In payments, change is slow, then it happens quickly.

This is especially true in business-to-business (B2B) payments, where “the check is in the mail” gives way to emailed invoices, which then give way to integrated payment options that link accounts payable (AP ) and accounts. debtor departments (AR) – and buyers and sellers – automatically.

However, the road to digitization is anything but straight and narrow.

The past few years have seen the great digital shift meet inflation, and finance professionals, in at least some cases, have had to slow down their digitization initiatives, with some even having to put them on hold.

In an interview with Visa Business Solutions vice president, North American products, Leigh Radtke, a treasurer, a chief financial officer and two CEOs said that many companies, including their own, have refocused their efforts to bring in more trade debts in the 21st century.

Panelists included Branch CFO Brian Whalen, Zumiez Treasurer Graham Merrill, YellowHeart Founder and CEO Josh Katz, and Routable Co-Founder and CEO Omri Mor.

As Merrill noted pointing to an overall trend, “Ultimately…we are seeing a transformation of PA from a processing function to a customer service and analytics function within a company.”

Related: How to Eliminate “PDF Fatigue” When Processing B2B Payments

To achieve this, he said, Zumiez itself had to adopt application programming interfaces (APIs) and automate billing.

In some corners of the B2B payments ecosystem, the urgency to get people paying faster is palpable. Whalen noted that for Branch, a labor payment platform, “All workers faced a cash crunch – gig workers in particular.”

Given recent high fuel prices, simply getting to work (or, of course, operating as a delivery or carpooling professional) or from point A to point B can be an expense in important species. The platform model, he said, can help workers get paid on demand, and instant digital guidance can increase cash flow.

Increasingly, customers are realizing the benefits of focusing on their core competencies, while outsourcing payment functions to vendors with the relevant expertise (and technology).

This outsourcing, Whalen added, eliminates the cumbersomeness of automated clearing house and bi-weekly payroll, leading to more predictable and consistent cash flows.

Rapid acceleration

In fact, as he recounted, the demand for digital payments to employees and contractors is accelerating at a pace not seen in decades.

As for the technologies themselves, regardless of the payment scenario – and across all areas of B2B – the huge wave of macroeconomic pressures has led to the adoption of emerging technologies such as smart contracts for help improve back-end systems and processes, said YellowHeart’s Katz.

See also: CFOs say collections need a balance of automation and personal touch

With this blockchain technology in place, Merrill said, “There’s complete transparency – and there’s no more worrying about a middleman or third party accounting for debts.” This level of simplified interaction eliminates the costly and time-consuming attributes of tracking traditional payment methods such as ACH and paper checks.

Routable’s Mor noted that all of these trends need to converge, where transparency and accuracy need to be paid for with speed and flexibility… all of this is made possible by robust AP automation tools.

“These are all parts of a conversation that needs to happen on a large scale,” Mor said, “where there’s a movement of money between multiple players, and maybe even thousands of debts.” As accounts payable teams and finance teams grow, it becomes imperative to automate various business functions to increase efficiency.

Looking ahead, as Merrill noted, “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ your business will move everything to a digital payment platform – and the faster you move, the better you carry yourself.”

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