By Patrick Bermingham

A surprising number of organizations across Canada still rely on traditional payments methods and paper invoicing to pay their suppliers. As recently as 2017, cheques were the most commonly used payment method for both enterprise-scale corporations and SMBs (small to medium businesses), with 70 per cent of SMBs writing cheques to pay business expenses that year1.

While this approach has some advantages, the stretching of standard payment terms—particularly in embattled sectors like construction—is causing suppliers considerable pain. In Canada, the average invoice-to-cash turnaround time is approximately 54 days2.

At first glance, this looks like the odds are stacked against suppliers. In truth, however, the traditional model doesn’t really benefit buyers either. The high volume of human and capital resources required to set up and maintain administration-heavy supply chain finance processes means buyers often struggle to onboard new suppliers. This “process overhead” can be so cumbersome that many buyers become resistant to change, opting instead to limit their supplier choices to a small number of partners, meaning they end up doing business with only a tiny fraction of the overall market.

Thankfully, digital payments integration and the popularization of B2B card payments in the supply chain is enabling dramatic change. Here, buyers, acquirers and suppliers can all plug into independent stakeholder-agnostic payments platforms that offer simplicity and efficiency as fundamentals, by handling the invoicing, payment and reconciliation “heavy lifting” on their behalf.

Card payments and processing

Card payments enable large parts of the payments process to be automated and streamlined, reducing administrative headaches for procurement teams and suppliers alike. For example, Level 3 purchasing cards utilize bespoke electronic card management information systems. These systems receive invoices electronically, cost-allocate and then reconcile them, all without human input.

This creates significant process efficiencies by freeing up internal resources at either end. The most recent data available from North America (Canada and the U.S. shows that in 2014, only 24 per cent of all invoices were sent electronically. Furthermore, this is only expected to grow to 38 per cent by 20243. Partially due to a lack of government action in the two countries, this predicted adoption rate is notably slower than Europe’s: where several countries are currently in the process of mandating e-invoicing.

Best of breed B2B payment processing platforms also provide detailed e-mail remittances and portals accessible to buyers and suppliers 24/7. These portals include information about past and incoming payments and calculators that allow stakeholders to input their data to show the cost of payments and savings offered, thus removing any uncertainty and complexity from the equation.

Onboarding

Stakeholder-agnostic payments platforms circumvent the process overhead for buyers by providing fully managed end-to-end supplier onboarding services, including bespoke microsites with detailed instructions and tailored correspondence for buyers to share with their suppliers. This ensures that merchants can be onboarded quickly. It also creates an established business network of connected buyers and suppliers, further simplifying card issuance and acceptance and giving buyers access to a wide range of qualified merchants.

In this way the digital transformation of supply chain payments is creating new value, fundamentally changing the way buyers and merchants find, evaluate and interface with one another.

Establishing partner-of-choice status

Suppliers that are connected to a well populated platform can also position themselves favourably to buyers. What was once merely transactional has now become a tool to enable the harmonization of commercial engagement, which is in turn enabling stronger and deeper partnerships.

Payments integration is playing an increasingly influential role in supplier selection, evidenced by the sharp rise in tender documents that enquire about supplier acceptance of card payments, and even whether they accept Level 3 purchasing cards specifically. Suppliers that can answer in the affirmative can position themselves more favourably in tenders with any buying client operating a card program.

Joining an established business network is also beneficial for suppliers as it opens them up to other buyers and issuers in the network. Plus, as card acceptors, they automatically become part of the network of the card schemes they partner with (Visa or Mastercard, for example). Since the card schemes publish lists of accepting suppliers, buyers use these to identify suppliers on the same network as them, thereby increasing merchant visibility amongst their target customers and driving business growth.

Faster, integrated payments

Ultimately, digital payment integration technologies go beyond improving efficiencies and reducing costs: they create opportunity. Payments Canada has taken steps to modernize the national payment infrastructure by working to provide a real-time rail back-end by 2020. However, there are many more opportunities open to businesses. All parties benefit from the added value accessed through the smart application of flexible technologies that bring buyers, suppliers, issuers and acquirers closer together.

And, perhaps most importantly, no one needs ever write another invoice again.

Patrick Bermingham is CEO at Adflex (www.adflex.co.uk). He has over 20 years’ experience in the payments industry, overseeing the growth and development of Adflex as a premier B2B payments service provider. Prior to Adflex, Patrick was specialized in enterprise resource planning (ERP) system design and development primary targeting mail order and national distribution sectors.

1 Michael Tompkins and Viktoria Galociova, “Canadian Payment Methods and Trends: 2018”, Payments Canada, report, December 10, 2018.

2 Atradius Collections, “Payment Practices Barometer Americas 2018”, June 2018.

3 Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, “U.S. Adoption of Electronic Invoicing: Challenges and Opportunities”, report, June 30, 2016.

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