Bottomline, UMB try 'easy' tech to solve B2B's paper problem

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As blockchain and other emerging innovation pour into the B2B market, Bottomline Technologies believes bank collaborations with smooth deployment and user experience can lure anxious businesses away from checks.

To encourage payment diversification, Bottomline Technologies teams with banks and fintechs to deliver its cloud-based B2B payments and digital banking capabilities through the Paymode-X platform. Financial services company UMB Financial Corp. is the latest to partner with Bottomline Technologies, seeking to offer the Paymode-X platform with its connection to Visa Payables Solutions to its U.S. commercial customers.

Bottomline's UMB collaboration comes against the backdrop of Swift's Global Payments Innovation initiative and JPMorgan's launch last week of JPM Coin seek to address the cross-border B2B and wholesale payments needs. JPMorgan also brings blockchain into play for large banks and customers.
Still, there are plenty of companies looking to providers simply to streamline payments between themselves and suppliers. They aren't in a position to think too big, too fast.

"We are in the early innings of the digital transformation of business payments, and that may sound odd because there are so many areas of our lives already transformed through technology," said Rob Eberle, president and CEO of Portsmouth, N.H.-based Bottomline Technologies. "But business payments are far more complex because there are systems in place and remittance details."

Bottomline hopes Paymode-X has the opportunity "to lead the way" in B2B payments by taking a complex process and creating a platform in which commercial customers would be able to make any type of payment — card, check, ACH or virtual card — through the same payment channel. The connection to Visa Payables allows handling of card payments.

"A business that comes onto our platform gets full payment automation, not just a component of other payments," Eberle said. "You can think of it as a funnel for all payment types and we will handle those and be able to add on new technology in the future."

There is no denying virtual cards are becoming a more popular option for businesses because of the speed and security of the single-use transaction numbers. Barclaycard and SAP Ariba announced last week it was partnering for B2B virtual cards for customers.

"All of theses banks and companies are answering a component of the payment flow," Eberle said. "But there is no business cycle plan in which every one of their vendors is going to take a virtual card or even a general card."

Bottomline wants its platform to accept all payment types though a single source. They view it as key in the partnership with UMB Financial, which sees firsthand the complicated process many corporate customers still struggle with.

"Not everyone is a Fortune 50 company with many people in payables sitting down and looking at invoices and having systems that are extremely efficient and customized," said Uma Wilson, executive director of product management at Kansas City, Mo.-based UMB Financial.

UMB seeks companies that want to be more efficient in their payment processes, guiding them to solutions that can help them operate like a large financial institution, Wilson said.

"They can pay their suppliers more efficiently and motivate those suppliers," she added. "We want to drive that experience between companies and suppliers to make it more beneficial for everyone."

UMB customers would operate through a portal created by Bottomline that connects the payments networks and provides the layers of security needed from enrollment levels to AI-based learning on transaction screening.

It is never a simple switchover to a digital payment process, Wilson said, because UMB wants its customers to make the transition at their own speed.

"These customers already have their own systems with payment information and records of certain discounts and past contracts," Wilson said. "We are not trying to say this is a new system to replace everything you have; we don't want to cause that type of friction."

But the goal remains the same in terms of converting some older payment methods to newer and more efficient concepts.

"When it comes to B2B, there are some electronic payments, but when it comes to accounts payable, there are still a lot of checks involved," Wilson added. "If a large supplier is saying they want a check, Bottomline comes into play here and can talk to that supplier and explain the benefits of other payment methods."

Bottomline's Paymode-X hopes to benefit UMB's commercial customers through reduced accounts payable costs, improved security and visibility, process efficiency, optimized payment routing, and financial returns in the form of rebates. Bottomline is aware of how other operations deliver technology to customers, providing its fraud-fighting software for members of the Swift payment network.

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B-to-B payments Payment processing Digital payments Checking Bottomline Technologies UMB Financial