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E-invoice- it is great, but..

I have been promoting e-invoices over 5 years. I still have high hopes for it, but still there is something what is missing. 

This morning after advising my old dad how to use e-invoices, I started to count how many different routes I receive my e-invoices. One comes to my online bank, other comes as email notification from e-invoice portal provided by Postal Office and then allowing me to transfer that to my secondary bank, one comes from my companies CRM system, one comes as email notification from different companies logging me to their own e-invoice portal and finally some companies send me PDf files as invoices by email. I have over four different passwords/ user id's to pay my invoices. No wonder I am as confused as my dear old dad was confused when he was setting up how to receive e-invoices. There were so many strange banking related words. He didn't get confirmation from company that in the future he will get e-invoices. Same thing to me, one company still sends me paper invoices, even I have set up them all the information to receive e-invoices over five times. Now I just gave up.

There is a plan how all the Europe will get e-invoices. This standard is really good thing. Now we need another standard how consumers can receive e-invoices or how small companies can send e-invoices to all of the countries in same manner. As a consumer, my idea would be one online portal, where I will get all of my invoices and there I can select my bank or even banks I would like to use when paying a bill. I would get notification to my email box or mobile phone every time there is a new e-invoice. To log in to this portal would allow me to use my own preferred method of identification, not standard new password/user id- systems. Companies could send all the invoices to one place or link e-invoices from their own portal to this place. Same place consumer could notify companies to send future invoices to this place.

Ok, this is just a dream. It lacks reality, it lacks funding and most of all- like in mobile payments, there are just too many players who want their piece of action and they are not ready to give up.

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Comments: (18)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 09:32Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Hello Antti Larvala

Great post.

E-invoicing brings about a multitude of formats and delivery channel, most of which customers are "asked" to move to a place to get their invoices. Whereas the current snail mail is a single format, single delivery channel where the invoice is delivered over the door step.

There are some initiatives, like Doxo, Zumbox and Volly that provide the customer with a single inbox.

In the meantime a hybrid plug and play solution would be using www.symbaloo.com combined with www.lastpass.com.

However it still requires customers/consumers to change their attitude = major change = delaying e-invoicing adoption.

Friso
EEI Platform

 

 

John Dring
John Dring - Intel Network Services - Swindon 19 January, 2011, 09:42Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Right. It will never happen.  In the end, its up to individuals to decide where they want e-invoices and e-statements to be delivered, and perhaps file them away electronically from there.  With multiple email accounts, it is easy for them to get spread about, but its also not too bad to add forewarding rules so that they end up in one place (or just choose one main emailID).

Personally, I use a universal email ID which simply forwards to wherever I want, so in case gmail goes bust I can re-direct it (but I admit to having more issues with my universal email provider than gmail !).

Its a real problem though.  I recently got Bill Shock because my broadband usage limit was exceeded and I was stung for excess data charges for 4-5 months without knowing.  When I realised, it was because they had been 'contacting me' through my contracted email ID - one which I never used.  Indeed there were dozens of warnings waiting there - non of them read.  They could have just picked up the phone, but then they wouldn't have squeezed more than £200 from me.  I'll remember and dump them when I can as a result - that's one downside of providers switching you to e-invoicing - increased churn?

 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 09:56Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I think we're in the "trough of disillusionment" just like b2c and b2b were.

It means that we have to give it time (5-10) years and give it room for some substantial changes to allow customers to get into the driver's seat (not the large billers, sorry)

Friso.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 10:40Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

End user has to sit on driver's seat- otherwise paper invoices are comingto my snail mail box.

I would like to see companies like SWIFT to take initiative for this issue. They could create one online portal/inbox where companies, banks and e-invoice operators link their bills. End users log in to this service and see their bills presented in one platform and then just selecting their own bank/banks they would like to use for payments. To avoid any copying of payment information again to own online bank, all the relevant payment information should just "swim" in to end users online bank.

For logging, there could be several solutions, like that one password solution or using bank authentication method provided by Nordic banks or mobile verification provided by mobile operators. The key for this would be same. I as a enduser can decide how I am identified for this service. When it comes to logging in to my online bank, then it is question of my bank to decide how to identify myself.

For this model, most of the parties could benefit but more important is- enduser could benefit most. But let's see how things go forward?

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 10:52Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

One problem here when it comes to the "single inbox approach": the customer itself.

They know that multi-format and multi-channel is out there. So, customers want to decide for themselves what suits them best.

So, multiple places to login is no good, forcing customers towards a single inbox approach isn't either. The truth is out there. I believe it is somewhat of a hybrid approach: having companies the ability to let customers log-in, and at the meantime give customers the ability to use a single point of entry.

Maybe it is not a discussion about technical/functionality? Maybe it is just a matter of trust? Anyone?

 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 12:25Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

When making analogue with current system, we all have address where invoices or other paper documents is send. When we move, we always get new address. Some documents might go to old address but usually the big important documents find real destination.

If we take one step forward would be one, unique e-invoice address. Each person, legal entity or person would have their unique address. Giving this to billers, they could send e-invoices to place I would like to receive. That could be my own bank, somebody who offers e-invoice hosting services or totally new other company or even email inbox.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 12:38Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Hi,

I agree with you.

However (here I go again), there are a lot of unique identifiers: VAT, IBAN, GLN, EAN and so on. And, none of these have full coverage like the current postal service has. No, even IBAN/SEPA doesn't. Really, it doesn't.

And even if one of these did, it doesn't allow customers to get into control.

There is one unique identifier that has both full coverage AND deals with being able to get control over how invoices are sent: your (cell)phone number in combination with ENUM.

ENUM is the little sister of the domain name. Let's call it a domain number. It allows you (Consumers and Business alike) to forward and route messages.

Pretty revolutionairy. We had a testing environment and it works. Now how to get to volumes?

 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 12:49Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

That is really interesting. I worked with Dun & Bradstreet some years (read 15 years) ago. They have created DUNS which identifies all the companies around the world, not local business numbers.

What if local social security number could be coded same way as banks created local account numbers to IBAN codes. This is only if solution, it requires government involvement.

But let's keep this discussion open. 

 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 12:55Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Hello Antti

We know DUNS and found out that it doesn't work for consumers and getting grip on their e-bills.

John Dring
John Dring - Intel Network Services - Swindon 19 January, 2011, 13:17Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

As a user, not a possible solution provider, I can see that in the same way I choose a universal emailID, I could choose an e-invoice/statement managing service too.

Given that email is ubiquitous, I think my current lifelong universal emailID provider could step up with an application/service which sorts such emails into a folder, perhaps identifying which are invoices for payment and which are statements for archiving.  If they do not, then I can at least poin tthe email forwarding to a service which does.  In fact, someone should just create an Outlook plugin where I can define rules for organising such e-invoices.  It would help if there was an e-invoice standard, and standard ways to identfy these types of email. Nice idea.  My emailID is fine as an identifier - better than a phone number which can change or be re-allocated to another.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 13:32Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Hello John

Good comment!

As a user, not a possible solution provider, I can see that in the same way I choose a universal emailID, I could choose an e-invoice/statement managing service too.
Just like the e-mail and domain names? You'd like to be independent in who delivers what where?

Given that email is ubiquitous, I think my current lifelong universal emailID provider could step up with an application/service which sorts such emails into a folder, perhaps identifying which are invoices for payment and which are statements for archiving.
Google has the 'priority' inbox.

It would help if there was an e-invoice standard, and standard ways to identfy these types of email. Nice idea. 
The point with standards is that it adds to the heterogenity and complexity, until implementation has been done by a majority. A vast ambition when it comes to e-invoicing :-( . Maybe we could take look on how to make some sort of INCOTERMS for e-business?

My emailID is fine as an identifier - better than a phone number which can change or be re-allocated to another.
We found out that the change rate of e-mail is much higher than phone numbers. However, using ENUM, your phone number is just a pointer for business rules on how organise receiving a multiude of messages in a mulit format, multi channel reality. Including the sole use of e-mail.

Cheers, Friso

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 19 January, 2011, 13:34Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

There are so many different local or business based ID systems. One likes to have email, one is keen on phone number and some like social security codes. 

To create one unique address for each person, idea would be to have use current method of online identification and create unique new e-invoice address. 

To me that would be using my online bank codes to identify me as who I am in "Create your e-invoice address" hosted by trusted party. For Belgians that would be using their e-id cards, for britons that would be using credit card to identify them. This trusted party would host identification services and create unique e-invoice addresses. In this service, you could tell how you would like to receive your bills and in which format (PDF, XML etc). This trusted party would then reproduce and resend your invoices to your selected place. 

DUNS are good for business, but as individuals have always local identification codes in most of the countries, there will be hard to have similar system what DUNS could provide for private persons.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 January, 2011, 06:46Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Receiving invoices via email or logging into payment processor web sites IS NOT E-INVOICING!

E-invoicing takes care of all the parts of the invoice and ties it to a payment in your netbank. You receive the invoice to your netbank, and you either approve (even autoapprove is possible making it similar to direct debit) or reject it. The bank's system then takes care of the recipient, amount, value date, reference etc and pays the invoice for you.

You only have one (IBAN-format) recipient address by which the sender of the invoice knows to which payment portal and bank to route it. 

The benefit of the system is ease of payment for the payer, and prompt payments with no "check is in the mail" waiting, correct amount, correct reference for reconciliation and avoiding printing and mailing cost for the receiver of the payment.

Please see: http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/payments/einvoicing/index_en.htm

or consult Mr. Bo Harald on this forum for more info  ;-)

John Dring
John Dring - Intel Network Services - Swindon 20 January, 2011, 08:35Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Good correction.

We went down the other route of e-statement spam and management - interesting diversion.

e-invoicing is the next evolution of that - making the statement/invoice actionable. I'm happy for that to go to my nominated bank, ID'ed by IBAN, like a Direct Debit mandate, where it can be processed as an e-invoice.  However, the invoice issuer, or my bank, still needs to send me an 'alert' (email) so that I am reminded to review/approve/pay said e-invoice.

btw - as a layman, can you tell me why an e-invoice is not simply a "Direct Debit with an approval process"?   I have effectively many e-payments (DDs), which are variable by the biller, and which currently are automatically paid on a date agreed by me.  Why is an e-invoice not the same as a one-time Direct Debit instruction, with an approval step rather than agreed payment date?  Seems to be easy to do.

 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 January, 2011, 08:53Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Not a good correction in my opinion:

1. Off topic: The post of Antti and the discussion mostly deals with B2C conundrums


2. Receiving invoices via email or logging into payment processor web sites IS NOT E-INVOICING!
You're absolutely right; from your perspective of that is. However there are all kinds of different perspectives. All of which are true from their perspective(just like yours):

-  Consumers: e-invoicing is e-billing is receiving PDF/HTML per e-mail and using bank/online portals. They'd rather not receive e-bills as it a nuisance because of the multitude of entry points

-  Single contractors: act most of times as consumers and rely heavily on online accounting software. That software allows the single contract to add innovation to its outbound invoice: UBL, payment buttons. Processing structured inbound e-invoices is limited by its accounting software.

-  SME's: ...
-  Corporates
-  Govermental bodies
-  Billing service providers
-  Suppliers of accounting software
-  Banks
-  Politicians/lobbyists
-  …

2.  E-invoicing takes care of all the parts of the invoice and ties it to a payment in your netbank. You receive the invoice to your netbank, and you either approve (even autoapprove is possible making it similar to direct debit) or reject it. The bank's system then takes care of the recipient, amount, value date, reference etc and pays the invoice for you.
Sounds good. However in a lot of countries bank have almost but none market share in e-invoicing. BSP and online e-invoicing providers (with and without social network capabilities) have.

3. You only have one (IBAN-format) recipient address by which the sender of the invoice knows to which payment portal and bank to route it.
But when we take account of the other perspectives and the market share of banks in other countries come in, IBAN turns out not to be sufficient. Adrian Mueller did research unique identifiers: http://bit.ly/h9xgc0

4. Please see: http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/payments/einvoicing/index_en.htm. or consult Mr. Bo Harald on this forum for more info  ;-)
Even better: consult eeiplatform.com or www.twitter.com/einvoicing for a wider/realtime perspective on how e-invoicing is developing.

Summary: it is my opinion that tunnel vision is hampering the development, keeping us in Gartner’s trough of disillusionment longer: https://www.finextra.com/blogs/fullblog.aspx?blogid=4889

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 January, 2011, 09:05Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

20/01/2011 08:35:30 John Dring, Amdocs Interactive - London added:

"btw - as a layman, can you tell me why an e-invoice is not simply a "Direct Debit with an approval process"?   I have effectively many e-payments (DDs), which are variable by the biller, and which currently are automatically paid on a date agreed by me.  Why is an e-invoice not the same as a one-time Direct Debit instruction, with an approval step rather than agreed payment date?  Seems to be easy to do."

As a matter of fact, this DD functionality of e-invoicing is what I use very much for my mobile and utility invoices. When you decide in your netbank to autoapprove any of the invoices, they practically become direct debits. The difference is that you can view the details of the invoice with one click, and if there is something wrong, you can dispute it before it is processed. It gives more control and information to the payer than a traditional DD.  ;-)

For all other commenters, I do acknowledge that the e-invoicing scheme seems complicated and looks like it is never going to pick up, but once it is running it is one of the best things to have. I receive no paper invoices any more - and have full control of my payments via my netbank  :-)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 January, 2011, 11:26Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Excellent discussion indeed!!

As this discussion shows, consumers view is needed. As I have several bank accounts, one for local payments and few from my past life in other country, ideal situation to me would be to have one place I can get all the bills and then decide that this bill is paid from this account and other is paid using account I share with my spouse. They can be also coming from different banks. Clicking then each invoice I select which bank I use this time and payment goes as straight thru process. 

Having this kind of option, helps me to consolidate all my bills to one place. That could be my online bank, but that could be my financial personal service or something else.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 January, 2011, 12:04Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

What troubles me in this bank centric view is when I decide to change my bank for some other reasons, I have to go all the troubles of informing my billers about my new IBAN based e-invoice address. Same rule as in mobile phone numbers should apply here. Also there has to be one online archive I can store all my bills.

This model does not support free competition and makes big burden to change banks. 

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