January 20, 2021
Historically, electronic payments (ePayments) tools are some of the earliest automation software implemented by back-offices. These tools tend to be adopted earlier and by smaller companies that do not have software in place for managing procurement, invoicing, or expenses. Because of this, the pre-automation expectations for ePayments tools shapes an organization’s attitude towards automation technology. The COVID-19 pandemic has made back-office software even more crucial to operations, since many finance teams are working remotely. Seeing and managing financial health with a unified platform is no longer a mere benefit but a must-have for conducting business outside of the office.
Organizations left with a manual payment management structure are at a severe disadvantage to those who have implemented software. The remote office environment exposes the weaknesses of relying on checks and manual approvals, as well as the flaws of using tools lacking in important features that address the payments process. This report explores the different options available for organizations looking to transform their payments process from an inconvenience to a strategic advantage.
Organizations use a number of different tools for paying suppliers. Many small suppliers still demand checks; larger or more mature organizations seek a totally touchfree process and rely on more advanced methods; and international businesses require different levels of consideration (e.g., currency conversion and tax regulation). Because of this, making payments is one of the most varying processes in back-office finance, and companies must rely on several different solutions to pay all of their suppliers. This results in compelling trends on how payment method usage and management have changed over time.
The primary takeaways of this year’s payments research are listed below:
Companies were not as driven by COVID-19 to implement software for payments as they were for other back-office processes. Levvel’s research indicates that the pandemic caused organizations to rethink their traditional back-office processes, which, for many companies, meant considering automation software. While this trend may apply to procurement and AP, it hasn’t yet translated to a substantial increase in adoption of ePayments software. The way organizations make payments largely looks the same as previous years. The rates and numbers for the methods (e.g., check, ACH, wire, etc.) and platforms (e.g., ePayments platform, manual, bank tool, etc.) respondents’ use are very similar to last year’s. This may be because payments are further along on the software adoption maturity curve than other parts of the back-office. Over half of organizations use an ePayments platform, and many have access to bank payments platforms at no extra cost with their corporate banking accounts. However, Levvel Research doesn’t believe that innovation in payments has come to a standstill. The high adoption rate of ePayments tools and increasing adoption rate for other back-office tools presents an opportunity for even further automation and technological advancement. The analyst team predicts that partnerships between software providers will become more popular to increase transparency and visibility between all parts of the back-office. Additionally, there have been a number of Procure-to-Pay providers that have expressed interest in “closing the loop” and offering their own payments platforms. The completion of this cycle will lead more organizations to operate their back-office as a “Procure-to-Pay” department as opposed to keeping these functions separate.
The pandemic has slowed some payments trends down and sped others up. Last year, Levvel Research discovered that a growing number of organizations had suppliers located outside of their own countries. Because of this, companies were faced with new issues and priorities to their payments process. But the pandemic seems to have slowed this trend, as the volume of international payments has stagnated or decreased for many organizations. On the other hand, because of the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, working capital optimization has become more of a priority. For many, cash flow is less predictable, which has made companies pay closer attention to their financial well being and that of their suppliers. To manage working capital, organizations utilize tools like dynamic discounting and supply chain financing services. Looking into the future, many are also beginning to explore faster payments, like The Clearing House’s Real-Time Payments rail. This is a cheaper, more secure option than checks and also consolidates part of the AP process, making it simpler and more efficient.
For this report, Levvel Research surveyed approximately 300 professionals involved in or with knowledge of their organization’s payment and travel and expense reporting processes. The study includes respondents from all levels of the organizational chart, and the companies represented are from a variety of industries and revenue segments. Sample sizes vary across this report, due to logic that dictated which questions they received.
Every organization has to make payments, but the methods and ways they do so differ greatly. The payment process is a reflection of organizational priorities, level of investment, technological maturity, and industry. For example, while both a manufacturing company and a government entity will need to make payments, the processes will vary. The manufacturer makes more payments to suppliers and may prioritize a process that enables them to pay foreign parties, whereas a government entity will need to make more payments to taxpayers.
Even with the differences that shape the payments process, organizations can take a number of ubiquitous steps to improving it. One of the first steps is taking stock of how similar organizations make payments. This gives organizations an idea of where they stand and where they can improve their own process to become more efficient and positively impact the bottom line. Organizations can analyze the figures in Table 1 and perform a benchmark analysis.
|Bank ERP Integration||34%||32%||57%|
|Bank Online Bill Pay Tool||76%||74%||85%|
|MONTHLY SUPPLIER RELATED PAYMENTS|
|PERCENTAGE OF INTERNATIONAL PAYMENTS|
|Less than 5%||17%||21%||13%|
On the surface, the manner in which organizations make payments has not changed much in the past few decades: many of the most common payments methods have been around since the 1960’s. The greatest change is in how these methods are managed; most organizations conduct their banking, invoicing, and reconciliation electronically. Looking forward, many businesses have expressed interest in The Clearing House’s new Real-Time Payments rail (RTP). Because of these and other advancements, there is a great deal of excitement around automating additional steps in the payments process. Below are a few of the most notable trends in payments from this year’s study:
Companies use multiple channels to make supplier payments. Organizations weigh factors such as the urgency of the payment, the supplier’s preference, and the transaction’s currency to deduce which avenue they choose for completing payment. Bank online bill pay tools are the most popular payment platform (Figure 1), which has been true for the past few years. Adoption is high among companies of all sizes, likely because the tools offer an easy way to introduce technology without the two large barriers traditionally associated with moving away from a paper-based process: they have little cost associated with them, and they don’t require a large scale software implementation.
ePayments tools and bank ERP integrations, which are both platforms that require a commitment of technical and financial resources, are more prevalent among mid-market organizations and enterprises, whereas SMEs more commonly use non-electronic methods (i.e., checks and cash). One reason SMEs traditionally rely on checks is because they are less likely to have existing technology in place for adjacent processes, such as procurement and invoice tools or ERP/accounting software.
Once a company implements such software, their financial data and processes can be located in one system, which means it is crucial for these subsequent tools to be able to communicate with this system. Once technology is put into place, maintaining a manual, non-electronic method increases risk and diminishes the efficacy of the technology, reducing visibility into the financial well-being of the organization.
ePayments software is one of the most commonly used back-office technologies and may be a first step to automating the Procure-to-Pay process. But 2020 saw very little change in adoption of these tools. At a higher level, usage numbers across all payment methods was very similar to last year, which contrasts from AP and procurement, where adoption of software has consistently increased over the years. This may be because organizations are afraid of disrupting such an important function in a time of uncertainty and adjustment. Organizations traditionally cite delays and late payments as a struggle. Transitioning to a new software may temporarily make these problems worse, as employees get up to speed on the new, post-implementation payments process.
Similar to their general payments process, organizations use a number of different options for their travel expenses. The most widely utilized is corporate cards (Figure 2), which is used by over 75% of organizations of all sizes. Purchasing cards are another common choice across revenue segments, although they are twice as likely to be used by enterprises than SMEs. Virtual cards differ from the other two because they are significantly more divided by size. Mid-market organizations are over twice as likely, and enterprises are four times more likely to use virtual cards for their travel expenses than SMEs.
Again, this can likely be attributed to the fact that virtual cards are commonly implemented via software, which large companies are more likely to implement. However, virtual cards appeal to organizations in every revenue segment, and many providers offer their solution in a “freemium” model and have features to appeal specifically to smaller companies. Levvel Research forecasts that virtual cards will continue to become more popular, especially since they give organizations opportunities for rebates, which will be attractive to companies dealing with tighter budgets due to the pandemic.
Last year, the Levvel Research team noted that the perception of business as increasingly global contributed to a trend of more international payments. This trend has slowed (Figure 3), and volume of such payments has decreased or steadied for many respondent organizations, more than likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Larger organizations are still more likely to have high international payment volume, but the number of respondent organizations that indicated that their volume was ‘zero’ doubled consistently across revenue segments.
Forecasting when volume will rebound to pre-pandemic levels is a difficult task, because industries and countries will recover from the downturn at different times. Select industries (i.e., technology) and countries (i.e., China) have rebounded or grown since the beginning of the pandemic, but the same may not be true for their partners in different industries and locations. But while it appears the recovery for international payment volume won’t be v-shaped, Levvel Research is confident that globalization will slowly re-emerge as a trend that will either correspond directly with the overall worldwide economic recovery or slightly trail it. Respondent organizations indicated that the pandemic has not exacerbated the challenges of making international payments, and volume has not decreased significantly enough to lead Levvel Research analysts to believe that the dip will be a lasting effect of COVID-19.
Among respondent organizations making international payments, the most common countries are the UK, the EU, and East Asia. To make payments to companies abroad, there isn’t a way of managing processing that is more widely utilized than another. A similar number of respondent organizations choose to use separate banking partners, handle payments in a separate run, or handle them in the same run (Figure 4). There is also a sizable chunk of respondent organizations that do not have a consistent process for processing international supplier payments. This is significantly more prevalent amongst SMEs than it is amongst mid-markets, who are most likely to handle them in a separate run, and enterprises, who are most likely to handle them in their standard run.
When making international payments, respondent organizations listed dealing with local regulatory requirements, lack of transparency, controlling data security, and local payment requirements as the top challenges. Enterprises were far more likely than smaller companies to complain of the growing volume in international payments, which was the segments’ number one complaint.
In looking at more general payments challenges (Figure 5), the top pain points were lengthy invoice processing time, data management, payment errors, invoice to payment matching, and late payments. These challenges all focus around having a manual, error-prone payments process, which hinder organizations from even considering deeper, more strategic challenges. The larger, typically more automated enterprise organizations tended to list the more strategic challenges as pain points, such as compliance issues, lack of visibility into payments, and international payments. Adversely, SMEs seemed more concerned with tactical challenges.
Over half of respondent organizations said that the COVID-19 pandemic had exasperated these challenges. Levvel Research has observed similar trends in procurement, expense management, and accounts payable. In the payments process, late payments, lengthy invoice processing time, outdated technology, data management, and fraud appear to have been made more challenging by the pandemic. Many of these challenges already existed and were less impactful when teams worked closely in physical offices but became more apparent once the pandemic forced employees to work remotely. Because of this, some organizations have moved their paper-based processes to software to ensure business continuity, whether working in the office or in a remote environment.
ePayments software does more than facilitate remote work. Respondent organizations indicate that increased employee convenience, lower processing costs, improved compliance with contracts and policies, and improved pricing negotiations are the top benefits to using an ePayments platform (Figure 6). Many of these advantages are multiplied by adding complementary Procure-to-Pay software. As more steps in the back-office are automated, the more benefits an organization can realize.
Few North American organizations choose to manage finances manually—most have to use a number of tools and processes to procure goods and services, send purchase orders, process and approve invoices, and send payments to suppliers. Ideally, these would be handled in one software so each step is visible to the major stakeholders, but few companies are able to achieve this level of centralization. The payments process, in particular, has a number of different options for managing the process.
Bank online bill pay tools are an attractive option, especially for small and mid-sized organizations that do not have existing financial software in place. These tools’ biggest asset is simplicity—they usually come at no additional cost to businesses and require minimal technical expertise or investment to operate. They’re relatively similar to the interfaces that consumers use to pay their bills, which means they don’t require much additional training. But they usually operate independently of in-house software, and any interfacing with these tools typically comes at a cost and is aimed at accounting software for small businesses as opposed to ERPs.
While bank tools are an economical and accessible option, they generally do not have the same amount of features as the other payments platforms. The functionality around invoices and purchase orders, approval workflows, and analytics/reporting are barebones or non-existent. Payments generally can be made via ACH, check, and wire transfer.
ERPs are the backbone of modern business. Many major financial processes operate with the ERP as a central hub. This would seem to make them the perfect choice to handle payments, but this software is often clunky and tedious to use. While it may manage a lot of different processes, it often falls short in automating them. Using the ERP to make payments often replicates many of the frustrations of a paper-based operation. It shifts a paper-based process to an electronic one but also maintains a significant amount of work.
It can expose organizations to more risk, as the supplier is left out of the picture, without the ability to update their banking information, payment, or contact information. ERP tools are best intended for mid-sized and small organizations that use a singular instance of an ERP. Ensuring that companies are not using multiple ERPs is a key to preventing information inconsistency. Businesses experience difficulty using these tools when they have multiple software tools in their back-office, particularly large companies and those who have merged, acquired, or been acquired and haven’t consolidated systems.
Payments made via ERP integration can be made by ACH, wire transfer, and check. Unless companies have a check writing/outsourcing service, checks must be printed and sent manually, saving relatively little time from an analog check process and only slightly decreasing the risk. Broadly, risk is one of the areas where ERPs fall short. They do not utilize artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) to detect fraudulent or risky activity, such as duplicate payments, human error, or deceitful actors posing as vendors. A payment process relying on a bank ERP integration is a step above a fully manual process but far from the most modern option.
ePayments software refers to a third-party platform used to make payments to suppliers electronically, moving all payments to a singular, unified platform. To ensure payment can be sent to organizations of all sizes, geographic locations, and at all speeds, the platform allows for payments to be sent from multiple bank accounts via ACH, wire, check writing and outsourcing services, as well as commercial cards. “Commercial card” is a blanket term that contains several different card types.
Flexibility and centralization differentiates ePayments tools from ERP plug-ins and bank platforms. ePayments tools are offered by three distinct categories of providers:
ePayments platforms offer the most modern experience over the other payments tools. They are cloud-based and integrate with other business-critical software within the Procure-to-Pay process. Most platforms are updated regularly to ensure they’re adding new features.
One feature Levvel Research believes will separate leading platforms is access to real-time payments, namely The Clearing House’s RTP. It is the first new payment rail since ACH, which was rolled out in the early 1970’s. RTP transactions clear and settle instantly and can be made 24/7/365 and not just during business hours. Besides moving funds faster, they also can contain value-added messaging, such as documents, dates, and numbers related to the transaction. While few providers have formulated a concrete strategy on incorporating this technology into their software, organizations of all sizes have expressed interest in RTP’s potential.
In Levvel’s 2021 RTP for Business Market Insight Report, 76% of respondent organizations believed the new payment method would provide them with a competitive advantage, and 66% identified themselves as likely to adopt in the next two years. The top barriers that prohibit them from implementing RTP are process changes, implementation challenges, and payment platform providers not offering it as an option.
The addition of RTP as an option for transactions in ePayments platforms is an exciting prospect for organizations, 76% of whom expect to utilize a third-party software (i.e., not a bank bill pay tool) to conduct these transactions. Figure 7 identifies what benefits of RTP are the most appealing, including immediate access to receiving funds, improved control of cash flow, and immediate access to transaction status.
RTP also improves organizations’ ability to capture discounts, which is why many businesses choose to adopt ePayments software. By letting them plan when funds are transferred more precisely, RTP enables organizations to improve their working capital management. This keeps companies more liquid and better able to allocate funds to strategic investments.
ePayments platforms differentiate from bank bill pay and ERP-based payment tools by offering access to tools that help optimize working capital and improve cash flow. Companies must strike a balance between liquidity and not sacrificing the cash flow of suppliers. Figure 8 shows that two of the most popular tools designed for improving working capital are supply chain financing (a.k.a., SCF or “reverse factoring”) and dynamic discount management (a.k.a., DDM).
DDM tools present invoice discounts based on variable rates that decrease as the payment due date gets closer. This lets organizations choose which terms best meet their needs, and suppliers choose which invoices, dates, rates, and windows of discounts to make available. DDM tools offer a central management platform for this process, and organizations can view their options by rate, supplier, location, goods type, and date.
SCF goes a step further by adding a third-party (such as a bank) that can pay the invoice on behalf of the buyer in exchange for a small discount and fee from the supplier. The buyer then pays the third-party at a later date. Buyers benefit because they are able to extend their days payable outstanding, and suppliers benefit from early access to cash.
Both DDM and SCF are primarily used by larger organizations, whereas SMEs are more likely to manually track early payments discounts and utilize corporate cards. Respondent organizations indicate that improving cash flow, supplier relationships, and working capital are the top reasons they implement such tools (Figure 9), though these differences differ by revenue segment. Enterprises are more likely to list improving supplier relationships and supply chain continuity, mid-markets are more likely to want to improve their credit rating, and SMEs are more likely to want to improve departmental visibility.
Many organizations also stated that the tools further automate their back-office finance operations. According to software vendors, improving supply chain continuity and ensuring suppliers remain operational has become more important during the pandemic, which has forced some to go out of business. Because these tools give them earlier access to funds, suppliers are better able to tap into their accounts receivable as needed.
Efforts to improve working capital are typically driven by AP and AR departments, although enterprises and mid-markets also involve their sourcing/procurement teams as well as treasury. However, this may be because organizations of this size are more likely to have formalized departments in these areas.
Including technology in supplier payments management helps businesses centralize a pivotal process that completes the Procure-to-Pay cycle. Payments can be highly segmented, with specialized steps for particular suppliers and spend categories. Introducing a leading tool enables organizations to merge these into a singular platform. Managing processes in one platform makes it easier for departments working remotely due to the pandemic to maintain a single source of truth and increases departmental efficiency, a benefit that helps companies weather financial uncertainty and also outlasts COVID-19.
PrimeRevenue, a leading provider of working capital financial technology solutions, helps more than 30,000 clients in more than 80 countries optimize their working capital to efficiently fund strategic initiatives, gain a competitive advantage, and strengthen relationships throughout the supply chain. Since its establishment in 2003, PrimeRevenue has accumulated a diverse funding family of more than 100 funding partners. PrimeRevenue’s supply chain finance network allows customers to manage their cash flow in 30+ currencies on a single cloud-based, multi-lingual, cross-border network, which sees a volume of more than $250 billion in payment transactions per year. Offering working capital solutions in both accounts payable and accounts receivable, PrimeRevenue offers hands-on support to ensure clients see material cash flow gains year-over-year.
|Other Locations||London, Prague, Hong Kong and Melbourne|
|Number of Employees||150+|
|Number of Customers||30,000+|
|Number of US-Based Customers||50% of buyer programs are US-based|
|Target Verticals||Manufacturing, retail, food and beverage, energy, industrials|
|Partners/Resellers||Addendum, EFactor Network|
|Awards/Recognitions||Inc. 5000, RFIx Awards Supply Chain Finance Provider of the Year, RFIx Awards Most Innovative Fintech of the Year, Technology Association of Georgia Top 40 Innovative Technology Company|
With one of the largest and most diverse global funding pools and patent-pending solutions, customers of varying sizes can mitigate risk and ensure sustainable, long-term cash flow gains. PrimeRevenue offers multiple working capital solutions and, rather than relying on a single source of funding, PrimeRevenue’s customers have access to a network of both bank and non-bank funding partners. This ensures continuity of funding across multiple jurisdictions and gives customers the power to expand their working capital optimization programs deeper into the supply chain for maximum cash flow benefit. All transactions are classified as a true sale of receivable and do not count as debt.
PrimeRevenue’s cloud-enabled platform creates a digital ecosystem between buyers, suppliers and funders that facilitates early payment to suppliers. Below outlines how the platform works.
The PrimeRevenue system also facilitates electronic payments among its ecosystem of buyers, suppliers and funders. PrimeRevenue is currently piloting a solution for “long tail” supplier spend called AdvancePay. This solution allows buyers to penetrate deeper into their supply chain and offer a broader range of their suppliers access to early payment.
As soon as a buyer selects PrimeRevenue as its working capital solutions provider, PrimeRevenue deploys a dedicated implementation team to custom design, develop, and implement the program. Implementation timeline is determined by the buyer, with program launches typically completed in 30-60 days. Suppliers can be onboarded in as little as one day.
Major Bottoms Jr is a Research Consultant for Levvel Research based in Charlotte, NC. He plays a key role in the analysis and presentation of data for Levvel’s research reports, webinars, and consulting engagements. Major’s expertise lies in the Procure-to-Pay, Source-to-Settle, and travel and expense management processes and software, as well as technologies and strategies across DevOps, digital payments, design systems, and application development.
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Major Bottoms Jr.
Senior Research Consultant
Major Bottoms Jr. is a Senior Research Consultant for Levvel Research based in Charlotte, NC. He plays a key role in the analysis and presentation of data for Levvel’s research reports, webinars, and consulting engagements. Major’s expertise lies in the Procure-to-Pay, Source-to-Settle, and travel and expense management processes and software, as well as technologies and strategies across DevOps, digital payments, design systems, and application development. Prior to joining Levvel, Major held various roles in the mortgage finance field at Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Major graduated with a degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.