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From the CEO: The Future of Finance (and B2B Payments)

GS blog imageGoldman Sachs held its Future of Finance Forum on June 4 in Boston, MA and our CEO BC Krishna joined a panel to talk about innovations in the payments industry, and more importantly, challenges that are holding the industry back.

The event, which was hosted by the internet, payments, and financials research teams at Goldman Sachs, brought together some of the most innovative and important companies at the intersection of online and financial services with institutional and venture investors.

BC shared some insights and reactions from the lively discussion as an article on LinkedIn this week. We’ve republished his thoughts below.

Last week I participated in a Payments panel at the inaugural Goldman Sachs Future of Finance Symposium in Boston. The event was packed with engaging – and occasionally intense – discussion during many of the sessions. I was on a Payments panel moderated by James Schneider of Goldman Sachs along with fellow panelists Ralph Dangelmaier (CEO of BlueSnap), and Rob Eberle (CEO of Bottomline Technologies).

Here are some of my major takeaways from the discussion.

The Enormous Cost of Paper Checks

The problem is bigger than most people realize.

There’s a widely quoted statistic from the Association of Finance Professionals that 50 percent of business payments are made by paper check, but that statistic is really only accurate for larger companies with a $1 billion or more in annual revenue. Many studies have shown that smaller companies make closer to 90 percent of their payments via paper check.

In fact, the most recent Federal Reserve payments survey found that 8 billion remittance payments (payments by businesses against invoices) are made by paper check annually. The cost to issue those 8 billion paper checksalong with the cost of processing the 8 billion invoices associated with them add up to nearly $100 billion in annual spend by U.S. businesses.

And that does not include the cost of check fraud ($7B in check fraud attempts in 2012 on banks alone), US Postal Service tax payer subsidies, and the general awareness that this check issuance habit is not a good one.

The Depressing Lack of Check Alternatives

Most businesses have struggled to find effective alternatives to paper checks. Banks market ACH for B2B payments typically only to larger businesses through their Treasury Management Sales Organizations; the high-average ticket size of a B2B payment (about $5,000 per payment in our customer base) makes credit card merchant fees very expensive (about $125 per average payment); and real-time wire payments are risky, expensive, and tedious.

And, less than 2 percent of all businesses use bank offered Bill Pay solutions. Bill Pay solutions are not tied into the business accounting/ERP system, do not support basic payment controls and workflows, don’t produce the kind of rich remittance that needs to go with a payment, and (except when payments are made to very largest consumer billers) generally end up issuing payments by paper check.

Yikes!

The Nature of Commercial Payment Solutions

Today’s commercial payment solutions are not built around the core asset that practically every business depends on: its Accounting/ERP system. Whether it is an entry-level Accounting solution like QuickBooks or an enterprise ERP system like SAP, these are the financial systems of record at practically every business.

Unfortunately, when it comes to sending payments to vendors, these systems are adept at producing paper checks, and not much else. Conversely, bank-offered payment alternatives like ACH are generally poorly connected to the business systems of record. This yawning gap between Accounting/ERP solutions and more modern electronic payment methods is what breeds an ever-increasing number of paper check based B2B payments.

The Slow Trundle Toward Faster Payments 

None of this is a surprise to payments industry insiders, and least of all to the U.S. Federal Reserve System. In January 2015, the Fed released “Strategies for Improving the U.S. Payment System,” a document that highlights the need for — among other things — faster payment settlement times and enhanced payment security.

Faster payments are inevitable. Shorter clearing windows provide businesses with greater control over cash flow, more effective use of capital through reduced float, and smaller opportunities for fraud.

And, about a month ago, NACHA voted in Same Day ACH. This is an important industry marker – this was not an easy rule set for NACHA to pass, and it likely would not have passed without the Fed’s payments modernization push.

The message should be abundantly clear.

The biggest economy in the world needs a better payment system: a payment system that is faster, safer, and more efficient.

AP and Payment Automation Solutions 

And what of the vibrant, innovative, growing businesses that make the U.S. the biggest economy in the world? Everyday B2B payments generally result from the so-called “Invoice-to-Pay” process. Every day, millions of U.S. businesses receive invoices; record them into their Accounting/ERP systems, have them approved, and pay them. Unfortunately, this essential task is generally mired in manual, ad hoc, paper-based, insecure, poorly controlled processes.

Until recently, most available solutions for automating Invoice-to-Pay have targeted a few thousand large organizations with $1billion or more in annual revenue. These expensive custom solution are generally out-of-reach for most of the rest of the 4 million or so U.S. businesses that could really benefit from automation, efficiency, and greater security.

Most finance and accounting professionals are not aware of the existence of a new crop of affordable, cloud-based, delightfully simple solutions that work out-of-the-box with their Accounting/ERP solutions.

But, as awareness increases, expect to see a major shift in business payments that will chip away at that $100 billion annual spend in slow, insecure, paper-based, inefficient B2B processes.

MineralTree is proud to be part of that movement.

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