Following the initial flood of corporate payment systems that hit the market last year, financial companies are rolling out a second wave of notably less powerful tools.
Bankers said the new systems are more than enough to meet the needs of corporate treasurers, who remain heavily dependent on simple spreadsheets and even paper notebooks for managing their cash and payments, and are not clamoring for powerful supply chain management tools.
Visa Inc. started offering a system Monday that businesses can use to make card payments to 10,000 suppliers in 34 countries over the San Francisco company's network.
The system does not support automated clearing house transactions, a common tool for business-to-business payments, nor can it connect companies to the accounts receivables systems of their suppliers to provide payment notification.
Nick Marchetti, Visa's head of global supply chain management, said he expects those services to be available next year.
Visa's focus for now is on corporations that want to use its issuers' purchasing cards for payments, Mr. Marchetti said; integrating the payer with the supplier will come later.
"We haven't seen that much demand yet on the supplier side," he said.
This month Bank of America Corp. unveiled a business-to-business gateway made up of payment tools it has acquired over the past several years.
B of A has long had the ability to manage a client's payment file, with a mixture of check, wire transfer, ACH, and card transactions, but Kevin C. Phalen, a senior vice president at the Charlotte company and its product executive for integrated debt and treasury products, said it is just beginning to see interest from business customers in electronic invoicing and other advanced corporate payment features.
It will be sometime next year before Bank of America's ePayables system will include features such as dynamic discounting and collaborative dispute resolution, Mr. Phalen said.
Demand is growing, but "clients can only bite off one piece at a time," he said.
These phased rollouts contrast sharply with the initial wave of payment gateways that were introduced last year by American Express Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., and MasterCard Inc., which offered business users comprehensive, end-to-end capabilities for managing their business-to-business transactions.
However, few businesses are ready for all those payments bells and whistles, according to a study released last week by the Association for Financial Professionals, a trade group for corporate treasurers.
The study found that 49% of companies are using paper notebooks or basic computer spreadsheets to manage their cash, and more than a third still keep track of their various bank accounts that way, despite the wide availability of electronic cash management systems.
Ernie Humphrey, the Bethesda, Md., trade group's director of treasury services, said he was "a little surprised by that lack of embrace" of cash management technology "across the market — not only middle-market, but large companies."
AFP worked with International Business Machines Corp. and Deutsche Bank AG to conduct its survey more than 400 companies of different sizes in March and April.
Mr. Humphrey said large-scale enterprise resource planning software from vendors such as Oracle Corp. and SAP AG is now widely used to tie together various operations.
However, these providers are noticing less interest in their financial management modules, he said.
"Treasury management data systems don't seem to communicate real well with ERP systems. The treasury modules on ERP systems just aren't there."
Robert T. Abele, an executive vice president and the manager of corporate payment systems at U.S. Bancorp, said the Minneapolis company offers an electronic invoicing and payment management system that may be more than the market needs, at least for now, though that is likely to change in the near future.
Mr. Abele acknowledged that the system might be viewed as a "Cadillac solution for a Volkswagen problem," though he said he expects the corporate payment market to catch up soon.
He compared the nascent demand for electronic business-to-business payment systems to the evolution of enterprise resource planning software, which began to take off 10 to 20 years ago. "That didn't take flight overnight," Mr. Abele said. "But when it did take flight, it took flight in a pretty big way."
U.S. Bancorp is testing Visa's new corporate payments system, which provides treasurers with online access to virtual purchasing cards, including zero-limit and one-time-use accounts, Mr. Abele said.
He said this is an advance over using conventional purchasing cards for supplier payments. "Some companies say, 'That's not enough control for me.' "
He also said that the current financial crisis could encourage companies to consider using automated treasury management applications.
"These solutions drive visibility between buyers and suppliers," Mr. Abele said, and the absence of trust has been a prime concern in the credit crunch. "You get complete control over a transaction, over the buyer-supplier relationship."
Marilyn Spearing, the global head of trade finance and cash management corporates for Deutsche Bank's global transaction banking unit, who helped conduct the AFP survey, said treasurers have to compete with other corporate priorities to justify investing in automated treasury management applications.
Treasurers must ask themselves, "'Do I have a business case for the change I'm contemplating?' Otherwise, we just end up talking generalities around business process improvement," Ms. Spearing said.