Cross-border B2B payments are hardly a new thing - they have been a necessity since borders became a thing, with solutions potentially appearing as early as the Roman Empire. However, with the ever-increasing speed of business and far more diversity in goods and services around the world, the need for a quick and reliable international payments solution has never been greater.
Bizarrely, while there has been no shortage of innovation in cross-border customer payments in the last few decades, the business-to-business payments landscape has struggled to keep up. In spite of the fact that B2B cross-border payments are expected to be worth $35 trillion by 2022, there remain relatively few options available, and some of those are extremely outdated and inefficient. We have compiled this comprehensive guide to help you figure out how to optimise your B2B payments, allowing you to get an edge on those still stuck in the past.
How do cross-border B2B payments work?
We are going to assume that, if you are reading this page, you get that a B2B payment is one made from one business to another as a means of obtaining goods and services to improve your own business. In other words, one where the customer is not a typical consumer. The payment process naturally needs to be a little different because there are significantly more accounting issues to contend with. For example, goods and services purchased for the benefit of a business and not personal consumption can be labelled as a business expense and may therefore be taxed at a different rate, if at all.
Domestic B2B payments can be easily settled since both parties are operating within the same financial structures. There are plenty of available methods available, which have progressively made things simpler and cheaper as the years have passed. Transactions originally conducted in cash and later with cheques can now be completed almost instantaneously using credit cards and online portals, all with minimum risk, fuss or fees.
However, sticking an international border between the two businesses adds several layers of complexity and cost. Such payments have historically been conducted by wire transfer from one bank to another and, to a large extent, still are. This process is extremely slow and, thanks to the many hands the money has to pass through along the way, typically very expensive thanks to the seemingly endless added fees.
What are the challenges with cross-border B2B payments?
Aside from the usual factors that disrupt any and all B2B payments - including picking from the many available mediums, the surprisingly large risk of fraud, and labour-intensive processes - the challenges faced when trying to conduct business overseas are legion. Perhaps the biggest among them is the complex interplay of different banking and financial regulations around the world.
Centuries of treaties, sanctions and general distrust have created a situation where sending a simple transaction from Country A to Country B may require you to use half of the rest of the alphabet along the way. If A and B have regulations in place that prevent transfers between the two, your money may need to go to Country C because they are able to trade with Country D, who have an agreement with Country E, which is one of the few countries able to easily send money to Country B. It is the financial equivalent of flying from Thailand to Vietnam via the UK because the tickets are cheaper. Except, of course, this approach is not cheaper as every bank that handles the money along the way adds a fee for doing so, to the point that it’s not worth even bothering unless there are thousands of dollars involved in the transaction as you’ll end up paying more in fees that you are for the goods or services you’re buying.
And that’s just an extremely simplified version of just one of the obstacles. Even the regulatory challenges have more depth to them, with everything from data privacy and consumer protection regulations to tax collection and payment network policies to contend with. Add in currency value fluctuations, language barriers and good old human error and it’s hardly surprising that plenty of businesses shy away from trading internationally.
What cross-border B2B payment mediums are available?
So, now that we have thoroughly terrified you, it’s time to introduce a glimmer of hope. You see, despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, there are options available to make cross-border B2B payments at least possible and potentially even relatively easy. Succeeding will give you access to a wealth of different options to help you boost your business that would ordinarily be denied to you, so it is well worth exploring these options. They are as follows:
Cheques may be a method that dates back at least 250 years, if not millennia, but they still can be a viable option. There are obvious risks, not least the fact that you need to send the physical cheque to another country via postal services that may or may not be completely reliable. Additionally, it’s not that difficult to commit fraud with a cheque by adding an extra zero on the end of the number. Most significantly, it’s an extremely slow option as you first need to wait for the cheque to arrive in the post, then need to wait for the banks to process it. Suffice it to say, they’re only really in this list for the sake of completeness - they are not a realistic B2B payment option.
Global ACH payments are also included more for the sake of completeness than being a realistic option. Automated Clearing Houses (ACHs) are a facility designed to make it easier for banks to handle large numbers of small transactions coming in all at once, such as everyone paying their utility bills all at once. They are usually only for domestic use, though there are a few that operate globally. These are comparatively quick, generally taking about three business days to clear, and the fees are usually comparatively light. However, the simple fact that there are so few available means that they immediately limit your choice of cross-border B2B prospects.
Wire transfers, as we have said, are one of the more common approaches. While they are expensive and can be slow, they are at least consistent. The process is a well-established one and, once you have figured out the mountains of paperwork a few times, the process can become relatively routine. This is very far from an ideal option, but it is at least a practicable one.
Credit cards now play an increasing role in cross-border B2B payments. The fact that most of the main card companies like Visa and MasterCard operate internationally makes transferring funds between countries a lot quicker and simpler. However, the fact that they are trying to handle a transaction between two different currencies and different regulatory frameworks inevitably creates more work for the card company. More work means more fees, and guess who they’re going to expect to pay them? While cross-border B2B payments by credit card are certainly quicker than wire transfers, they can end up just as expensive.
eWallets are one of the newer options available, with plenty of companies offering them. PayPal is the obvious example and that name alone will likely be enough for you to immediately understand what we mean by ‘eWallet’. However, there are others to choose from, including Neteller, Alipay, Skrill and more. Sadly, these meet the same obstacle as credit cards do. While they are undoubtedly quick and convenient, most put a significant fee on cross-border transfers because of the extra complexity.
Fintech solutions like DeeMoney are finally offering something different - something that won’t cost you excessive amounts of time, money or both. Using experience gained with B2C cross-border payments and remittance, such firms are now able to handle B2B payments with no stacking fees or significant delays and without needing to complete a rainforest’s worth of documents each time. Find out more about this option here.