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Solving the cross-border payments conundrum

digital banking money bank
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

This year has been unlike any other on record. We can no longer travel to our favorite restaurant - much less see the world – and yet, for so many it’s business as usual.

While some companies are undoubtedly feeling the pressure and challenges brought on by the global pandemic, others are thankfully thriving and looking ahead. Some even have lofty expansion plans that involve breaking into new regions, which presents its own unique set of challenges, including utilizing cross-border payments, which facilitates the flow of money between European buyers and sellers to the tune of €143 billion.

The internet of things

We’re fortunate to be living through the ‘Next Norm’, as it’s being dubbed, with access to the internet.

From the influx of millennials reaching the age when banking and payments solutions are a consideration, to a world where remote working from our home offices, conservatories or bedrooms is advised, there has never been a better time for digital services to up their game.

Even the unexpected are turning to the internet to enrich their lives and the lives of others. I read a piece recently about a 91-year-old English professor in America, who had been teaching for some 50-plus years. Despite his vast experience and teaching practices, he turned to Zoom in a bid to avoid disrupting his students’ studies.

The countless global businesses who work out of multiple countries face a similar decision when it comes to their operation. For those who choose to embrace change and innovation to enter new markets, drum up investment and entice the strongest, international talent, cross-border payment restrictions are holding them back.

Breaking down the problem

The legal, regulatory and administrative processes associated with cross-border payments have long slowed down the payment of people and suppliers, proving a costly inconvenience for businesses of every size and sector. Navigating the stresses and strains associated with this necessary evil is a huge part of many business’ continued growth plans.

These issues inherently lie with banks and financial institutions (FI), who are required to establish direct links with one another in the same nation to send and receive cross-border payments. Not every FI has a counterpart in any given region, however, which means money must often be transferred between numerous institutions – typically four - and in multiple countries before reaching its final recipient.

What’s more, it’s common for companies to have to present documentation to substantiate the purpose for payments. Invoices, customs forms, tax declaration forms – the list is endless. These requirements vary from country to country and can take varying times to be authenticated.

At xpate, for example, we too face the same hassles other businesses do when it comes to cross-border payments. A large proportion of our team is distributed, and we also want to be able to pay our people without facing costly inconveniences and delays. Like so many other companies, we are also looking for a cross-border solution that priorities simplicity, speed and user experience.

Luckily, this is an area in which improvements are being made. Out of the physical restrictions that have been put on the world as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, so too come opportunities.

Companies are increasingly looking to save costs on unnecessary office space in favor of remote working. Lots are doing this very well, efficiently managing distributed teams. With this comes the realization that they no longer need to find the best person for the job within a 30-mile commute of the office and instead can fish in the wider world’s talent pool.

If we consider every business now has this opportunity at its fingertips, it immediately exacerbates the cross-border payments conundrum. With effective access to a global talent pool comes the challenge of finding a way to administer the numerous requirements of cross-border payments through a payroll process that doesn’t require too much manual effort of the part of HR departments and teams.

A driver for change

In a bid to curtail these issues and encourage cross-border payments, the Financial Stability Board, along with IMF and other key institutions, has produced a roadmap, which was recently endorsed by the G20. It sets out a list of concrete reforms, practical steps and milestones, including extended operating hours of countries’ settlement systems so that they overlap and cross-border transactions can be settled in real time, that institutions will be held accountable to implement.

Alongside regulatory bodies are the fintech firms themselves who are also striving for change.

We, too, are frustrated by what should be a simple method of payment, which is instead hindered by friction.

The potential for interception by hackers, alone, who can swipe funds or even our personal data for themselves, is reason to continually develop solutions that keep businesses efficient, streamlined and, of course, protected.

Technological evolution

We’ve become accustomed to an easy, convenient life - the internet plays a fundamental role in this mentality.

We need and expect solutions that can automate and simplify processes and paperwork - so why should cross-border payments be any different?

If we are to truly seize the opportunities globalization has brought with it, we must implement automation – both technological and administrative – that takes over manual tasks, negates friction and opens opportunities for greater cost-saving measures while enhancing customer experience.

Let’s consider the time and costs that could be saved if we streamlined business procedures and if you were to work with a payments platform that prioritized onboarding and AML processes, for example.

The implementation of APIs is all well and good, but if FIs aren’t using them properly and larger payments platforms stick to cumbersome onboarding requirements that were acceptable a few years ago, customers will forever face costly delays and complacent business protocols.

Now is the time to go the extra mile to help customers.

As we predict the demand for cross-border payments will increase as a result of the ongoing pandemic, so too will the desire to reduce the time spent making transactions and instead do what businesses should be doing: thriving.

Mike Shafro, CEO, xpate

Mike Shafro – CEO, xpate.