As banks step up their online and mobile banking offerings for corporate customers — recent examples include Deutsche Bank, Citi and TD Bank — corporate treasurers confirm that they need better banking technology and partners like MasterCard are enhancing portal software that banks can white label.
In a global study SAP and CFO Research released this week, corporate finance executives said their top priorities include optimizing treasury processes (44%) and upgrading treasury information systems and technology (38%).
Twenty-nine percent of respondents said they will seek new banking partners over the next two years; half will consider a search. These treasurers say they seek a consultative relationship with their bank that provides visibility into cash flow, funding and risk considerations to guide business decision-making.
One provider of corporate portals — websites designed to help corporate treasurers handle all their banking tasks in one place — is MasterCard, with its Smart Data platform. It helps corporate customers analyze travel, procurement and other types of spending across a company and within divisions or individual accounts.
Banks could white label Smart Data to attract new corporate card customers, enter new geographical markets, and make corporate card relationships stickier.
At its core, Smart Data is a global data repository. About 200 issuers send in daily corporate card transaction feeds. MasterCard supplements that with data it purchases from hotel chains, airlines and travel management companies. There's a built in hierarchy that defines who reports to whom and how expenses should be allocated.
The portal can provide exception reporting (for instance, to see spend over a certain threshold) and transaction management (e.g. to allocate cost codes). The CFO can track who the lead spenders are in an organization, and which departments or expense categories are over budget.
The portal could be used to investigate an accounting issue, such as an abnormally high computer expense. It could let a consumer goods company that operates in 20 countries see all its spending from one place. The portal dashboard can show views of spending over periods of time. A self-service tool lets corporate customers create their own reports; Smart Data can also be used to feed expense management software such as Concur.
MasterCard's recent upgrades to the platform include a new graphical analysis module called Smart Data Analytics that lets corporate treasurers quickly generate charts and graphs related to corporate spending. The idea is that if corporate executives can slice and dice spending data faster, they can make budget and accounting decisions more quickly.
For mid-size and large companies trying to understand their spending, "the reconciliation process is very challenging if all you're using is paper invoices, checks and ACH," says Victor Lopes, senior vice president, product management — commercial products, global commercial products at MasterCard. "It's difficult to understand the true nature of the expense — who is it for, to whom am I allocating it? We make that process easier and provide visibility. If I'm running an international department, being able to log in and see all my spending in Singapore as easily as in the U.S. is a benefit."
For a bank expanding its corporate cash management or card business outside the U.S., Smart Data provides a means of supporting non-U.S. activity without having to build anything, he says.
"A handful of larger bank customers have built robust commercial platforms for the U.S.," Lopes observes. "But as soon as they start to follow those customers outside of the U.S., it's only in English or Canadian French. They have to start dealing with the process of not just localization and globalization, but innovation. We serve as a hub for them. We have local and global customers and get input from both sides. Whatever we develop for a bank in the U.K., a U.S. bank going into the U.K. can use. They don't have to do the research and figure out the tax laws." The portal supports 21 languages and all major currencies, MasterCard says.
MasterCard upgrades its portal three times a year to keep up with innovation in the market, Lopes says. "We want banks to focus on selling, not worry about technology innovation," he says.
Future releases of SmartData will include benchmarking to let companies see how their expenses compare to their peers'.