Although B2B payments are often held up as lagging behind the times, Bob Dowd—Managing Director of Global E-Commerce for the Cambridge Mercantile Group—thinks critics tend to miss the tremendous strides the space has made over the last 5 years. Cambridge moves money around the world—with 14 thousand clients spread across North America, Europe and Asia, and they are getting better at working with their business partners each year.
Dowd told MPD CEO Karen Webster in a recent interview that B2B payments are moving more than a trillion dollars all over the world and that world is changing rapidly with increased card use in business transactions and new national systems designed to make all enterprise payments electronic. Eliminating check process is the goal in this space, and it is a goal that companies like Cambridge are pursuing aggressively.
“When we look at the enterprise space one of the big innovations we have done over the last three years is giving (clients) the ability to integrate with their own platform.”
Dowd told Webster that a a big part of making progress in B2B payments is not to ask companies to reinvent the wheel to accommodate moving money by providing another outside platform to conform to. Instead, they bring the integration to the client, and tie in with the system that are already in place to develop the international payments plan. Dowd points out these ERP systems are not casually developed, but are in fact centrally tied to operational infrastructure and accounts payable functions.
“Instead of having stand alone systems s these companies have made great investments into their ERP systems. They want to intergrade whoever their service provider are into these platforms.”
Creating these tie-ins is not easy work, and require a tremendous investment of time and talent from operational and IT staff—but it does allow of solutions that are both more efficient and more functional.
“It’s not a one size fits all when solving for these organizations.”
Dowd clarified that even among organizations that are similar using the same system, there is still a good deal of customization that goes into building an effective payment system
“They all might be using an SAP, but they’re all using SAP in a different manner.”
Ultimately, however, it delivers on the goal of going paperless, which is the end efficiency that Dowd’s business clients need and want.
And, after all the work is done, it is an improvement that is often in their grasp. By working with a client’s master vendor list, Cambridge seeks to find first which vendors are already set to be taking card payments. Second, when card payments aren’t an option, Cambridge works to convert the rest of the accounts into ACH payments.
As for the future, Dowd believe the possibilities are only expanding.
Though perhaps not for bitcoin.
Although there is a lot of talk about bitcoins having the potential to be an easy, secure and inexpensive way to move money across borders, Dowd said the jury is still out. B2B payments by their nature are very highly regulated—money has to get to the right person, and the right person has to be an entity that can legitimately receive money. Right now, Dowd said, bitcoin doesn’t have a clear place in that regulatory sandbox, which makes it something he is dubious about approaching until it is more clearly regulated.
Generally though, Dowd is an optimist about B2B payments as has seen it pick up the pace on the path to going digital and thinks that path is getting easier to access.