By Ruud Van Hilten, Senior Vice President, Sales
International trade is booming. A recent report by Ali Research shows that global cross-border commerce is expected to be worth $1 trillion by 2020 – a figure that looks even more exceptional considering it was only $230 million in 2014. But while our borderless world provides a wonderful opportunity for businesses in all sectors, it also presents a number of new challenges.
Recent research by the Economist Intelligence Unit found the biggest pain point around global trade was in relation to payments. Of the 500 companies surveyed worldwide, four-in-ten respondents (41%) cited exchange-rate volatility as their greatest concern, and nearly one-third cited making payments with issues chiefly arising from process inefficiency, limited payment visibility and bank fees.
A further headache is ensuring invoices are compliant in each different country you are operating in and meet the relevant legal requirements. Compliance is a moving target as governments are constantly changing the rules and each country or region tends to have its own set of criteria. No sooner has a business got to grips with the regulations in one country or region than it changes again. What’s more, spending hours trying to work out how to make invoices compliant is a poor use of management time when businesses are so stretched and are trying to establish themselves globally.
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With so many pitfalls, it is clear that traditional paper based invoicing systems which might have once served a business well nationally, can no longer cope with the complexity of trading internationally. It is perverse that while the digital revolution has touched upon the front end of most businesses, many companies have not incorporated new technology into their back office. Instead of adopting automation which seems like a no brainer in this digital age, many companies are still relying on a manual, system, rife with errors and inefficiencies and causing friction and delays in the payment process. Across Europe, this is resulting in around 40 per cent of invoices being paid late or defaulted on and this is unacceptable and totally avoidable in the digital world that we live in.
This is where e-invoicing can transform a business’ experience of exporting. Tungsten’s business transaction network is tax compliant in 47 countries and can completely eliminate paper from the process of paying your suppliers, increasing the efficiency and accuracy of an accounts payable team. It enables complex buying organisations to connect with their global supply chain and have visibility of the current status of every single invoice in the system. A big benefit, especially when you consider a lack of visibility over the status of an invoice can mean suppliers have no idea where it is or whether it has been accepted. This makes cash flow management extremely difficult, as an international buyer could have rejected the invoice long before a business realises that’s the case.
As the Economist Intelligence Unit’s research noted, another significant challenge of trading overseas is paying invoices in different currencies. Companies can easily become unstuck when valuable working capital is tied up in elongated payment processes and lost through unfavourable currency conversion rates. To tackle this, we recently teamed up with international money transfer platform Payoneer to enable businesses to receive cross border payments quickly, securely and at low cost – saving up to 90 per cent on bank transfers. Through the platform, businesses can now receive bank transfers from their international clients and customers as if they had a local bank account – meaning, if a client pays in dollars, a supplier in the Eurozone will receive each payment in Euros.
It is encouraging that after the EU Referendum vote, the outlook of global companies is positive and that many are looking to increase their trade internationally. Against this optimistic backdrop, it seems absurd that such basic business operations as ensuring timely payment should get in the way or cause hassle. Now, businesses need to look to technology to remove the pain and stress from international trade.Only then will they be in the best possible position to truly capitalise on the trade opportunities abroad.