In the wake of the pandemic, B2B payments have had to evolve.
But in an interview with PYMNTS, Mary Beth Joiner, senior vice president of relationship management at Comdata Corporate Payments, said that there have still been pockets of resistance in making the great digital pivot.
While, pre-pandemic, corporate executives had been focused on price — the costs involved in shifting to digital payments — now they are more focused on two other “Ps,” which would be process and pain, which create costs all their own.
“We’ve seen the acceleration [away from manual, paper-based back-office functions] due to employees working from home” and issues tied to security and battling potential fraud, Joiner said.
“We’re seeing increased costs to have security around the printing of checks, and what I’ll call ‘the old ways,’” said Joiner.
Against that backdrop, companies are re-evaluating and redesigning their entire supply chains, cost management life cycles and other processes across all industries from healthcare to manufacturing.
Yet there’s a wide gulf between considering the great shift to digital B2B payments and actually making the leap.
As Joiner explained it, getting various stakeholders on board to institute a virtual corporate card, for example, or other spend management tools — along with the great diaspora of the workforce — is a challenge.
It’s a challenge that can be met with “lots of meetings,” according to Joiner, the kind with which you may be intimately familiar (Zoom interactions among them, of course). Many executives are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of back-office demands.
In the bid to streamline payments, she said, companies such as Comdata can examine which enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems its client firms are using, “and we pull in existing customers that have those same systems and have embraced FinTech organizations — and they can collaborate in a bid to transform how payments get done.”
She noted that some verticals, like healthcare, may have automated several functions — such as claims filings — but on the payments side payments were still highly reliant on paper.
“The shift I have seen there,” she told PYMNTS of healthcare firms, “that was most effective is providers [the vendors] had their way of going through the process either from an [accounts payable] or [accounts receivable] perspective.”
Comdata, she said, has mimicked the flow from claims to invoice to payment to reconciliation.
“You’re seeing a transition to the different payment modalities away from check,” she added, whole connecting ERP, AP/AR and information and approvals in a way that brings executives to a slow pace of migration that overcomes any resistance to change.
All industry verticals, she said, are ripe for that migration. The rise of contactless payments can also spur different approaches to B2B payments across verticals well-entrenched in using paper checks (such as plumbers, for example), especially as real-time payments take root and improvements accrue through automation data access and reconciliation. That’s especially when B2B payments cross borders and currencies, she said.
“Those are some of the forward-looking improvements that need to made across multiple modalities and currencies,” said Joiner, “and this is where FinTechs and FIs work together, and is where the market is going.”
Asked about which B2B trends may be long lasting, Joiner pointed to increasing use of “one-time use” cards, where fraud protections are enhanced and rules governing spend can be customized.
“The rules you’re going to do for a healthcare company from a fraud and security perspective are very different from construction,” she remarked.
Looking ahead, she said the B2B space will be marked by interchange optimization and continued modifications to cloud application programming interfaces (APIs), machine learning and customer service (via chatbots and other tools).
“You have to have a pathway for the different parties to adapt,” she told PYMNTS. “You’re going to continue to see M&A activity as different FinTechs and FIs partner together with emerging new companies to create the evolution of the B2B space.”