RBS Citizens just finished a year in which it upgraded a large portion of its business payments technology, with an emphasis on mobile—and now it hopes to convince a younger generation of U.S. business executives to eliminate paper in treasury management.

"The treasurers and CFOs of many companies grew up with checks, that was the most common way for them to make a payment," says James Gifas, head of treasury solutions for RBS Citizens. "What we're seeing now is a shift to younger people who are a lot more electronic minded."

The bank is focused taking advantage of the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets. In the past few months, RBS has introduced several new additions to its Access line of business payments products.

RBS Citizens recently introduced a more functional version of its accessMobile app, as well as a new accounts payable system called accessPaymode-X. AccessMobile enables users to deposit checks remotely through a system that is linked to the user's other cash management relationships. Businesses can also initiate wire transfers and leverage positive pay for security. The system is available on iPad, iPhone, Android and other mobile devices through optimized mobile websites.

AccessPaymode-X is linked to the Paymode-X payables network developed by RBS in partnership with Bottomline Technologies. More than 200,000 suppliers are enrolled in the network.

"We have vendors that have agreed to provide a discount if they are paid within a certain timeframe," Gifas says, adding the easy access to pending payments provided by an electronic dashboard provides an incentive for corporates. "They can view payments in process and see where there are discounts available."

The updates to AccessMobile bring more function to the mobile channel—changing the mobile app from a source of information to a transaction enabler, Gifas says. "We're moving from looking at information on payments to actually making payments while a treasurer is on the move."

Gifas didn't disclose the uptake of the new products, saying only that the bank is pleased with its pipeline of adopters. Given the lag of U.S. businesses in automating supply chain management, there is some pressure to get on board with payments automation, Gifas says. 

"The U.S. is so far behind other countries in terms of how we process payments, legacy checks are still the predominant method of payment for U.S. corporates,"  he says. "I don't see it as a challenge for foreign businesses working with companies in the U.S. necessarily, but it is a more costly way to do business with checks." 

The bank sells corporations on payments automation by stressing the efficiency and control that can be gained, Gifas says. One of the initial moves is often to connect the digital payments platform to the client's enterprise resource planning system, which provides visibility via the mobile and Web applications into expenses such as travel, entertainment and procurement.

"We emphasize the cumbersome and archaic paper processes," Gifas says.

Other payment service providers such as MasterCard and U.S. Bank are also selling automation as a way to improve expense management for activates such as travel and procurement.

Despite years of banks and other payment companies selling automation, paper still occupies a large portion of business payments—about 50%, says Steve Murphy, a research director at CEB TowerGroup.

The rate of decline has actually slowed over the past three years, he adds.

"The biggest issue is the clients of the corporate, do they have mobile payments?" Murphy says. "The adoption is going to happen. Automation will reach critical mass and there will be a lot of adoption. But it's an incremental game."

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