The business-to-business (B2B) market has traditionally lagged behind the business-to-consumer (B2C) market when it comes to introducing new, electronic payment models.  Paper cheques continue to play a dominant role in transaction volume for B2B payments, comprising 51% of all B2B transactions.

Among consumers, the use of cheques has steadily declined and slowed down in favour of electronic payments, credit and debit cards. International payments therefore is an industry ripe for disruption, and there is growing recognition among new fintech players entering the financial services market that merchant expectations are currently unmet in the B2B payments ecosystem.

A digital-first customer experience shaped by a human touch is needed in order to propel the state of digital B2B payments forward in 2018. Both buyers and sellers want to reap the benefits that come from sending and receiving payments swiftly and accurately.

From saving time and valuable resources on costly transaction delays to reducing regulatory risk and enhancing fraud security, the demand for a seamless B2B payments experience will usher in an age of breakthrough profits for some and diminished returns for others.

With this in mind, here are three trends that I predict will impact the future of B2B electronic payments in 2018.

International intelligence: smart and fast wins the race

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Online B2B transactions are predicted to be worth $1.1trn in the US in two years, according to Forrester, but cheques are not going away anytime soon. B2B payments by cheque increased 1%from 2013-2016, due in large respect to legacy payments systems.

Firms consistently ranked the ability to track payments in real-time over the ability to make instant payments, in a EuroFinance Corporate Treasury Network report. Speed is of essence when it comes to transforming corporate payments in the digital age, but transparency is crucial when sending payments across the globe.

There is little ability for payments to be tracked and traced once they are sent, and this lack of visibility is one of the more significant challenges to streamlining the cross-border B2B payments experience. It’s not simply a question about speed but also intelligence.

Shaped by consumer experiences, today’s merchants expect a simple and flexible service for sending and receiving B2B payments whether they are going to an established financial institution or an alternative provider.

In these cutting-edge times, technological solutions can eliminate the common pain points felt by financial institutions and merchants alike. There are digital tools that reduce cheque clearing times by offering electronic scanning capabilities that process payments in a matter of days instead of weeks; there are also tools that automatically verify the accuracy of beneficiary information for different countries before payments are sent.

Smarter and faster payments will continue to be a major trend for financial institutions and fintechs collaborating in the B2B payments arena.

Open banking APIs: integration is the way forward

The second Payments Services Directive (PSD2) era has profound implications not limited to Europe but North America where American and Canadian financial institutions are already following suit and exploring the adoption of open banking principles.

As part of an overall regulatory trend to encourage competitive innovation, PSD2, as of 13 January 2018, requires banks in the European Union to provide qualified payment-service providers (PSPs) connectivity to customer account data.

By allowing third-party providers to access customer data through open banking application programme interfaces (APIs), new products and services can be built on top of bank legacy infrastructure so that commercial customers will enjoy a better banking experience. Aside from regulatory compliance, financial institutions and fintechs stand to gain in collaborating together to improve the customer journey.

Removing multiple entry points for fintechs enables them to compete with larger and more established firms, while banks can take advantage of the agility of newer firms to offer a broader selection of services. As a catalyst to accelerate digital capabilities, the dawn of open banking will be embraced by banks and fintechs with sights set on the future.

New wave of financial crimes: the fight against cybercrime

Money laundering, terrorist financing and fraud are extreme threats facing financial institutions. According to PwC, money laundering is five times more likely to occur in the financial services sector than in other industries.

The rapid growth of the ransomware market on the dark web is also cause for concern as the intensity and level of sophistication when it comes to online fraud flourishes. Financial institutions can no longer afford to have chinks in their armour, but be prepared to instil and practice aggressive and ongoing risk assessments.

Risk assessments that monitor and catch these types of changes in real-time allow banks to assess the risk level when clients engage in unexpected types of activity or engage in massively different volumes of activity than expected.

Having measures, controls and transaction monitoring systems to manage risk strengthens the ability of financial institutions to detect and deter money laundering fraud. The US B2B payments market is expected to grow at 5.8% CAGR and the pressure is on financial institutions to mitigate the risk of suspicious activity. Expect to see technological developments in monitoring and detecting illicit activities.

As banks and fintechs work to deliver an electronic payments experience that their customers demand, corporate payments will be an exciting space to watch in 2018.

Jason Mugford is the President and Chief Executive Officer at AscendantFX, a technology-based payments solutions provider.