Mobile person-to-person payments didn't attract a following until companies like Venmo borrowed ideas from social networking when designing their apps. The same concept may also work for businesses, which need to manage the relationships they have with the clients who owe them money.
George White, who owns a company that does voiceover work for commercials, travels too much for a paper-based invoicing system to make sense.
"The lag for me has been when my clients make payments, they have traditionally sat in a post office box somewhere, I've been trying to get my clients to do more direct deposits," White said. He began using a system from Viewpost that handles invoicing, payments and cash management with a social networking component that helps him stay in touch with his long-term clients.
"I travel a lot, and the [digital access] allows me to send bills and keep in touch with clients easily while I'm on the road," he said.
Viewpost also works with Bank of America, which has agreed to enable its three million small business clients to access Viewpost directly via their online banking login.
It's another in a series of attempts from banks, merchants and technology companies to automate business to business transactions, a market segment that still stubbornly clings to paper. There are more than 27 million small to medium sized businesses in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and Mercator says automation is mostly too costly to be within reach for this segment. Viewpost contends this reliance on paper creates inefficiencies that cost the economy billions of dollars annually and threaten the small business' survival.
"Small businesses struggle with when and if bills will be paid, and they're still getting lots of paper bills and creating invoices remotely from their business," said Max Eliscu, CEO and founder of Viewpost.
Like a lot of technology companies that are attempting to modernize smaller companies, Viewpost sends in the clouds, with a dash of social networking—Mercator director of commercial and enterprise payments Richard Hall likens Viewpost's model to LinkedIn or Facebook.
Viewpost uses an open, cloud-based network to connect buyers and sellers. These parties can transact using any banking relationship, which cuts down on manual data entry and provides businesses a view of their financial relationships with other businesses.
"Even if BofA is one of the top banks for small businesses, a [huge portion] of small businesses still don't bank with BofA, so they'll want a way to connect to their trading partners that does not rely on supply businesses being with the same bank," Eliscu said. BofA previously provided information on Viewpost on its site and a link. Other Viewpost users include U.S. Bank and Fifth Third, though those banks have not yet enabled a direct integration.
While the volume of checks BofA's small business customers use is declining, they are still handling more than 220 million per year, said Will Barr, senior vice president of small business deposits for BofA, in an email provided by BofA's public relations department. "Through our relationship with Viewpost, we can offer our business owners the ability to send and receive electronic payments directly into their bank account, saving them time and money and improving their cash flow."
The top concern for small businesses is managing cash flow, according to Barr, adding many many businesses have developed processes over time that they trust.
"They may not be the most efficient or cost effective, but they trust them and they work," Barr said. "Getting small business owners to change something that works for them and works for their customers and clients is difficult. The value proposition must be significant enough for them to entertain making a change. "
Direct integration is the ultimate goal for Viewpost's bank relationships, Eliscu said. "The benefit for the bank is their customers don't have to leave the online banking environment to execute payments," he said.
Buyers and suppliers use Viewpost for invoicing or payments, and can link Viewpost to their accounting software. Buyers review, approve, edit or dispute invoices within the network. The company uses e-checks and also offers to manage dynamic discounting in exchange for 30% of the discounted amount.
The cost is less than it would take to write and mail a paper check, White said. "I didn't want to get into something that would cost my clients a lot of money. This was economically feasible," he said.
Viewpost doesn't charge businesses to join the network, and sending and receiving invoices is also free, as is receiving electronic payments. It charges $0.50 to send an electronic payment and $0.75 or send a paper check if necessary.
While the social network model is not unique, it does play an interesting role in B-to-B payments, particularly because of the geographic diversity of the supply chain today, Hall writes in market research, adding dynamic discounts are generally reserved for large businesses but should be part of all business payments, and Viewpost's network and portal brings that capability "downstream."