The automated corporate payments world is too vast to be dominated by a single bank, and for U.S. Bank that means a strategy of collaboration and standardization is the best way to grab share. "We can go to market alone and get a bigger piece of a smaller pie. But we want a smaller piece of a larger pie globally," says Rob Abele, svp and president of corporate payments services for U.S. Bank. "No one bank is ever going to own the [corporate] payments space. It's $67 trillion in payables globally and $17 trillion in the U.S."

To capture its pie, U.S. Bank has partnered with Visa to create Syncada, a joint venture to provide a global financial supply chain network that combines U.S. Bank's electronic payment technology and Visa's global relationships. The new venture aims to build what the two firms hope will be an international network of institutions that offer standardized e-payments. It's a challenging task - automated payments is a competitive game prone to proprietary systems.

"There's inefficiency, and 75 percent of business payments are still being made via paper checks," says Aaron McPherson, practice director for Forrester Research, who says different process requirements among varied institutions make it tough for clients to develop a business case to adopt electronic payments. "It's a classic network problem where nobody benefits unless everybody participates."

The crowded field of international corporate payments players includes JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and American Express' Buyer Initiated Payment Solution, which allows corporate clients to maintain existing workflow processes to enable a rapid transition to electronic payments. Also in the mix are Bank of America, HSBC, and Citigroup, which offers WorldLink, a $750 billion per year, 137-currency cross-border payment service that utilizes a single interface for vendor invoices, employee payrolls, taxes, shareholder dividends and other payments.

The number of major players already in the field is a problem for banks looking to grab share and their customers. "Businesses are frustrated as we [institutions] all develop our own payments products to go after prospects," says Abele, who envisions Syncada as processing large B2B and government payments. Currently offering payments in 17 currencies across 40 nations, Syncada leverages US Bank's PowerTrack, an automated B2B invoicing, payment processing and trade finance network. The venture is also pushing standardized invoice processing, financing and payment services - with designs on cutting paper and errors. "As banks join our network, they are participating on a standard basis due to our network rules," says Nick Marchetti, head of supply chain solutions for Visa, who adds Syncada is tracking the growth of international corporate payments standards such as SEPA and ISO 20022, and will adhere" to those rules as required.

Like any attempt at standardization, gaining the participation of potential competitors will be Syncada's wall to climb. As of early September, Syncada had yet to sign another bank to the network. "You'll get particular banks that have closed approaches to payments, where they won't let anybody get in," says Van Dyke.

Sources say Bank of America, an influential Visa-issuing bank with a robust international corporate payments unit, would be a good fit for Syncada that could lead to additional participation. Abele would not identify banks Syncada was targeting or in discussions with. "We discuss developments on where the payments industry is going, and we support the vision on what [Visa] is doing with U.S. Bank," says Kevin Phalen, an evp and product executive for Bank of America's card and merchant acquisition business, adding Bank of America was open to discussions with the new venture "if it provided value to our clients."

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