Accounts payable (AP) teams and other financial functions of the enterprise were some of the hardest hit by the disruption caused by the global pandemic.
As many teams within businesses big and small had continued to rely on paper and manual processes, AP operations were tasked with migrating to a work-from-home environment quickly. As an event that few anticipated, the pandemic was a painful reminder that developing a thorough business continuity plan is vital to the survival of many firms.
But now that organizations are beginning to find their footing with remote teams, AP departments have an opportunity to begin a more deliberate approach to digital transformation. People's United Bank Senior Vice President of Treasury Management Cris Sigovitch told PYMNTS that while access to payables FinTech solutions is important, perhaps even more essential is access to a trusted partner that can guide firms toward a resilient and future-proof AP department.
Of course, what the pandemic also proved is that future-proofing isn't always entirely possible.
"The finance function, historically, hasn't been managed in a remote working environment," he said. "What we heard from customers is that even the best-written and most thoughtful business continuity plans didn't solve for moving entire teams home overnight."
Offering the Right Tools
People's United Bank, which operates across Connecticut, southeastern New York state, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, recently demonstrated the growing interest of community banks to collaborate with FinTechs to expand their product offering — just as larger national and multinational financial institutions (FIs) do.
The FI's latest tie-up, announced earlier this week, is with FIS and MineralTree, with FIS extending its Integrated Payables solution, and MineralTree offering its Invoice-to-Pay tool for People's United Bank corporate customers.
Collaborating with FinTechs is a valuable strategy for banks, noted Sigovitch. With speed-to-market more important than ever as businesses eagerly search out tools to support business continuity, FinTech partnerships enable banks to accelerate new product rollouts.
But as Sigovitch highlighted, it's not just about offering companies the right tools. It's also about ensuring those tools are the right fit for businesses, can integrate with their back offices and provide a holistic experience.
"Companies are increasingly looking to more efficiently manage the accounts payable process,” he said. “That's not just about the payment but the entire function, from invoice receipt all the way through payment and on to reconciliation."
The most savvy businesses are those that turn to their financial service providers to not only adopt technologies, but support the integration of those tools within the rest of their back-office workflows, he added.
Localizing Advisory Services
As organizations turn their banks and other finserv providers to support that implementation process, Sigovitch said regional banks are facing a future in which corporates rely on them for more value-added advisory services.
"Regardless of whether you're a customer of a regional bank or a large national, or international, bank, what matters is that you earn that trusted advisor seat," he said. "How you do that is by bringing your ideas, and knowing and understanding your customers, and matching them with the right solutions."
Collaborating with business customers is another important piece of connecting corporates large and small to the right technologies, while banks must also step up to support adoption and integration of those tools.
In this regard, regional banks may have a leg-up on some larger FIs to offer what Sigovitch described is a localized, "high-touch" approach to customer service. This enables a regional bank like People's United Bank to more deeply understand businesses' unique pain points and identify opportunities for technology to solve them.
This relationship strategy will continue to play an important role even as businesses find their footing in a remote working environment. Companies continue to face significant uncertainty with regard to how they will operate in the future through and after the pandemic, with key functions of the enterprise — AP included — in a position to change for the long term.
As those conversations continue, the bank-corporate partnership will increasingly focus not only on business continuity, but on resiliency and modernization as well.
"The challenges companies are facing today are different than they've faced previously," Sigovitch said. "In the last few weeks, conversations have turned more strategic and forward-thinking. We're working with them to identify and address the pain points they've experienced, to implement long-term and scalable solutions that allow them to be successful, efficient and secure — regardless of whether they're in the office, they're working remotely or in a hybrid model."