Author: Pete Loughlin

Q4 2013 may well be remembered as the inflexion point for AP automation and supply chain finance. The synergy between e-invoicing and supply chain finance (SCF) has been recognized for some time but the reality of business is that despite the benefits staring us in the face, it takes time to put the pieces together and for it to become a reality. Software needs to be developed or adapted, marketing campaigns crafted and pilot programmes need to run their course. This all takes years. So when we see solutions emerging and new offerings launched, it’s not because everyone has suddenly seen the light – the early adopters saw the light a long time ago and what we’re seeing now is the culmination of years of effort. The OB10 deal announced last week follows two years of behind the scenes discussion. Tradeshift’s $3bn fund to support small business is the realization of a vision that Christian Lanng shared with me about 3 years ago and just this week a new player on the scene, Crossflow Payments, emerged into the fading light of late summer after 3 years of research and development.  I met Tony Duggan, the CEO, this week in The City of London to understand what they have to offer.

My good friend and opposite number at Spend Matters, Jason Busch, had the privilege to speaking to Clalit Healthcare services a some time ago to understand how they've managed to achieve such high levels of straight through processing in their accounts payable. Clalit Healthcare Services is Israel’s leading health care organizations and one of the world’s largest. It is revolutionizing the management of its entire procurement processes and supplier collaboration using the Nipendo Supplier Cloud platform. Clalit Healthcare Services is the world’s second largest HMO operating 1,400 clinics, 14 hospitals, more than 400 pharmacies, and over 800 other medical facilities. With an annual purchasing volume of over US$ 2.5 billion, Clalit receives over 2 million invoices a year issued by thousands of suppliers. Over 1,500 employees are involved in the procurement and A/P functions.

I’d grown accustomed to the sunshine that we’ve enjoyed in the UK for most of the summer and yesterday, ill-equipped for normal British weather, I got soaked, literally to the skin, in an unexpectedly heavy rain shower in London. Summer’s almost gone and there’s definitely a change in the air. It’s been a long time coming but now the convergence of demand for liquity amongst cash strapped small businesses and the supply of alternative funds seems to be happening. There was some big news on these lines last week when OB10’s acquisition was announced. There’s a few new players joining the market that we’ll hear a lot about in the coming weeks. All of this is very interesting but today’s news is quite simply breathtaking. Tradeshift signaled some time ago that they were going to be leveraging their platform to deliver some form of supply chain finance offering to support small businesses but today they’ve lifted the lid on their plans and revealed exactly what it is they’ll be doing. In a nutshell it’s this: $3 billion.

When it comes to electronic trading, the Latin Americans, most notably Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, put the so-called developed countries to shame in terms of their ambition. While the Europeans continue to support business processes hardly changed since they were developed by the spice merchants of Venice during the Renaissance, South American governments are building business and tax collection infrastructures that many of us would never have dreamt possible.

The news that OB10 is to go public broke last night - actually a little prematurely - but now it's official and Tungsten and OB10 have announced their intentions. I spent 20 minutes on the phone with a delighted Luke McKeever, OB10's CEO, earlier today to understand the details of the deal that values OB10 at £99 million. Actually, the details are a little mundane - their IPO is of course subject to raising the cash - but assuming they do it will be used to buy out existing shareholders, to build bigger better infrastructure and technology and bolster Express Payments with funds to directly fund some new and innovative supply chain finance offerings. "That's not mundane" you might think - but it is - it's positively pedestrian compared to what Luke told me they are going to be doing in addition to all of this.

From outside of Latin America, electronic invoicing in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and the others, seems complex and mysterious. What information that is available to understand it is mostly in Spanish or Portuguese. For those of us who are a little rusty on our Spanish and Portuguese, even the English written information is difficult to grasp because the concept of e-invoicing in Latin America is fundamentally different to the concepts familiar to Europeans and North Americans. But for any business that trades in South America it is crucial to understand the new invoicing landscape.