In a competition for large corporations' business, banks are one-upping each other with the features they make available to these clients online. Citigroup (C), for instance, recently rolled out new cash flow tools.
Bank of America (BAC) Merrill Lynch has just finished work on a new supply chain finance module for its CashPro Online banking channel for corporate clients. The new module is designed to help the bank's buyer clients and their suppliers manage cash flow by enabling faster access to funds and information.
Corporate payments have been slower to automate than consumer payments, due to the complexity of supply chain finance. Buyers and suppliers tend to be on different stages of the tech curve, and there can also be differences in currency, language and regulations.
"It's a journey — for the larger clients, the amount of data being transmitted, validated and acted on between the bank and our clients continues to increase. As these clients continue to centralize and consolidate global service centers to drive efficiencies, we see a sustained push to streamline data sharing and help them increase straight-through processing," says Chris Bozek, a product manager for Trade Pro.
The new Bank of America Merrill Lynch supply chain module was built following collaboration with clients. It operates in nine languages and allows suppliers to build reports on a scheduled or ad hoc basis. It provides access to supply chain finance data to aid in decision-making and auditing. "Clients of all sizes seek 'data on demand' — not just reporting, but a business intelligence tool and real-time alerts that help them to better manage their financial supply chain," Bozek says.
The product lets corporates submit invoices and create memos to manage and initiate discount offers. They can select business rules to automate and streamline approvals; manage invoice and memo details through notifications, data mining and reporting; and collaborate with counterparties to resolve discrepancies. They can also execute transactions through real-time notifications of supply chain finance events such as availability of invoices for discounting. The bank did not disclose its development partner and did not reveal pricing information.
"Flexibility is critical, clients require that we map to their file format and the capabilities of their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, not the other way around. It's important to sit down with clients to understand their workflow, how they process invoices and payment, and how the information can best flow between the bank and their ERP systems," Bozek says.
BofA Merrill has also completed the transition of all existing information reporting clients from disparate older systems to the CashPro Information Reporting system, which is also part of the larger CashPro Online portal. CashPro Online connects to the systems corporates use to drive global treasury, debt, liquidity, investment, trade, and foreign exchange via a single sign-on. It also includes a global payments initiation module and beneficiary advising that notifies recipients when a payment is coming, as well as visual reporting that allows corporates to see locations and figures on a map instead of spreadsheets, for example.
The Information Reporting feature includes dashboard access to balances and reports, and helps clients create customized reports and schedule reports to be delivered via email. Other features include research that allows plain text searches on all accounts, expanded report formats enabling clients to integrate into treasury management and working capital solutions, and a viewer that allows clients to sort and search through reports.
The institution hopes the migration will improve navigation for clients, which in some cases are more accustomed to accessing consumer-oriented financial services on the web. "We want to present things in a simplified manner for the smaller clients. They are more used to online banking solutions and want a more streamlined workflow with summary level data presented as dashboards with a graphical interface," says Cindy Murray, head of global treasury product infrastructure for platforms and eCommerce for Bank of America.