Brad Garfield, Head of Commercial Cards at Bank of America discusses how corporates can capture efficiencies in treasury and B2B payments through artificial intelligence, automation and other advances in technology.
Technology is rapidly changing how business gets done. While this can create complexities, there are also many new opportunities to use technology to harness benefits. This is especially true when it comes to B2B payments.
Things like artificial intelligence, automation and other advances are enabling companies to make smarter payments decisions informed by real data, while eliminating wasteful spending and inefficient manual processes.
This wave of innovation focuses on four of today’s biggest payables pain points:
Automating cumbersome AP processes
Eliminating expense reporting inefficiencies
Capturing more dining spend
Simplifying your digital purchasing transformation
Automating accounts payable
For most businesses, payment volumes continue to grow. Each year, businesses generate $2.5 trillion in flows via card, check, ACH and wire (Mercator, The U.S. Commercial Card Market, 2017). And yet, back-office payment processes at most businesses remain slow, inefficient and error-prone—bogged down by manual chores like entering invoices and inputting supplier data. Often, payment approvals aren’t integrated into ERP systems—adding yet another cumbersome step.
From listening to businesses talk about these types of challenges, we understand that automating the entire process would solve many of their pain points.
For instance, digitizing and centralizing invoices in an online portal for review and processing would improve visibility, control and audit trails and simplify compliance. Particularly if it could be integrated into ERP systems, and if the banking partner offers API access.
In this ideal world, an automated B2B payments solution would still let suppliers choose whether they want to get paid via card, virtual card, ACH or check. For the buyers, they no longer have the burden of managing the entire payment process — including vendor data storage and as a consequence, they would save two to three times more than just by eliminating paper checks alone.
The end of expense reporting?
At our Global Payables and Card Conference earlier this year, more than 80% of attendees said that their organizations manually audit expense reports. This requires significant time and money—and may not be all that effective at finding bad behavior, such as expense report padding, duplicate submissions and excessive personal spending. However, there are solutions in the market that companies can take on this manually intensive task.
For instance, there are cloud-based platforms that act as a virtual detective, digging deep into spending data to look for clues and evidence. These innovations use artificial intelligence to analyze every single transaction, which means companies can move beyond manually spot-checking a small sample and look at spend holistically. This makes it much easier to pinpoint bad behavior and find the 5% of employees who create 95% of the risks. In fact, we know some companies that have gained so much confidence from this capability that they’ve begun using it with their purchasing card programs—and significantly expanded those programs as a result.
Many organizations have long used preferred travel programs to consolidate their buying power and get the best rates from airlines and hotels. But one travel-spend category—dining—has remained elusive for years, primarily due to the restaurant industry’s fragmentation and lack of a cohesive B2B strategy. This is a major opportunity for both sides, since companies annually spend an estimated $100 billion on food and drink in the U.S. alone.
Preferred dining is a reality through marketplaces that can connect business travelers to more than 20,000 restaurants in the United States across every price point and occasion. Once an organization enrolls in such a marketplace, it can earn rebates every time its employees dine at an in-network restaurant and pay with their corporate or purchasing card. Travelers can easily find restaurants via an app or online, and can even earn personal rewards in addition to the corporate rebate. It’s also a great way to capture spend that employees might otherwise put on a personal card.
Digital transformation is a major procurement priority. Half of all procurement teams consider their digital transformation nearly or totally complete, and 47% are in the planning or execution stages (WBR Insights 3rd Annual CPO Study, 2019). Common barriers include difficulty integrating new tech and a lack of funds, urgency and expertise.
To help overcome these barriers, companies can use an online marketplace that’s designed just for business spending. Online marketplaces are already ubiquitous with consumers in their personal lives, and this familiarity is a big factor in why it can work well for business procurement. Purchasing department employees gets the same easy consumer experience—broad selection, the ability to comparison shop and card acceptance—plus business-only discounts, extra spend analytics and unlimited free two-day shipping.
Enhancing treasury intelligence
As businesses seek to transform treasury, finding ways to work that are fast, smart and secure becomes more important than ever. The good news is that there already exist powerful solutions that can help make it happen, and by doing so, further elevate a treasury team’s ability to contribute strategically and create a lasting competitive edge for their company.