Check Usage Slows as the Pandemic Increases Interest in E-Payment Solutions
American Express and Coupa have a partnership and joint solution which provides clients with integrated virtual card payments in Coupa Pay, Coupa's business-to-business (B2B) payments solution.
As we head into an uncertain 2021, paper checks continue to endure as a primary means of B2B payments, with the 2019 AFP Electronic Payments Survey revealing that “check usage for B2B transactions declined to an all-time low to 42 percent, although it is still the most popular payment method for B2B transactions.”1 The reasons behind this include the challenges to treasury departments in changing internal processes, the increased cost of transitioning to alternative payment methods, and the challenges of convincing business partners to move to digital payments.
Yet in this pandemic environment, cutting a physical check has become much more challenging, and digital B2B payments (e-payments) are finally turning the corner.
The Trend is to Move Away from Manual Processes
I’ve been working with Coupa’s partner American Express to make it easier for our joint customers to thrive in today’s environment by empowering them to pay using virtual card technology. My colleagues at American Express have observed its business customers gradually moving to digital payments over the past five years. Yet, according to Eric Frankovic, a senior vice president and GM for American Express, the pandemic has significantly accelerated this migration.
My friend Rajiv Ramachandran, Senior Vice President of Product Management and Engineering for Coupa Pay, has observed this shift as well. He sees it as part of a larger trend in which treasury and AP departments are moving away from manual processes in general. The benefits of this shift, he said, can mean suppliers getting paid faster, more visibility into transactional data, and enhanced compliance with regulations. It can also reduce errors with the use of virtual card payments and free up treasury teams to focus on other things like strategy.
Pandemic Increases Adoption of E-Payments to Support Supply Chain Resiliency
The American Express One AP Survey found that 84% of U.S. business decision makers feel positive about transitioning to a digital payments system.2 On the other hand, fully 79% of respondents said they still relied on paper checks for at least some of their supplier payments before COVID-19, and 44% said most of their payments were not made digitally before the pandemic. Perhaps most importantly, more than a third (35%) of respondents to the American Express survey said that the impact of COVID-19 has made them consider changing how they process payments.
When using checks, you need to mail them out or use a shipping service. With so many more people working from home, this can lead to delays in payments. With virtual credit cards, ACH, and some of the other e-payment options available today, remote workers have the capability to ensure that payments are delivered in an efficient and timely manner, and this is just one of the factors accelerating the move to e-payments.
While for years many companies didn’t see a need to move away from checks, we’re seeing the COVID-19 crisis acting as a catalyst for the deployment of e-payments. According to the One AP Survey, the benefits businesses are looking for from the move include increased efficiency, enhanced payment accuracy, the possibility of long-term cost savings, and improved cash flow management.2
Create Your Company’s Roadmap for Digital Adoption and E-Payments Success
Investing in e-payments could pay off in the long term, yet digital adoption isn’t always easy. That’s why it’s important to start with a holistic payment strategy that utilizes all payment types and provides suppliers optionality.
It’s also important to develop internal roadmaps that focus on people, process, and technology while looking through the lens of how to optimize the payment process. A renewed focus of AP and Treasury leaders today is on how they can support their company’s global supply chain health. The questions our customers are asking me around this topic include:
- How can procurement and contracting help support payment operations to drive payment optimization?
- Should AP be managing supplier bank details and how do we streamline the process of onboarding?
- How do we help IT minimize additional integrations to banks and ERPs, financing partners, and suppliers?
Aligning all these groups is the key to fully optimizing the source-to-settle process. E-payment success is not defined by your company being the only one who receives value by going electronic. You also must build value for your suppliers through more optionality of payment types, faster payment settlement, and easier reconciliation for your suppliers and partners.
Adapt to Survive by Adopting Digital
If you are ready to figure out which solutions are right for your organization — and you want some insights on how to work cross-functionally with other departments to ensure a smooth transition — explore Treasurers Look to E-Payments Heading into an Uncertain 2021, an interactive article co-sponsored by American Express and Coupa.3 The article takes a deep dive into:
- Creating an e-payments roadmap
- The steps to digital adoption
- Four ways to fund digital migration
- How suppliers should be onboarded
1. J.P. Morgan. 2019 AFP Electronic Payments Survey. (2019). https://www.afponline.org/publications-data-tools/reports/survey-research-economic-data/Details/epayments-survey.
In May 2019, the Research Department of the Association for Financial Professionals® (AFP) conducted a survey on how treasury and finance professionals are taking advantage of payments innovations to accommodate the pace of change in the current complex business-to-business environment. The survey was sent to corporate practitioners with the following job titles: Vice President & Treasurer, Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer, Director Treasury, Manager Treasury, Cash Manager and Treasury Analyst. AFP received a total of 379 responses from its corporate practitioner members and prospects, with 221 of the responses coming from members and 185 responses from prospects.
2. American Express One AP Survey. (2020). https://about.americanexpress.com/all-news/news-details/2020/American-Express-Launches-First-Automated-Accounts-Payable-Solution-American-Express-One-AP/default.aspx.
This Morning Consult poll was conducted between June 10 and June 12, 2020, among a national sample of 1,000 small and mid-sized business decision makers with company revenues between $100 and $300 million. Results from the survey have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
3. Deichler, Andrew. Treasurers Look to E-Payments Heading into an Uncertain 2021. (2021). https://dynamic.afponline.org/epayments2021/p/1.
An interactive article, sponsored by Coupa and American Express, that explores how digital payments adoption can drive efficiency and optimize working capital management for companies of all sizes.