More companies than ever are going global, and thanks to cloud-based technologies, next-generation banking tools, and the gig economy, it’s easier than ever for finance to support worldwide growth. Today, start-ups and smaller companies can access the same international treasury services and skill sets as larger, more resourced organizations.
That was the message co-presented by treasury professionals from Upwork at the recent EuroFinance conference. Denise Aptekar, director of global payments, and Jayant Sood, senior director, shared their experiences and offered advice to others looking to improve efficiency, visibility, and customer satisfaction across their international footprint. Albert Hwu, senior international treasury consultant at Wells Fargo, moderated the panel discussion.
Upwork provides a global, web-based platform that matches freelance talent with project work. The platform enables companies to find, hire, collaborate with, and even pay freelancers.
Upwork takes a localized approach
Both Aptekar and Sood recommended taking a localized approach to payment methods and customer service. Understanding the cultural norms, payment preferences, and regulations of each country will deliver the best results.
“You’re not going to copy and paste what you have in the U.S. to every other country,” Aptekar noted.
For example, she learned that Sweden loves an online method called Klarna, which allows customers to pay after they receive their goods — and only if they’re satisfied with their purchase. She described India and Brazil as two countries that required a “larger than normal business case” because of specific nuances of each culture.
In the past, Aptekar explained, digging deep to set up payments entailed a complicated, time-consuming, and often expensive process for finance. Today, cloud-based banking tools make introducing global payments much simpler and faster — enabling even the smallest companies to compete effectively.
She explained, “Fast forward 15 years later, I can log into a portal with 150 alternative payment methods and all I have to do is say which ones I want. [The bank] has already figured out the native language, local currency, and put together a risk mitigation plan.”
In addition to robust banking services, Sood noted the importance of in-house systems that can support finance activities around the world. Implementing global platforms from the start helps streamline and automate processes as operations grow. A standardized reporting format, in a single language, is also critical for visibility to global account activity.
In-culture support yields positive results
Upwork took its local approach one step further by placing its customer service operations in multiple locations around the world, and creating a separate team to handle payment-related inquiries.
“If you look at the contact level for payment [inquiries], it’s ten times the level of any other issue,” Aptekar said. “If a freelancer doesn’t get their money, 100% of them will contact us. The emotion involved is higher, the aftermath more serious.”
For both Sood and Aptekar, it was important that customer service be cost-efficient, and available 24/7. To meet these goals, they set up offices in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. This allows call center staff to work during local business hours, and means freelancers connect with native speakers within their region — a concept Upwork calls “in-culture” support.
After 2 years, the metrics backed their decision. “When you have in-culture service — Europeans talking to Europeans, Middle Easterners talking to Middle Easterners — we had higher customer satisfaction,” Aptekar explained. “There’s a level of authenticity and respect that happens when you have in-culture support.”
Tapping the gig economy boosts efficiency
Upwork also takes a page from its own playbook by tapping into the gig economy — the worldwide network of freelance talent — for finance activities such as programming and data reconciliation.
“We have large volumes of data, and we have accountants — but I don’t want them trying to reconcile half a million rows of data,” he explained. “That’s exactly where I’m trying to find efficiencies by looking for [a contractor] who’s strong in SQL or Excel. [It’s about] identifying non-core needs to take advantage of globalization and make it easier for your company.”
Focus on what you can control
Going global can often feel overwhelming, especially when tackling international payments for the first time. Sood’s final advice for other treasury professionals is to focus on the right strategy and tactics.
“What’s important is to think about what you can control — and what you can’t control,” he said. “We don’t know what this administration’s going to do. We’re not going to change the OECD’s outlook. We can’t necessarily address transfer pricing today.”
Instead, he tackles concrete issues, such as skill sets, infrastructure, and communication.
“When we look at going global today, I think about where can I get efficiencies? Where can I get cost savings? What are some of the demand needs and how can we follow those cycles?” he explained. “It’s a mindset change.”