a DAO, including the fact that they are autonomous, do not require leadership, provide objective clarity and predictability, as everything is governed by the smart contract. And again, any changes to this must be voted on by the group, which rarely occurs in practice.  DAOs also are very transparent, with everything documented and allowing auditing of voting, proposals and even the code. DAO participants have an incentive to participate in the community so as to exert some influence over decisions that will govern the success of the project. In doing so, however, no node participating as part of a decentralized community would be relying upon the managerial or entrepreneurial efforts of others in the SEC v. Howey sense of that expression. Neither would other nodes be relying upon the subject node. Rather, all would be relying upon each other, with no one and no organized group determining the outcome, assuming (as noted) that the network is decentralized. Voting participants in DAOs do need to own or possess voting nodes, if not tokens.

As with NFTs, there are limitless possibilities for DAOs.  We are seeing a rise in DAOs designed to make significant purchases and to collect NFTs and other assets. For example, PleasrDAO, organized over Twitter, recently purchased the only copy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s album “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” for $4 million. This same group has also amassed a portfolio of rare collectibles and assets such as the original “Doge” meme NFT.

In addition to DAOs that are created as collective investment groups, there are DAOs designed to support social and community groups, as well as those that are established to manage open-source blockchain projects.

As is true with any emerging technology, there is currently not much regulation or oversight surrounding DAOs. This lack of regulation does make a DAO much simpler to start than a more traditional business model. But as they continue to gain in popularity, there will need to be more law written about them.

The State of Wyoming, which was first to codify the rules for limited liability companies, recently codified rules for DAOs domiciled in that state. So a DAO can be organized as such under the laws of the State of Wyoming. No other state enables this yet.

Compare the explosion in digital assets to the creation of securities markets a century ago.  After the first world war concluded in 1917, the modern securities markets began to blossom.  Investors pooled their money into sophisticated entities called partnerships, trusts and corporations, and Wall Street underwrote offerings of instruments called securities, some representing equity ownership, others representing a principal amount of debt plus interest.  Through the “roaring ‘20s,” securities markets exploded in popularity. Exuberance became irrational. When Joe Kennedy’s shoeshine boy told him that he had bought stocks on margin, Kennedy took that as a “sell” signal and sold his vast portfolio of stocks, reinvesting in real estate: he bought the Chicago Merchandise Mart and was later appointed by FDR to chair the SEC.  When the stock market crashed, fingers were pointed.  Eventually, a comprehensive legislative and regulatory scheme was built, woven between federal and state legislation and regulatory bodies.  Almost a hundred years later, securities markets have become the backbone of our financial system, and investors and market participants have built upon the certainty of well-designed architecture to create financial stability and enable growth.

But the legislative paradigm designed in the 1930s was not created with digital assets in mind. The world was all-analog then. The currently disconnected and opaque regulatory environment surrounding digital assets presents a challenge to sustained growth in DeFi markets.  Without “crypto legislation,” government agencies have filled the void, making their own determinations, and they are not well suited to do so. Just before Thanksgiving, the federal banking agencies released a report to the effect that they had been “sprinting” to catch up on blockchain developments, that they are concerned by what they see, and that next year they will start writing rules. Plainly, technological development has outpaced Washington again.

Whether crypto assets should be characterized as securities, commodities, money or simply as property is not clear in present day America.  Will entrepreneurs continue to create digital assets and will investors buy them if their legal status is in doubt?  The SEC mantra is “come talk to us,” but the crypto asset projects actually approved by the SEC are precious few in number, and SEC approvals are not timely. We have clients that have run out of runway while waiting for SEC approvals. In decentralization as in desegregation, justice delayed is justice denied. The recent experience of Coinbase in attempting to clear its “Lend” service through the SEC, only to be threatened with an SEC enforcement action (but no explanation), has caused other industry participants to question the utility of approaching officials whose doors might be open for polite conversation but whose minds seem to be closed.

Similarly, DAOs are a path-breaking form of business “organization” that are not well understood. They are not corporations. Should they nevertheless file and pay taxes, open bank accounts or sign legal agreements? If so, then who would have the power or duty to do that for a decentralized autonomous organization whose very existence decries the need for officers, directors and shareholders? The globally significant Financial Action Task Force, in its recent guidance on “virtual assets and virtual asset service providers,” called on governments to demand accountability from “creators, owners and operators,” as it put it, “who maintain control or sufficient influence” in DeFi arrangements, “even if those arrangements seem decentralized.” Some observers have characterized the FATFs guidance as an attempted “kill shot” targeting the heart of DeFi.

This, too, we know: SEC Chair Gensler has his eye on DeFi. We know that because he has said so, repeatedly. Trading and lending platforms, stablecoins and DeFi are the priorities that he mentions. SEC FinHUB released a “Framework” for crypto analysis that includes more than 30 factors, none of which is controlling. That framework is unworkable because it is too complex and uncertain of application. Chair Gensler, however, apparently applies what he calls the “duck” test: If it looks like a security, it is one. With respect to Mr. Gensler, that simple approach is no more useful than the late Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Less subjectivity and greater predictability in application are essential so development teams and exchange operators can plan to conduct business within legal boundaries. What we need are a few workable principles or standards (emphasis on “few” and “workable”) that define the decentralization that is at the core of legitimate DeFi and the consumer use of tokens that are not investment contracts. We also need the SEC to adhere to Howey analysis, which it has told us to follow slavishly, and not try to move the goalposts by misapplying the Reves “note” case when it senses that Howey won’t get it the result it craves.

Although futuristic DAOs are a decentralized break from the centralized past and present of business organization, the SEC has seen them before. Indeed it was the “DAO Report” issued in 2017 that began SEC intervention in the crypto asset industry. The DAO criticized in the DAO Report was unlike the DAOs seen today for a variety of reasons, including these: that DAO was a for-profit business that promised a return on investment, similar to a dividend stream, to token holders; and the token holders didn’t control the DAO. “Curators” controlled it, by vetting and whitelisting projects to be developed for profit. DAO participants necessarily relied on the original development team and the “Curators” to build functionality into the network. That sort of reliance on the managerial or entrepreneurial efforts of others is absent in a latter-day DAO whose participants can avail themselves of a fully functional network without reliance on the developers and without delay. It is earnestly to be hoped that the SEC will recognize these critical differences.

* * *

Louis Lehot is an emerging growth company, venture capital, and M&A lawyer at Foley & Lardner in Silicon Valley.  Louis spends his time providing entrepreneurs, innovative companies, and investors with practical and commercial legal strategies and solutions at all stages of growth, from the garage to global.

Patrick Daugherty is Louis’ partner in Chicago. A corporate securities lawyer by training, he spent 35 years practicing the law of money (IPOs, ETFs, M&A, SEC reporting and governance). While he still does that, 5 years ago he went down the rabbit hole of crypto assets and he now devotes himself to the law of the future of money.

trade finance

The Trade Finance Landscape in 2022: Automation and Digitalization

Given the rapid pace of digital transformation, it is often surprising to learn how many critical industries and services remain behind the curve, relying on manual processes and large-scale paper documentation. Global supply chain disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that international trade finance is one such industry.

International trade finance remains mired in an avalanche of paper, a plethora of conflicting national regulations and processes, and systems that do not communicate well with each other. These burdens, coupled with the industry’s failure to adapt quickly to more modern methods of analyzing credit eligibility, hit medium, small, and microenterprises (MSMEs) particularly hard. As MSMEs account for a large part of total global trade and are the largest employers worldwide, it is far past time for the industry to make changes that provide greater and simpler access.

This article reviews digital transformation efforts in global trade finance and considers the prospects for digitization and automation in the coming years.

The state of digitalization in global trade finance

After a drastic dip in 2020 as COVID-19 shut down countries worldwide, the international flow of goods rebounded strongly in 2021, and significant growth is expected to continue in 2022. And, according to the World Trade Organization, 80 to 90% of this flow is dependent on trade finance.

Unfortunately, trade finance is heavily document-dependent at every stage, and the burden of document preparation is only exacerbated by the need to verify and process documents along the way. In addition to being environmentally questionable in an era of extreme sensitivity to climate change, the paper-intensive processes underlying traditional trade finance are inefficient and create unnecessary access barriers.

It is somewhat surprising how far behind trade finance remains, given the advances in automation of many other financial processes and the benefits of digitalization. For example, automating invoicing and payment processing can lead to 15.4% more invoices getting paid on time, which is crucial for business success.

Despite the availability of tools and systems that can easily facilitate the automation of current manual processes, trade finance participants, especially banks and financial institutions, remain behind the curve. 

The ICC’s annual report on global trade finance presents discouraging data about automation efforts. It reports that 45% of banks still have completely manual document verification processes, more than 30% have fully manual settlement and financing processes, and around 25% rely on manual processes for credit issuance and advising.

The net effect of reliance on traditional methods is that many organizations cannot effectively participate in trade finance systems. Outdated modes of assessing creditworthiness, coupled with overly burdensome documentation demands, combine to deny equal access to many businesses. And this result hinders global trade.

Roadblocks to digitalization

Not surprisingly, many objections to digitalization and standardization are familiar mantras. The cost and inconvenience of implementing new systems have long been favorite protests against digital transformations, and they have raised their heads again for trade finance automation.

However, time and again, it has been shown that companies taking this “moving forward is too difficult” approach don’t maintain their position in the industry; instead, they quickly fall behind their competitors. Indeed, the more forward-thinking companies can expect to reap the most important benefit from their investment – increased revenue growth and profits.

A more compelling concern about digitalization is data privacy and security. These concerns are more than relevant in an era where data privacy regulations are becoming more prevalent and more stringent, and the number of cybercriminals is increasing rapidly. But frankly, there is far more opportunity for data loss and misappropriation in paper-based manual systems.

Organizations can apply today’s advanced cybersecurity standards and tools to build robust and secure automated replacements for their existing manual processes. And the application of increasingly improved, artificial intelligence-based analytical tools can help financial institutions eventually make better decisions about extending finance to market participants, opening access to more organizations, and expanding both global trade and the finance market.

The International Commerce Commission digitalization plan

Recognizing the lack of progress on digitalization of international trade finance systems and the damaging effects on MSMEs, the ICC established a working group to build a new trade finance architecture. Working with McKinsey and Fung Business Intelligence, the ICC Advisory Group on Trade Finance put together a three-phase, ten-year trade finance modernization plan, which it published in late 2021.

The ICC plan attempts to address several well-recognized issues in global trade finance, including the complexity of transactions, the lack of transparency in trade finance decision-making, and the credit constraints preventing MSMEs from equal access to finance. The plan is highly ambitious and will require cooperation from governments, financial institutions, and trade organizations worldwide. But it can make trade finance simpler, more effective, and more inclusive.

While the details of the plan go far beyond the scope of this article, the plan generally proposes the development of a so-called interoperability layer. This layer is a virtual construct built by harmonizing disparate existing finance standards (specifically concerning data models and APIs), establishing new standards to address gaps in finance regulation, and creating uniform playbooks for global trade participants. Standardized automation playbooks have already achieved success in many other areas, such as closing business sales and increasing data consistency.

Phase 1 lasts 12-18 months and focuses on building buy-in for existing standards, bringing more organizations into a common framework. This phase will also identify areas where standards are lacking and propose options to fill these gaps in coverage.

Phase 2 takes place in 2-3 years. The goal of Phase 2 is to finalize the first round of standards that serve as the basis for the interoperability layer and develop standards and structures for APIs that market participants can use to access trade finance systems. In this phase, the governing body of the plan will push for greater participation, specifically from supply-side participants (i.e., financial institutions).

Phase three, which covers the next seven years, is primarily scale-up and refinement. Based on the previous years’ experience, market participants will work to improve on standards and drive usage of trade finance playbooks. Importantly, however, phase three is where architecture truly gets involved, with the launch of common systems that participants can access directly or via API.

Harmonization of laws and regulations has had varying levels of effectiveness in fields ranging from international trade to intellectual property to employment and human rights. It remains to be seen if the ICC proposal can effectively overcome the inertia that has so far gripped the trade finance industry. But if not the ICC proposal, then other digitization efforts must take place to facilitate supply chain 4.0.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the global supply chain in the spotlight, unfortunately in a less than positive way. But as the world looks at how to resolve supply problems, global trade finance players have the perfect opportunity to revisit their processes and how they can facilitate international trade. As with so many other industries, the obvious answer is automation and digitalization. Hopefully, the market will heed this call and start the change sooner rather than later.

financial

How Executives Can Increase Their Company’s Financial Efficiency

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, opportunities for logistic companies expand. While this is good news, it also means competition within the industry is rising. If supply chain businesses want to stand out from competitors, they must increase their financial efficiency.

Many investors and potential business partners use financial efficiency metrics to determine a company’s economic health. Consequently, financially inefficient businesses may miss out on valuable strategic opportunities. Partnerships and investment aside, an efficient company is a more successful one.

Here are seven ways executives can increase their company’s financial efficiency to attain these benefits.

Automate Back-Office Tasks

Most businesses have repetitive, manual tasks that take time away from more valuable work. According to one study, more than 40% of workers spend at least 25% of their time on these tasks. Since these inefficiencies are so common and so impactful, automation can bring considerable rewards.

Many of these inefficiencies are in back-office operations like data entry, scheduling, and approvals. These tasks are also easily automatable through robotic process automation (RPA) solutions. By implementing these tools, companies can free their employees to focus on other, more important work, accomplishing these goals sooner.

RPA is also often faster than humans at these repetitive tasks. As a result, companies will improve the efficiency of these back-office processes as well as the more valuable manual operations.

Increase Fleet Visibility

Another common source of financial inefficiency in logistics companies is a lack of visibility. Fleet operations are prone to disruption, and when businesses can’t predict or see them as they unfold, these disruptions can have far-reaching consequences. In contrast, increasing visibility can help respond to developing situations faster, minimizing delays and costs.

Many companies now track fleets with GPS systems, but businesses can go further, too. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can monitor and communicate data like location, driving patterns, maintenance info, and product quality in real-time. With this timely information, fleet managers can see issues as they arise, leading to quicker, more effective responses.

Faster reactions lead to better customer service, less disruption, and sometimes avoiding serious delays entirely. Businesses’ financial efficiency will rise as a result.

Address Accounts Receivable

Accounts receivable turnover is one of the most popular metrics for financial efficiency, so businesses should strive to collect debts as quickly as possible. In the delay-heavy and prone-to-disruption world of logistics, that can be complicated. However, a few options can help.

One way to improve this ratio is to provide multiple payment methods for clients. This allows customers to use whatever best suits their needs, leading to quicker reactions from them. Similarly, payments will be faster when customers can use a process they’re already familiar with.

Another way to improve accounts receivable turnover ratios is to employ automation. Automated billing, reminders, and processing services are abundant today and can streamline the process for both companies and their clients. Employing these solutions while providing multiple payment methods will ensure businesses collect outstanding payments as quickly as possible.

Refinance or Consolidate Outstanding Debts

Outstanding debts are another common obstacle to financial efficiency. Having debts is normal for a business, but that doesn’t mean companies shouldn’t continuously reevaluate their loans. Periodically addressing these to see if there’s a way to refinance or consolidate them can help cultivate financial agility.

Many logistics companies may have outstanding vehicle loans, for example. These ongoing payments can easily fade into the background, but refinancing them can save $150 per vehicle per month in some cases. That seemingly small change frees up extra monthly revenue that companies can then put towards something else.

Alternatively, some companies may want to consolidate some of their debts. Doing so can make it easier to manage them and lower interest rates. Businesses may then be able to pay them off sooner.

Improve Cross-Department Communication

One aspect of the business that may fly under the company’s radar is communication between departments. When things get lost in translation moving between teams, it can lead to mistakes or take more time to achieve the desired goal. These mistakes and delays hinder financial efficiency, so improving communication can increase it.

Communication barriers cost $62.4 million annually in lost productivity on average. Consequently, companies should strive to remove barriers to effective collaboration, especially between different departments. Using collaborative software, holding frequent meetings, using instant messaging apps, and similar steps can do that.

When teams can communicate efficiently, confusion-related errors will decrease. Similarly, cross-department projects will have shorter completion times thanks to easier collaboration.

Reorganize Inventory

Inventory turnover is another aspect of financial efficiency to address. The longer items sit in warehouses or distribution centers, the less agile a company is. While logistics businesses may not be directly involved in the sales side of this issue, they can take steps to improve inventory inefficiencies.

Like fleets themselves, most inefficiencies in this area come from a lack of visibility. When organizations don’t know exactly where every item is at all times, it can take time to retrieve the correct one. Similarly, this lack of transparency can lead to confusion and errors that require correction down the road, leading to delays.

According to one survey, 34% of businesses have shipped items late because they sold out-of-stock items. Warehouse management systems, IoT tracking, and RFID tags can all help keep better track of inventory levels, avoiding mistakes like this. Logistics businesses can then pass these benefits along to their partners, creating positive ripple effects.

Train Employees More Thoroughly

One risk factor that can affect financial efficiency in any department in any business is human error. Even small mistakes can lead to considerable disruptions over time as more employees make them. Many may suggest automation as an answer, but that isn’t applicable in every circumstance and isn’t always necessary.

The solution to this problem is to put more emphasis on employee training. Organizations should look for common mistakes and, as trends emerge, emphasize these points in training. Periodic refresher courses over high-value or complicated processes can help too.

When workers better understand how to perform their jobs correctly, they’ll also work faster. More thorough training will boost confidence, leading to less second-guessing and higher efficiency.

Financial Efficiency Is Critical for Any Logistics Business

As the logistics market grows increasingly crowded, businesses must improve their financial efficiency to stay competitive. Higher efficiency will lower operating costs, attract investors, and open new strategic opportunities. These seven steps can help any business increase its financial efficiency. Companies can then become as agile and profitable as possible.

ROI

How to Calculate the Real Benefits of ROI

There’s a healthy number of ROI opportunities within the payment automation sphere, and it’s relatively easy to estimate for any given organization by doing a payment analysis. Unfortunately, many professionals don’t take advantage of the available opportunities—or otherwise can’t recognize them due to the constantly shifting payment landscape. Payment automation companies make it their business to identify the options for each firm based on their unique needs and criteria.

For example, Nvoicepay scans for ROI possibilities by looking through vendor and payment data from the previous year. We focus on areas that will produce the most positive impact: transactional cost reduction and increased rebates, for example. Altogether, there are several areas where organizations see positive ROI from payment automation. Below are seven ways in which payment automation supports time and money savings, and how payment automation companies can lend a hand in achieving these goals. The examples given are based on our internal data.

1. Reduced check payments.

Checks are the most expensive and time-consuming way to pay vendors. While switching vendors to electronic payment can be a time-consuming project, keeping to the status quo becomes even more costly in time and dollars in the long run.

While check costs vary by company, the general cost to print and mail checks is between $3 and $8 per check. This includes purchasing check stock, envelopes, postage, and staff time. We find that most organizations can reduce the number of checks they’re writing by about 70 percent.

For example, if you’re writing a thousand checks per month at $3,000, switching 70 percent of your vendors to electronic payment options will reduce the number of checks to roughly 300, costing $900. In this scenario, you’d save $2,100 monthly and $25,200 annually.

2. Increased rebates.

Find chances to earn rebates, whether that’s making payments to vendors within a certain time limit, or meeting other requirements that ease up on the receivables workload. For companies that maintain a large vendor base, it can be tricky to scope out advantageous prospects.

We have found that roughly 15-20 percent of vendors accept credit card, which is an excellent place to start looking for rebate potential. It’s startlingly effective to ask vendors if they’re able to accept card. If even 150 vendors out of every 1000 switch to virtual cards, especially if they’re highest-paid vendors, you have the chance to generate rebates on hundreds of thousands of dollars each month.

3. Enabling vendors for electronic payments.

Setting vendors up for electronic payment requires several steps, including reaching out to each vendor to ask which forms of payment they’ll accept, and collecting and verifying the provided information. Based on our experience enabling nearly a million vendors in our network, we estimate that this process takes roughly 30 minutes per vendor. To switch 350 vendors to electronic payments would take about 700 hours of enablement work. If you pay your accounts payable team $25 an hour (a conservative estimate) the time spent on enrolling the 350 vendors would cost your company $17,500. Taking advantage of payment automation’s enablement programs often significantly reduces this cost, as well as the time spent on the process.

4. Prevented or resolved ACH errors.

ACH files are very rigid and difficult to work with. Making one mistake can run the risk of the entire payment file being rejected. On a more granular level, misapplied ACH payments are very time-consuming to retrieve. We estimate that glitches affect one percent of ACH payments, with an average resolution time of 45 minutes per payment.

5. Stopped payments, refunds, and reissues.

Retrieving payments can cost more than simply the bank’s stop payment fee. Also included is the time it takes to communicate the error with the payee, figuring out the right amount, and re-issuing the payment. Or perhaps also asking for a refund in the event the initial payment went through before it could be stopped. We have found that roughly .05 percent of payments require this type of intervention, and each occurrence can take about 45 minutes to resolve.

6. Supplier follow-up and outreach.

Every year, about 25 percent of vendors will have some kind of change that requires an update to AP records. This can include an address, company name or bank account change, or even contact changes for new employees.

The average time to work through those changes is about 15 minutes each. If you have 2,000 vendors, about 500 of them will require some updating each year. This costs about 125 hours annually or $3,105 at $25 an hour.

7. Prevented or resolved erroneous payments.

Payment errors happen—it’s an unavoidable—and familiar—aspect of any payment process. But automation can help to prevent a majority of the errors that are caused by accidents.

Based on our internal metrics, we estimate that the average AP person spends 45 minutes per error. We’re calculating based on an error rate of about 1 percent, which is our organization’s average—this number may be a conservative estimate for some businesses. Using this number, if a company makes 1000 payments a month, ten will require error resolution. That equates to about seven and a half hours per month, or 90 hours annually, at a total cost of $2,250.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, fraud also poses a threat. It’s a bit harder to estimate the ROI on fraud prevention because losses vary depending on the level of a breach. That said, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to expect fraud to measure anywhere from hundreds to millions of dollars.

Yes, And…

The seven items in the list are some of the most common, calculable issues that Nvoicepay sees in our incoming customers. That said, there are other issues that are more difficult to calculate, which is why they didn’t make our list. These include issues like late payment fees and lost discounts due to slow payment turn-around times.

That’s not to say those issues, or others, aren’t important. But the time and money costs—as well as the value in fixing those issues—are simply more subjective.

Most organizations are aware that checks are expensive, but they may not take the time to analyze how much their older processes are costing them. This is probably the biggest obstacle to automating payments—the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” notion. When you never add it all up, then you don’t see how broke it actually is.

By taking a simple, conservative, holistic view of the hard cost savings and operational efficiencies you can achieve, it becomes much clearer what the ROI is, and more importantly, all the areas in which your organization can move forward by automating.

__________________________________________________________________

Mark Penserini is VP of Partner Management at Nvoicepay and has over 25 years of operational and technical experience specializing in project management across Healthcare, Finance, and IT operations.

banks

TOP 10 BANKS FOR GLOBAL TRADE 2021

It is strange to think that there had been an optimistic outlook for global trade ahead of 2020. Circle back to the end of 2019, and that was the case, with global recovery expected off the back of a sluggish year.

The COVID-19 pandemic, described by IHS Markit as the largest black swan event since The Second World War, quickly dashed any chance of such a rebound being realized. Instead, lockdowns, restricted movement across borders and sweeping economic and social uncertainty—coupled with uncertain U.S. trade policies, Brexit and other external factors—saw 2020 become a year like no other.

Indeed, global trade was forced to adapt and continued to serve as a vital lifeline that helped to keep supply chains flowing and boost confidence wherever possible.

Banks played a vital role. They accelerated digitization strategies, with technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence further coming to the fore over the past 12 months. As ever, they altered their offerings, and each became more or less attractive to those corporations partaking in global trade. 

Here, we reflect on these offerings and rank the top 10 banks for global trade in 2021. 

The banks in this list are not acclaimed based on the volume or value of transactions. Rather, they have been recognized owing to their commitment to service–through innovation, targeted solutions and meeting the specific cross-border trade needs of those corporations that they serve.

Size and stature do not always equal best-in-class. Many of the banks listed here are indeed major players, but we have focused on those institutions harboring some of the key qualities to look for when selecting a provider.

A series of different criteria have factored into this, including:

-Competitive advantages

-Pricing

-Product and service innovation

-Financial robustness and security

-Knowledge of local requirements and conditions

-Customer satisfaction

-ESG compliance

Citi

Citi is globally renowned, currently operating in more than 90 markets and transacting in over 130 currencies. 

The company prides itself on a knowledge and understanding of local markets–a skillset that is particularly useful to those embarking on expansion across borders or looking to ramp up trade activities in new countries. It tailors its services to each region and country rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. 

Citi is also a key figure in driving global industry technological transformation. Its digital toolkit comprises key connectivity solutions such as integrated APIs (application programming interfaces), and it has also positioned itself as leading innovator in the usage of blockchain. 

HSBC

Where global trade is mentioned, HSBC is never too far behind. The bank recently took the top spot in Euromoney’s Trade Finance Survey for a fourth year running, testament to its ongoing investments into further financial skills, digital capabilities, and product innovation. 

The bank actively positions itself as a thought leader with the publication of key export insight reports, while its Trade Forecast Tool imparts crucial short- and long-term knowledge on prospects in key markets whilst prioritizing user-experience. 

Its services include a renowned Ex-Im Bank Working Capital Guarantee Program alongside currency exchange, documentary collections, export collections, FX trading, trade credit insurance and more. 

UniCredit

UniCredit offers a wide variety of global trade finance services including global securities services, export finance, internet banking and transactional sales via its Global Transaction Banking business. Despite being built on a network of more than 4,000 key banking relationships that span 175 territories globally, the bank primarily caters to its core customer base in 14 core Central and Eastern European markets alongside 18 other countries worldwide.

The firm is renowned for its innovative attitudes toward product development including its award-winning Trade Finance Gate client portal, and market leading customer service. 

Deutsche Bank

With 130 years under its belt, Deutsche Bank is one the most experienced providers of finance for global trade. Its integrated global network spans 80 locations in 40 countries, its primary area of expertise being the navigation and management the risks associated with import, export and domestic trade transactions. 

The company has a strong presence in key emerging markets spanning Asia Pacific, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America. Here, it imparts key services including advisory and distribution services, documentary collection, documentary remittances, financial supply chain solutions, letters of credit, standard remittances, structured commodity trade finance, syndicated trade loans and trade receivables finance.

Standard Bank

Plaudits can be paid to South African figurehead Standard Bank in the realm of technological innovation. The firm leverages APIs to connect its internal systems with those of its clients. As a result, approximately 80 percent of its issuance procedures for lines of credit and guarantees are automated, with average execution time of just one minute.

The company excels in trade document management. Its core services include trade finance open account and supply chain solutions, documentary trade finance and international payments, and it’s also working closely on product development with fintech partner Traydstream.

Santander Group

Santander has positioned itself as a leading light on environmental, social and corporate governance, and is a truly valuable player in the global trade community. During the pandemic, the company sought to deliver solutions that would dampen economic hardships by addressing the needs of the individual countries in which it operates, offering financial assistance to SMEs that reached a peak of $1.2 billion daily between April and May 2020.

The company also reacted dutifully in other ways, namely through the development and deliverance of various digitization projects that prioritized public health. 

ING Group

With its 57,000 employees serving 39.3 million customers, corporate clients and financial institutions in more than 40 countries, the vast majority of ING’s business is conducted in European markets. The company offers an array of international payments, cash management and trade finance services including letters of credit, documentary collections and guarantees.

ING Group is an initiating member and key investor in Contour–a trade finance project seeking to transform the status quo through the deployment of blockchain-based technologies. 

Bank of America

As the name would suggest, Bank of America remains a stalwart and fan favorite serving the North American market. During the pandemic, the firm introduced its Intelligent Treasury Roadmap–an initiative built to optimize client treasury operations and working capital.

Through operational simplification and ongoing advisory expertise, the bank’s Global Transaction Services team was able to successfully help clients mitigate risk and detect and manage fraud during what was both a turbulent and opportunistic period.

BNP Paribas

BNP Paribas remains one of the top trade finance banks globally, operating more than 100 dedicated trade centers in 60 countries. Among its core specialties are the bank’s export and import services and solutions built to optimize cash conversion cycles.

The firm primarily prides itself on imparting key knowledge and expertise. Its network of 350 trade finance experts is readily leveraged to provide tailored training programs based on the location and requirements of individual client companies.

Commerzbank

Commerzbank’s headline figures include 50 billion pounds in trades spanning 150 markets and 50 currencies annually. Albeit an established player with a 150-year legacy, the firm has proactively invested in new technologies including that of blockchain. 

To this end, 2020 saw the company mastermind the first Turkish-German trade finance transaction of the Marco Polo blockchain network alongside Isbank.

trade finance

Ushering in a New Era of Efficiency for Trade Finance   

Trade finance has earned a reputation for an industry reluctant to adapt in the face of change. Characterized by unwieldy and cumbersome legacy processes, the industry has seemingly remained stagnant whilst other sectors have steamed ahead with digitization. But, the pandemic has prompted the call for change that the trade finance industry has sorely needed for years, and steps towards technological innovation have been seen, most notably across the Asia Pacific. These technological advancements are helping to revolutionize the trade finance space and, hopefully, trigger a coordinated, global approach to creating more efficient trade.  

The list of challenges that trade finance faces, point to an industry reliant on paper. Incorrect documentation and KYC, non-interoperable systems and manual reconciliation could all be overcome with appropriate technological input. These issues are now finally being addressed by various progressive digital solutions. 

One of the technologies which seem most encouraging is enterprise blockchain. Trade is a fundamentally decentralized system. The industry is heavily intermediated – predominantly by banks that help to facilitate transactions and provide the financing behind them, but also by insurers, customs officials and other market participants. Firms have tried countless times to apply centralized solutions to this decentralized system, but, unsurprisingly, none have really worked. 

The decentralized nature of blockchain makes it a perfect fit for trade finance. For the first time, the entire industry is getting behind technology and moving it into real-world deployment at a record pace. 

Meanwhile, regulators are working with technology providers to understand how to audit and gain insight into the transactions taking place on these new blockchain-based platforms, and ensuring suitable laws are in place, including those relating to electronic documentation and electronic signatures. 

The architecture underpinning the entire ecosystem of trade is undergoing complete digital transformation – but how are participants benefiting from this change? 

Sizing up the challenge  

Many of the processes and technologies underpinning trade finance have not been modernized in decades. The result is that those transactions continue to rely on paper-heavy processing, unsuitable for the current digital age. Traditional technology required corporates to log into multiple portals and juggle relationships and documentation for each shipment. 

These inefficiencies in trade finance mean that nearly USD $1.5 trillion of demand for trade finance is rejected by banks, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), with 60% of banks expecting this figure to increase over the next two years. Developing markets that rely heavily on access to trade can be severely hindered through these outdated processes. 

In addition, businesses all over the world must navigate the growing threat of cyber-attacks, changing regulations, and ever-changing sanctions lists. Despite this complexity, cumbersome and time-consuming paper-based exchanges are still commonplace.  

Take, for example, invoice financing. While a common activity, managing invoice payments and terms can be slow and inefficient for companies and their trading partners. They must navigate different currencies and jurisdictions, each with unique requirements in terms of contract terms and payments.  

By digitizing these manual processes and superseding aging legacy systems, technology such as blockchain has a real impact on reducing the costs, risks and delays to participants involved in trade finance.  

If applied effectively, the technology has the potential to unlock the potential $1.5 trillion opportunity in global trade finance. Companies of all sizes will benefit from better visibility into trading relationships and easier access to financing options, beyond point-to-point relationships, to a global network of trading parties.  

Calling for a decentralized network  

Blockchain’s integration across the financial services ecosystem has delivered some encouraging results so far. While the rollout has been more gradual than some of the more over-enthusiastic predictions, many see it as a brilliant innovation capable of remedying a lot of the operational pain points perturbing financial services. As such, there is growing debate about how blockchain can provide decentralized solutions to solve many of the problems facing trade financing.  

One such solution is real-time visibility, which is available via permissioned access to authorized network users and gives buyers and sellers unprecedented transparency into the status of their transactions.   

This single source of truth and use of smart contracts could remove a number of inefficiencies in the paper-heavy processes that exist in trade finance, such as negotiations of letters of credit. In addition, settlement finality removes the need for intermediaries to perform reconciliations. All of these applications could streamline the entire process.   

Coordinated action  

In order to move towards a truly digitized and connected ecosystem for trade finance, mass adoption on a global scale is essential. This elusive network effect can only be achieved if technology players prioritize forward-thinking and inclusive integration solutions that lower the barriers to entry for all types of companies involved in the trading process.   

If only a handful of firms adopt a blockchain solution for invoice financing, for example, the solution is useless if one company needs to trade with another that is outside this circle of early adopters. All the other benefits of blockchain such as speed, efficiency and lower costs mean nothing if you cannot use the platform to connect with the necessary counterparties.   

Marco Polo is a key example of a solution built for its market. The Marco Polo Network provides an open enterprise software platform for trade and working capital finance to banks and corporates and allows for the secure exchange of data and assets between participants. The network leverages blockchain to provide a rapid and secure way to access working capital and efficient solution to provide trade finance. When it launched in 2017, it introduced to the market an integrated solution to overcome critical trade finance challenges including lack of connectivity, time-consuming processes and high onboarding costs.  

Although blockchain has the potential to revolutionize trade finance, it is unrealistic to expect an industry that is still one step behind to adopt new technology in a ‘big bang’ moment. In reality, most businesses will continue to use their long-standing legacy systems throughout this transition to a fully digitized space. Blockchain platforms that offer high levels of interoperability with existing infrastructures will therefore prove themselves to be the best fit for purpose in the move to digital.  

__________________________________________________________________

As Head of Trade and Supply Chain at R3, Alisa is responsible for trade strategy, standards and governance design. Alisa was previously a senior economist at the Asian Development Bank and holds a PhD from MIT.

seed funding

How to Raise Pre-Seed & Seed Funding: 5 Alternative Strategies

Want to learn how to raise seed funding for your startup? You’re in the right place.

For growth-focused startups, getting access to capital early means that you can scale faster.

The seed round is the first official stage of equity funding. That means that you can expect to give up some ownership, typically in equity or a convertible note, in exchange for capital. (Earlier pre-traction rounds are sometimes called “pre-seed” funding, and may consist of a “friends and family” round, or acorn round.)

But how can you raise seed funding, or even pre-seed funding?

Venture capital is an option, albeit a longshot. Research shows that less than one percent of startups get VC funding. Of that fraction, just 2.2% of funding went to Black founders, and only 2.7% went to female founders. Plus, this process of pitching to VCs often takes months or even years. For many founders, VC funding isn’t really a viable option.

At this early stage, it’s unlikely your startup will qualify for a bank loan. Banks typically look for 3+ years of business history before even considering extending credit.

So if you’re an ambitious founder who doesn’t fit the mold, how can you raise pre-seed or seed funding?

Fortunately, a new wave of seed funding sources is emerging, designed to be more accessible and more founder-friendly. Here are 5 alternative ways to get seed funding for your startup.

Republic

Republic leads the venture crowdfunding space. It’s a platform app that lets startups raise capital through crowdfunding from individual and institutional investors. Said more simply, it’s Kickstarter for startups.

This crowdfunded approach lets startups raise pre-seed and seed funding from a healthy network of enthusiastic investors, without needing to spend hours on pitch meetings.

Republic does require startups to go through a tough screening process; only around 5% of startups will be accepted. That said, they do offer a unique opportunity to get in front of a lot of different investors quickly, without needing to pitch each individually. It’s a tough but streamlined way to get seed funding for your startup. Learn more about how they evaluate startups here.

If you decide you want to apply, you can do so here.

Chisos

Here at Chisos, we’re offering a brand-new way of investing in idea- and early-stage startups through a two-part approach we call a CISA. The CISA is a unique combination of equity and an income share agreement. Unlike other investment options, you can qualify for pre-seed and seed funding from Chisos even before you have a product or any revenue.

We’ve designed the CISA to be fair to founders. Here’s how:

-Repay the CISA with a percentage of your income, but only when that income is above $40K.

-When you repay the CISA, you’re also buying back some of the equity initially granted to Chisos.

-You have complete freedom to use the capital as you see fit.

-You’ll never pay more than 2x the original investment amount, adjusted for inflation.

We’re built on the idea that funding shouldn’t be limited to a tiny handful of founders. Instead, we’re on a mission to democratize entrepreneurship.

We’re writing checks of $15,000-50,000 to invest in idea-stage startups and side-hustle businesses. Want to see if you qualify for pre-seed or seed round funding?  Apply here.

KnowCap

If you’re planning to use seed funding to hire a team, why not skip a step and trade equity for expertise? That’s the thinking behind KnowCap. KnowCap connects companies to a team of startup experts that cover key functions, including marketing, sales, engineering, and strategy.

These experts work directly with founders to provide coaching, strategic guidance, and in many cases, actually creating value by building an MVP of the product, creating new brand identity, and setting up calls with potential customers. In exchange for access to this “knowledge capital,” founders grant KnowCap equity.

While it’s not pre-seed or seed funding in a traditional sense, it’s a great alternative to help founders build a strong foundation from which the company can grow.

Learn more about KnowCap here.

Zebras Unite

Zebras Unite is a startup co-op that’s built explicitly to serve founders that traditional VC overlooks and undervalues; namely, women and people of color. What started as a community has evolved into a source of capital.

You’ve probably heard startups described as “unicorns”; Zebras Unite is an intentional rejection of the unicorn model of success. (You can read more about this concept here.)

Zebras Unite is the place for founders who believe that business should support society, rather than define it. If you’re building a community-focused, mission-driven organization, you’ll probably feel right at home in the Zebras Unite ecosystem.

To be considered for funding, join the Zebras Unite online community.

State & Federal Startup Grants

There is a bevy of grants for early-stage startups and small businesses. Unlike most other seed funding sources, grants don’t require you to give up equity or pay the money back.

Startup grant programs typically focus on serving otherwise underserved groups, such as minorities, veterans, people from rural communities, and non-profits. They also typically focus on advancing specific sectors, like education, technology, and healthcare.

Unfortunately, there’s no central database that covers all available grant opportunities, so you’ll need to spend time researching if you pursue this path. Here’s a list of a few good places to start, including:

Grants.gov

OpenGrants

Challenge.gov

SBIR.gov

So that’s it! Now you know 5 new ways to raise seed funding for your startup.

_____________________________________________________________

William Stringer is the Co-Founder and CEO of Chisos Capital, a company that invests in ideas, and the founders with potential to bring them to life. Through our proprietary investment approach, the CISA, we write checks to idea- and early-stage entrepreneurs. Inspired by the desert oasis of the Chisos mountains, Chisos Capital seeks to democratize opportunity.

Nium

Nium Announces Launch of Global Digitized Payment Solution for Maritime Companies

Nium recently announced the launch of its maritime payment solution, focusing on digitized payment options for shipping companies, management, seafarers, and their families. According to information released by the leading global payments platform, the payment solution – known as the Nium Pay app, utilizes the company’s global license network to successfully integrate the technology stack for real-time payroll disbursements, vendor payments, eWallet services, and remittances.

Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), integrated maritime service leader, is the first to use Nium’s maritime payment solution for their Spend Management Process. The solution includes the launch of BSM branded multi-currency Visa debit cards and eWallet services for their seafarer population. This also includes a supplementary Visa card available for the seafarer’s families.

“Technology development in the shipping industry is accelerating as shipping companies and their seafarers seek modern ways of moving money,” said Gitesh Athavale, Head of Sales, South East Asia and Hong Kong. “Our maritime payments solution provides an efficient and cost-saving way for shipping company management to digitalize payments, including disbursing payroll and making vendor payments. Their seafarers benefit from a convenient and modern way to send and receive money simply or spend it on board – all through the convenience of one simple app.”

The Nium Pay app allows shipping companies to disburse salary payouts directly to seafarers’ virtual visa card accounts. Crew members can directly access their wages from anywhere in the world while at sea or inland, send money overseas, process card to card transfers, shop online, and use their Nium Virtual Cards with mobile wallets onboard through the Nium Payment Application.

“It is important to us that our crew and their families are well taken care of, especially during these uncertain times when our crews are not allowed to go ashore and cannot physically remit funds back home,” shared BSM Finance Manager, Dennis Moehlmann. “Now with this new digital payment solution from Nium, no matter which part of the world our crews are at in that moment, funds can be transferred in an instant and their families will receive the transferred money immediately on their supplementary card or their home account. This is the peace of mind we want to give to our crew.”

Through this application, Nium approaches traditional payment issues for maritime companies by combining its “Pay In” and “Pay Out” capabilities. This enables shipping companies to:

-Reduce or even eliminate the use of cash on ships through QR payments

-Launch branded e-wallets with Card Payments, Remittance, Multi Currency functionality and Travel Insurance services

-Apply exclusive rates for inter and intra company cross-border payments (fund transfers can be done regardless of Internet connectivity)

-Comply with payroll and delivery and international banking regulations, including Philippines’ Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) ruling regarding seafarer payments

-Easily track remittance payments

-Send payments in real-time

Additionally, Pay-Outs are currently being offered to more than 100 countries, of which, 65+ in real-time, available to bank accounts, Visa/UnionPay cards, and AliPay wallets.