The Physical and Financial Supply Chain Integration Struggle

If the two supply chains could be truly interwoven, there is the potential to shorten the procure-to-pay cycle, reduce the costs of goods sold, and free working capital. And this is just the beginning, as noted in a recent Global Logistics & Supply Chain Strategies article in Supply Chain Brain.

However, this is easier said than done because organizational barriers often prevent these two disciplines from working together harmoniously. And even if the walls come down, there’s still the issue of integrating the disparate and unconnected systems that run procurement and finance. As a result, billions of dollars are trapped in corporate supply chains, and opportunities to reduce costs through better financial management are unavailable.

As Jonathan Heuser, VP of Supply Chain at JP Morgan Chase astutely notes, while the purchasing discussion typically is around getting the lowest unit cost for goods and the supply chain discussion is around meeting delivery dates, these discussions don’t take into account the ramifications that associated payment terms and methods have on a company’s working capital. Similarly, financial managers don’t have the visibility they need into the physical supply chain, which only serves to magnify the inefficiencies.

Furthermore, as Kurt Cavano, CEO of TradeCard, notes, product cost savings can be offset by operational expenses associated with managing global transactions, financial risk and the requirement of additional, more expensive capital. In addition, late payments come with penalties when the company could have taken advantage of discount opportunities that many companies will offer for quick payment.

If the two systems are integrated, which makes sense since they both need to work off of the same fundamental information, procurement professionals could see the true costs of buying from a supplier in China, which would include all import and export tariffs, capitalization costs, and associated risks. In addition, finance professionals would see when capital was needed, where there are savings opportunities in the forms of discounts or favorable exchange rates, and when there is free capital to invest in short term opportunities for profit.

In addition, since there are a large number of redundancies between the information needed for purchase orders and invoices, the information needed for global trade documents, and the information needed for financing and payment, integrated systems can reduce the administrative overhead and associated costs. In addition, it would be much easier to apply real-time risk management since each group would understand where a project was in the process.

However, that’s not likely happen as the majority of buyers and suppliers still struggle with Supply Chain Finance (SCF) and the significant opportunities that it offers if done correctly. Most companies that are currently pursuing SCF are doing so not because they have a good grasp of what it can do for them, but because they are under substantial pressure to lower the costs of goods sold as raw material and energy prices continue to skyrocket and they are grasping at anything with the potential to save them money.

However, before companies can truly save money with SCF, they have to be ready for it. For a company to be ready for SCF, they first have to address automation, total cost modeling, and working capital management. If a company is not comfortable with e-payment, automated trade document creation and e-document exchange; is unable to use modern modeling and strategic sourcing decision optimization to make true total cost of ownership decisions; and doesn’t understand the different options it has available for capitalization, investment, and supplier payments, it will be unable to fully implement and take advantage of supply chain finance and all that it has to offer. So brush up on your e-Procurement, dust off your global trade, and master your strategic sourcing decision optimization and you will be ready to take the supply chain finance leap.