The B2B space is ripe for transformation, where outdated payment processes mark accounts payable (AP), and where technology can make all the difference as corporates choose their banking partners to satisfy their payment needs.
To that end, Jessica Moran, general manager of Paymode-X Business Solutions at Bottomline Technologies, noted the continued (and accelerating) collaboration between banks and FinTech firms. Joint efforts between those traditional finance players and tech-nimble upstarts have helped make AP automation possible for their respective end clients, she told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster.
In providing those technological solutions, it is important to realize that no two banks are the same — and the goals of their end customers may vary as well. The ability for banks to be flexible as they serve a variety of needs is important, Moran said, as traditional financial services providers look to have, what she termed, “primary ownership of their customers … by providing a full suite” of technology that satisfies current needs and anticipates future needs.
“In some cases, clients are looking for significant rebate opportunities, or are looking for maximum efficiencies, or added payment security,” she said, and automation is increasingly grabbing attention as companies gear up for faster payment rails.
Where We Are Now
As has been documented in this space, there are some challenges in getting companies to adopt automated AP solutions.
When asked by Webster about what needs to be overcome to accelerate the momentum in automation, Moran said, “It is just staggering that paper checks [are still] as prevalent as they are today. One of the things that we are constantly striving to overcome is the status quo, and organizations are used to executing AP payments through checks.”
Firms such as Bottomline are working with clients to get them to understand the benefits of integrated payables.
She noted that, historically, many organizations have looked at virtual card programs as a way to embrace electronic payments, streamline their business processes to reduce friction and optimize the ways they manage AP payments. Against that backdrop, companies now seek to supplement and extend all the benefits they receive via card solutions by looking to their bank providers to solve for the broader set of payments.
In addition to the attractive economics of virtual card programs, said Moran, one persuasive avenue spurring AP automation has been a pervasive experience with fraud.
“I cannot remember the last time we had a conversation with a corporate who didn't say, ‘Oh yeah, you know, I experienced check fraud.’ So, it's something that, when we're talking to businesses, they're raising as a top priority for them, as is working with an organization like a FinTech partner [that], with Bottomline, can help them secure payment processes in an automated way,” she said.
There is also value in leveraging technology to manage the bank account data that helps ensure the process is up to date and secure from fraud, she added.
Banks And FinTech Firms Together
Despite the common denominator (wanting to improve how suppliers are paid), there is a cultural aspect that needs to be acknowledged.
“The partnership really works when you find the right fit from a culture perspective,” said Moran. “So, [it is] understanding who the bank's customers are, how they approach new offerings and … how aggressive they are with marketing or proof-of-concept models.”
Banks, especially, have different approaches in how they expand relationships with their current customers, or grow into new markets.
While speed is a common buzzword in technology, there is another important one. As Webster and Moran agreed, among partnerships between banks and FinTech firms, and in serving their end customers, speed must sometimes be sacrificed in favor of another valued feature by clients: customization.
“More and more [FinTech firms] and banks are looking to each other, to partner together to solve business problems for clients,” said Moran.
Eyeing the differences in regulatory and compliance landscapes, banks have looked to FinTech firms as being able to expedite the ability of these larger, more established and traditional firms to bring innovative financial services to their clients.
Of her own firm, Moran said, “We continue to look at ways to up our game in terms of technology innovation, whether it's leveraging machine learning and predictive analytics or bringing intelligence into business processes, automating more and more of the workflow.” Bottomline is always “looking at ways that we [can] continue to reduce friction to drive automation.”