Back in 2009, when my co-founders and I started Nvoicepay, there was very little technology in the market to help companies make supplier payments efficiently. Banks were the only game in town. Companies were still making a very high percentage of their supplier payment with paper checks, using painful manual processes. The fintech revolution was getting underway, and we were starting to see tech companies begin to deliver innovations in consumer payments—think Venmo, Apple Pay, etc.—and these quickly gained mass adoption.
Business payments are far more complex, and we’re still not at mass adoption, but the market is picking up steam. There are now several strong suppliers in the market, and investment continues to flow into B2B payments tech. As a result, the move off of check payments is accelerating. According to the 2019 AFP JP Morgan Electronic Payments Survey Report, organizations on average make 42 percent of their supplier payments by check, down from 50 percent in the prior year. This is the biggest drop we’ve seen in several years.
As all this happens, the business case for B2B payment solutions is becoming stronger and multi-dimensional.
Process efficiency remains a core feature of payment automation. It enables an accounts payable organization, which could be making tens of thousands of supplier payments a year, to automate the workflow of making payments of any type—card, ACH, wire or even print check—using cloud-based software and services.
Software automation provides the customer control over the payment, visibility as the payment clears, and complete traceability if they need to access the payment history. But payment services are critical to creating efficiency in accounts payable.
A large portion of accounts payable’s time is devoted to unwinding payment errors and resolving payment exceptions. A single payment error can take 20-30 minutes or longer to resolve; even with a low error rate, most accounts payable teams are dealing with hundreds of errors every month. Payment service providers take that piece off their plates completely and that’s a huge efficiency boost.
These services also address the historic barrier to electronic payment adoption: the labor of reaching out to each supplier to determine how they want to be paid, where the remittance information should be sent, and—if the supplier wants to receive ACH—to collect their banking data and securely store it. Accounts Payable teams working with thousands, or even tens of thousands of suppliers, just don’t have the headcount to do that level of outreach.
As enterprises have shifted toward electronic payments, we've seen an uptick in ACH fraud. Organizations have become accustomed to dealing with check fraud, and banks usually offer Positive Pay and Positive Payee services to combat it.
ACH fraud is a whole different animal. It’s cybercrime, and prevention requires sophisticated technology and controls, and ongoing employee training. It's a lot more than most companies can do on their own, but a payments solution provider has the scale to offer extensive security services to all of its customers and to assume that risk on their behalf. Fraud protection adds another very significant dimension to the business case.
With the global pandemic, many accounts payable teams are still working from home, where it is almost impossible to produce paper checks in a safe, secure, repeatable way. Paying by check was expensive and time-consuming before the pandemic, but now the problem is acute. It's incredibly difficult to approve invoices and make payments by paper check when your accounting staff is spread across their home offices. You literally have to drive paper from place to place to get approvals and signatures. Payment automation gives accounts payable the visibility and control they need to do remote payment approvals from home, making business continuity another dimension of the business case.
Now we’re heading into a severe global economic downturn. Businesses are pivoting to reducing costs, and checks cost a lot—around ten times more than electronic payments. So, in the near term, reducing costs is going to become a driver that accelerates payment automation adoption.
I think this driver will remain over the long term as well, and could very well change our payment behaviors forever. Short term imperatives will drive greater adoption, but as more organizations get a taste of automated payments, it will change the way they think about payments. They will realize there is a far better way to pay than writing checks, and I can’t see anyone who’s adopted payment automation going back to the old way.
Fintechs really are redefining business payments. Banks provide ways to move money from point A to point B. The business case for that is pretty simple—get the best deal on per-transaction costs, but beware of the need to add headcount to use these products.
As awareness of these solutions grows, buyers should dig into the details and ask questions to really understand what they are getting and the differences between solution providers, and bank offerings. Some questions to ask are:
Some fintechs offer a surprisingly low number of electronic payments. Anything lower than 20 percent is not a payment solution; it’s a payment hobby, and buyers today can make the case for something a lot better. The best fintechs address the entire payment process with automation and services, which enables organizations to move 100 percent of payments electronically with a fraction of the effort previously required, and, by doing so, dramatically lower overall costs.