Next-Gen AP Automation

How Cloud-Based Accounts Payable Portals Are Helping Secure The Spice Trade

Stay-at-home consumers are unlocking their inner chefs and turning to various spices, blends and rubs to build out flavors. But getting seasonings from growers and into consumers’ hands depends on spice purveyors’ ability to securely manage payments to as many as 100 different suppliers worldwide. In this month’s Next-Gen AP Automation Tracker, Charlie Mayer, CEO of spice purveyor The Spice House, discusses how cloud-based payments portals keep AP processes organized and error-free.

Smooth accounts payable (AP) processes are critical in the spice business, in which purveyors must send funds securely to vast numbers of distributors and growers worldwide.

Vendors and contractors must also be paid for everything from packaging and labels to online ad placements. Companies that craft signature spice blends and offer desirable single-origin elections and rare variants to their consumers depend on strong relationships with suppliers. The Spice House is one such company that works with more than 100 spice suppliers around the world — a list as closely guarded as their spice blends.

“We have two secrets: We have the recipes for our proprietary blends, and then we have the supplier lists,” said Charlie Mayer, the company’s CEO. “Each one of those lists is so secret that I don’t even have them. … We don’t write it down even, [but] it’s all in our accounts payable [system],”

Firms looking to foster warm relationships with their business partners must ensure they meet those suppliers’ different payments preferences and needs while maintaining security. Mayer recently spoke to PYMNTS about how tapping third-party AP portal services can help firms meet these demands and stay organized when handling and securing complex arrays of payments.

Catering to Spice Suppliers’ Payment Tastes

Procurements can look very different depending on the spice and supplier. The Spice House buys everything from pallets full of peppercorns purchased by the ton to small selections of vanilla beans that are hand delivered in suitcases. Each grower or distributor has different payment preferences, and The Spice House relies on a payments portal to meet their individual needs.

Especially pricey payments — from large-volume shipments to miniscule amounts of costly saffron — tend to be made through wire transfers. Suppliers often feel that such transactions are secure and enable them to avoid the processing fees involved in accepting credit cards. Overseas providers are particularly likely to prefer wire transfers over paper checks because they spare them from having to trust various countries’ postal systems. These payments are also easily traceable and can arrive next-day, Mayer explained.

Focusing exclusively on wire transfers will not get companies far, however, because smaller providers may prefer PayPal, check or even cash. That could mean buyers may have to pay a few hundred dollars in hard currency or send small amounts through digital money transfer services in exchange for desirable spices.

“When we’re trying to get to know a supplier who has something really interesting that we might like to buy — like, I’m looking at an enormous vanilla bean right now that I have on my desk that’s three times wider than a normal vanilla bean. … The only way we could get that sample was to pay somebody over PayPal,” Mayer said. Payments portals, digital banking platforms and other software can support these various disbursement methods. They also help the company stay organized when funds are being sent out to a variety of different partners.

Business Partners’ Payment Palates

Supplier-buyer relationships can date back generations in the spice industry, with both sides trusting that items and compensation will arrive as promised, Mayer said.

“One of the things that makes our company special is that it’s over 60 years old, and many of the relationships we have today are the same [ones] that existed in the late ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and so on,” he said. “In many cases, we’re dealing with the descendants of the people who our founder dealt with in the late ’50s. In all of that, it’s just based on trust.”

Reliance on trust does not fly in other areas of business, however. Payments portals with fund transfer tracking capabilities are critical when working with new partners and contractors. Such features provide confirmation of payments’ statuses to reassure vendors that their funds are en route.

Payments preferences are also different among The Spice House’s non-grower and distributor partners. Social media sites and major search engines are more likely to accept credit cards — and absorb the associated fees — when selling digital advertising, for instance.

Savoring Safety

Mayer and his bookkeeper turn to a payments portal and other digital AP supports to keep their payments processes secure and to protect their clients. The portal enables an easy view into pending payouts with an app that allows Mayer to either swipe right to approve the transactions or swipe left to hold unusual payments until they can be more thoroughly reviewed and discussed.

Fraud is not common in the space, but Mayer said he might hold off on issuing a payment where a manual error appears to have been involved. This does not happen often, but the company must still be vigilant about checking for it.

“When we look at the money that goes out the door and the biggest risk to us, it’s just carelessness [rather than fraud],” he said. “That would be double billing, double receiving — it’s not malicious, just sloppy. That’s why we have all the accountabilities we have.”

Payments cannot be made without an authorized employee logging into the payments portal and approving them, for example, and only two members of the company have been given these capabilities. The payments portal login is also safeguarded with multi-factor authentication (MFA).

“It’s locked down so tight that the bookkeeper can’t actually issue payment unless I have approved it, or my designee has approved it. This is an accountability best practice,” Mayer said.

Other security measures include relying on the payments portal to provide clear oversight and track all steps in the payment flows. Banking platforms can provide details about whether payments have been issued and received, but payments portals go further by combining information to give a holistic look that includes invoice receipt, payment issuance, approval flows and more.

The Spice House also looks to safeguard how it transmits information about transactions. Mayer receives email alerts when payout orders are ready for his approval, but no payments information is contained in the emails — only the instructions to visit the portal. That serves as an extra security layer against email server hacking.

Spice purveyors are powered by networks of growers and distributors as well as packaging suppliers, ad services, landlords and more. Transacting conveniently and securely with numerous partners and meeting different payments needs can be tall orders, but the right portals and digital tools can help ease operations. AP services can help provide these companies with the right options to satisfy their partners’ payment appetites.

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