By Mickey Vonckx,
business development manager,
In the last two years a great deal of literature has been published around the financial crisis and its implications for corporate treasury. The demand for efficiency gains is stronger than ever before and has become a catalyst for treasury departments across the world to undertake the necessary strategic and tactical changes in their treasury processes and infrastructure. New generation payment factories can strongly contribute to reshaping treasury to address today’s challenges and build confidence in the road ahead for treasury. Let’s first look at these challenges and drivers before examining the possible solutions.
The term “Cash is King” has been a well known phrase in the treasury world but its popularity has gradually moved to the background in favour of other cash and treasury themes which have dominated treasury conferences during the last decade. This is clearly changing again with cash and liquidity now being in the spotlight. Getting visibility on enterprise-wide cash is a crucial stepping stone to enable control and make your cash work as disparate systems can hinder accurate visibility and solid forecasting.
This leads to a closely related topic: cost containment by efficiency in payments processing. Straight through processing, standardisation and centralisation are elements that require serious attention in order for businesses to strive towards operational excellence. Within many corporates, bank-branded electronic banking systems are combined with tools offered by local clearing systems or software providers. While these tools are efficient for its sole-purpose, the 1:1 connections they introduce become a stumbling block when organisations want to reap the benefits of standardisation and centralisation within payments processing.
Other factors quickly gaining recognition are auditability and risk management. Organisations need to be able to trace payments end to end: from the point that an invoice is received up to when the processed payments are reported on bank statements. All the steps within this process relate to changes, authorization and intermediate feedback from the bank – so they should all be linked to a particular payment transaction.
Another very important element is the increased awareness in relation to counterparty risk. The turmoil in the financial markets has provided more evidence that corporates should not put all their eggs in one basket. Reducing bank dependency and the ability to quickly access multiple banks has become an even stronger requirement.
Lastly, treasury technology should increasingly comply with corporate IT standards. The myriad of platforms has led to a situation whereby poor integration and operational costs (incurred through maintenance, upgrades, training) strongly increase. Further, cash and treasury technology should be able to swiftly anticipate changes linked to regulatation and possible acquisitions.
Bring processes together in a Payment Hub
If organisations want to move efficiency, control, security and standardisation to the next level, then payments should be brought together in a payment consolidation model or payment hub. There are many names for this type of solution with payment factory being the most commonly used term. Despite its wide usage within the treasury domain, its appearance can differ significantly.
At the highest level there are two types of payment factories. The first one focuses on optimising payment flows enterprise-wide. All enterprise-wide payment flows (batch and manual) are routed through the payment factory and all bank communication takes place from here. Communication with the banks is done centrally and leverages the same bank interfaces for all payment types and operating companies.
The second form not only consolidates payment flows but also optimises them. An example of this optimisation includes the transformation of cross-border payments into domestic and smart (re)grouping of payments. Due to tax and legal implications this setup typically also requires the implementation or leverage of an In-house Bank.
So how can a payment factory allow an organisation to respond to the above mentioned challenges?
1. Flexibility to gain fast access to multiple banks. Companies should be able to plug into local and regional cash management banks as fast as possible without impacting other processes. SWIFT is increasingly becoming a worthwhile option for bank connectivity. With over 600 corporates now using the SWIFT network, the introduction of SCORE (to reduce the administrative burden), the launch of Alliance Lite (to provide a cheap entry level), the support from banks (instead of pushing their own proprietary channels) and the maturity of the SWIFT Service Bureau offerings are a strong catalyst for further growth. Besides SWIFT connectivity, a payment factory should also provide a strong and robust location in which to host capabilities to enable the exchange of large volumes with the main cash management banks.
2. Ability to standardise payment processes. In today’s environment with multiple electronic banking platforms, ERP and treasury systems, payment processes cannot be standardised. Within a payment factory the payments processes (batch payments, direct debits, manual payments) are all standardised regardless of the country they either originated from or need to be routed to. Formats, workflow and security can all be standardised and lead to very substantial benefits.
3. Gain central control. Without changing local responsibilities related to invoice handling and approval, corporate treasury is able to gain central control over outgoing payments – when and what will be paid can be controlled in real time. The timing of the submission of the payments is set by treasury which ensures close alignment with the forecasting process.
4. Visibility on cash. What applies for payments equally applies to bank positions. With the real time access and central receipt of all end of day and intra-day bank information, visibility on cash positions is increased. As all outgoing payment flows are centralised and optimised, liquidity management will no longer be foggy.
5. Reduce bank and transaction costs. Besides all the benefits mentioned above, further optimisation potential can be achieved. One of the most evident benefits is the STP validation and enrichment to ensure that payment instructions can be processed correctly. Another area that drives major efficiencies is the optimisation of payment flows whereby cross-border payments are re-routed to domestic payments. In these situations another entity (e.g. corporate treasury or another local operating company) will take over payment processing responsibilities. These scenarios are also known as ‘payments on behalf’ and are supported by an in-house bank.
6. Centralisation of expertise and increase security. By consolidating all payment flows in a payment factory payments will become a core competency instead of being just another activity. This allows organisations to better manage and monitor payment flows based on pre-set KPI’s.
7. Future proof. With all payments processing consolidated in a payment factory, the effort needed to anticipate changes in the market also becomes easier to cope with. No longer have changes to be deployed in all electronic banking channels. They can now be concentrated in one area leading to further efficiencies. Users need to seek for solution providers with active product roadmaps that will allow them to reap the benefits of future product enhancements.
8. Cost containment. The elimination of electronic banking systems and related security devices combined with the reduced administration effort will lead to clear cost reductions. Dependent on the country and usage, the yearly operational costs to support an electronic bank platform can easily exceed 10,000 euros. A mid-sized multinational typically has hundreds of individual user profiles that need to be maintained in electronic banking systems as well as with the individual banks (authorised staff). This process is not only very time consuming but also introduces risks. The consolidation of user access within the payment factory brings down both elements and also introduces the opportunity to capitalise on new initiatives like eBAM (new electronic bank account management service).
What to look for: Close integration with your financial supply chain
Undoubtedly, payment centralisation within a payment factory helps corporates address internal and external challenges. At the same time there are many ways to centralise payment flows and many different solutions are offered by a large number of local and global vendors. In the last decade many organisations have already consolidated parts of the payment flows (e.g. bank communication) on a local or regional level. For these organisations, as well as those that have not yet centralised payment processes to date, it is important to ensure that the payment factory is closely aligned with other strategic platforms within the organisation.
It is particularly this latter element that is increasingly prioritised within the selection process. In the past the addition of an increasing number of isolated payment and treasury software packages contributed to further complexity in terms of maintenance, integration and costs. Organisations have come to realise that the most valuable and beneficial integration for payment factories is to link it with its existing or strategic ERP system. Although the majority of organisations have a strategic preference for a particular ERP backbone, the reality is that multiple administrative systems remain in place. For this reason the payment factory should closely integrate with the strategic ERP platform but at the same be able to integrate with other ERP or treasury management systems being used within the organisation.
A next generation payment solutions has made inroads into the market by providing specialist payment solutions which are completely embedded within leading ERP packages such as SAP. Beyond the earlier mentioned generic benefits a range of strong advantages are offered by these payment factory 2.0 solutions:
1. No need for complicated interfaces between ERP and the payment factory.
2. More secure and better auditable processes. No longer are payment files exported to external systems. The entire process from invoice approval to payment authorisation and release is all done within a single system. Even manual payments can be done in a single integrated environment.
3. Close integration with the booking process. Manual payments that are entered in the payment factory are automatically booked within accounting.
4. Leverage ERP master data. No duplication of supplier data is required in external systems. The latest supplier bank account information can be used when entering manual payments.
5. Easier reconciliation. Payments that are rejected by the bank are automatically reversed within accounting. Even single payments from a batch can be removed within the payment factory without complicating the reconciliation process.
6. Lower total cost of ownership. No separate hardware or software is required and the investments made in the ERP environment are capitalised to the full extent.
7. Easier to operate. Updates or upgrades of the payment factory software are conducted similarly to the other ERP modules. Training is easier due to re-usage of ERP features.
Evolution not revolution to achieve best in class payments processing
Regardless of organisational maturity or existing levels of payment process centralisation, a payment factory will allow treasury organisations to meet the challenges of today’s environment while enabling their organisations to anticipate the known and unknown dynamics in the market.
Specialist ERP-embedded payment factory solutions provide a unique opportunity to closely integrate with the entire financial value chain. All of this can be realised while capitalising on the investments made and strategic direction of the company providing an evolutionary migration path towards the optimal set-up.
If your organisation wants to drive efficiency, security and get prepared for the future changes, the time is right to reshape your payments and cash management domain.