The recently wrapped Institute of Finance and Management (IOFM) APP2P conference was all business. The buzz and excitement around finally getting in front of people in a post-COVID environment was quite evident, but the tone was decidedly about evaluating vendors, shopping for solutions and seeking opportunities for efficiency and growth. It was not a “get the SWAG and move on” type of event. The Paymode-X team came away with three key issues from the event that will continue to drive the payments conversation over the next year.
Just as it should have been, the conference was about “pay and get paid.” In that context attendees saw AP automation as part of a larger payments strategy. Everyone knows they need to automate, and that sentiment was strong at the conference for the reasons that have accompanied AP automation for years: control, visibility, efficiency, security and cost savings. One of the main issues with automation arise when finance leaders think that all AP automation platforms are essentially the same. That’s a big mistake. We talked to some attendees who thought that just because a company had a virtual card and a similar automation solution, they were the same as the rest. We even spoke to a bank offering an AP automation solution with the same outlook. The difference is in the details. Our approach to vendor enrollment is very different from other companies. As a result, we end up enrolling 10-15% more suppliers to accept electronic payments than the banks or other FinTechs. We also offer an ACH solution that’s very different, and we do security differently. We focus on adding value to suppliers, and that’s a huge differentiator. No one else really does that. We're not the same solution. We're similar in that we automate your payments, but we're very different in how we go about it. These are all areas that make a huge difference in the overall success of an AP automation solution, and your return on investment. That’s an important distinction, and an issue that will resonate at conferences like IOFM APP2P.
Access and pricing:
Going into the conference we heard a lot about “fair” pricing for AP automation. Some of the things we heard and read: 1) AP automation should cost less than checks and those are only a negligible expense. 2) Banks need to make it easier for enterprises to move on to AP automation platforms. On issue, number two we couldn’t agree more. Our mission with our bank channel partners is to align with the right costs and access. When we talk about the cost of our solution, we're driving rebates back to the customer, which is especially important at that enterprise level. You don't want to make it harder for those folks to do business. Businesses are willing to pay to automate. However, and regarding the first point, checks are not a marginal expense. It’s important to remember that a lot that goes into the cost of a paper check, and that’s always a good argument for automation. For most companies, that cost is upwards of $5.00 per check, when you factor in all the expenses associated with issuing a paper check, such as the paper itself, envelopes, postage, MICR ink, bank fees, and the personnel required to print checks and stuff envelopes. In fact, one client we recently spoke with told us that they had performed an analysis, and their all-in cost for issuing a paper check is around $7.50 per check. No one has to sit and stuff envelopes with AP automation. So, there are real cost savings realized, by moving from paper to electronic.
Consumerization of business payments:
Don’t sleep on this issue, which was a hot topic at IOFM APP2P. It’s real. Think of what the current generation is growing up with Venmo, PayPal, Zelle and all the other platforms available to make electronic payments immediately. They expect to be able to do the same in the business space, and we need to deliver that and provide a similar solution in the business space. This was validated at another recent conference, this one from the Association of Financial Professionals. Here's what its research showed: “Over 40% of survey respondents indicate it is very likely that their organizations will convert the majority of B2B payments to their suppliers to digital methods in the next three years. Another 27% of respondents report that it is somewhat likely that their companies would move the majority of their payments to major suppliers to digital vehicles over the next three years, an increase from the 22% in 2019.” So, we need to continue to focus on making AP automation solutions friendlier and more like the consumer experience, through mobile apps and other new technologies.
The IOFM APP2P audience was everything we were looking for, and they were looking for new solutions to automate and streamline their business payments. In 2023 the issues of AP automation, pricing and differentiation are sure to be revisited time and time again. With the amount of attention and focus we saw at IOFM, it’s bound to be an informed conversation.