Visa and Kofax are attempting to simplify complex invoice payments in Asia by introducing technology into processes that have long been handled manually.

"From a buying perspective, one of the biggest pain points in business-to-business payments occurs in the invoice management process," said Olivia Leong, head of commercial and prepaid solutions for Asia Pacific for Visa. "The challenges exist because the data elements that validate an invoice ready for payment reside in different data sources."

Visa hopes that by running its business-to-business transaction information through a range of Kofax platforms that link between client-facing and record keeping systems, the disparate sourcing that clogs business payments can be more readily managed.

"To bring these data elements together to validate an invoice for payment remains manual today," Leong said. "This results in the inability to pay vendors on time based on credit terms provided, and the potential of incurring late fees."

Visa has observed similar challenges for businesses that sell to other businesses, Leong said. "In this instance, the collection of different data elements that may reside in disparate systems of record in order to present a valid invoice for payment remains a challenge that organizations manage manually," Leong said. "This may result in delayed collection of payment and impact to their cash flow."

The combined technology will capture dates, product and service descriptions and amounts to enable a three-way match of purchase orders, invoice and payment instructions. That eliminates manual intervention to ensure the matches. The data will also be delivered in different formats to accommodate integration with corporate enterprise resource planning initiatives.

"Other pain points include challenges in consolidating financial data due to a lack of integration between systems of records," Leong said. "And these challenges are magnified for multinational companies operating in different countries."

Visa did not discuss teaming with Kofax in other regions of the world, though that is a possibility, said Howard Dratler, executive vice president of field operations for Kofax.

Business payments suffer latency because automated payments don't include enough information to inform business decisions, Dratler said, adding that is the impetus behind Kofax's mix of communication and integrations between the technology platforms that underpin businesses and suppliers. "The end users don't have the data they need to understand spending trends," Dratler said.

The lack of purchase information has also held back a shift to electronic payments in other markets such as Canada, where BMO has its own effort underway to enable faster processing for B2B check payments.

Whether these deployments mean businesses are finally ready to embrace automated processing remains to be seen, as a number of technology companies have targeted businesses with automated payments applications and platforms for years without gaining much traction.

"Business payments are more complex than consumer payments, so technology has played a role in payments processing for many decades," said Nancy Atkinson, a senior analyst at Aite Group. "Most of that technology is legacy, costly and demanding to support. In the case of large corporations and their banking relationships, though, straight-through processing has been available for a long time though seldom realized."

There has been some movement at the lower end of the market — the BMO check imaging project in Canada is primarily aimed at small business — but there are still challenges with larger companies, said Rick Hall, director of Mercator Advisory Group's Commercial and Enterprise Payments Advisory Service.

"There are still a lot of legacy technology challenges on the upper end of the market," Hall said. 

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