External Forces Affecting Global Transaction Flows: Is the Payments World Becoming Flatter?

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23 June 2016
Susan Feinberg

In his 2005 book titled The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, New York Times reporter and author Thomas Friedman famously wrote about the impact of technology on globalization, the result of which is a truly global economy with unprecedented flows of investments, goods, and ideas. This trend has continued, despite the global recession that followed a few years after his book was published.

In contrast, corporate treasurers have seen little “flattening” of cross-border payment processing since SWIFT was introduced in the 1970s, with the exception of intra-EC euro-denominated payments. The reality is that even in 2016, most cross-border payments have several critical elements of uncertainty about them. And it's not just about moving the money more efficiently: increasingly the focus is on how to improve the transparency and speed of payment information.

But it is important to recognize that the global banking system (including SWIFT) is not the only influence on cross-border payments. As corporate treasury organizations make tactical and strategic decisions about how to effectively make and receive payments across borders, they must take into consideration a wide range of external forces.

External Forces

Economic instability and geo-political conditions are categories of external forces that corporate treasurers need to take into account when moving funds across borders, not only in the immediate term but when considering the longer term strategic impact on instability on trading corridors and growth markets. Yesterday's historic "Brexit" vote by the citizens of the United Kingdom to exit the European Union is the perfect example of how geo-political instability has both an immediate impact on cross border payments in terms of the impact on FX rates but also on the longer term prospects for trade, foreign investment and the movement of people across borders. It will be many months, perhaps years, before the impact is fully understood.

Industry initiatives leveraging technology advances to improve cross border payment processing are playing a larger role than ever before as global adoption of SEPA elements becomes a reality, new regional payment networks and real time cross border payment solutions are being developed and alternative payment providers are offering solutions to some of the longest standing corporate complaints about traditional cross border payment processing.

Finally, demographic trends such as uneven population growth, migration and the rise of the digital natives will all have long term implications for how corporate treasury moves money and information across borders.

Celent's recently published report on this topic Following the Money: External Forces Affecting Global Transaction Flows includes some of the key data trends related to these external forces that are critical for corporate treasurers to understand and to continue to evaluate as they develop a plan for future proofing their payment environments. The report also includes recommendations for how treasury organizations should collaborate with their transaction banking partners to ensure that cross border payment processing and the delivery of payment information is optimized as the global payments landscape changes. This report and the webinar on the same topic was produced as part of a series sponsored by HSBC on topics relevant to corporate treasury.

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