Afternoon Coffee: Fed Chair Powell cautious on cross-border digital currency for U.S.; Coupa-American Express partnership expands to U.S.; Billtrust goes public

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In a panel discussion with the International Monetary Fund, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said that in the development of cross-border digital currency it’s more important for the United States to “get it right than be the first,” according to Reuters.

Powell said the Fed is an active participant in research into the prospect of digital payments. Some of the world’s largest banks are toying with the idea of issuing digital currencies. Most projects are still in the early stage, the article said, but central banks have switched into higher gear in the past year after Facebook announced plans to create a virtual token.

China has said it aims to become the first to issue digital payments to reduce its dependence on the global dollar payment system. The article reported that in response to the Facebook and China announcements, seven major central banks laid out principles for issuing CBDCs, or central bank digital currencies. However, Powell remains cautious.

“In addition to assessing the benefits — and there may well be benefits — there are also some quite difficult policy and operational questions that need to be thoroughly evaluated,” Powell said during the panel. “Just to mention a few, I would mention the need to protect a CBDC from cyberattacks, counterfeiting and fraud, the question of how a CBDC would affect monetary policy and financial stability, and also how could a CBDC prevent illicit activity while also preserving user privacy and security.”

Coupa Pay gains American Express virtual card capability in U.S. 

Coupa on Monday announced that it is expanding its virtual card payments option with American Express to include the U.S. market. The two partners began working together last year in the UK and Australia to allow the use of Coupa Pay, the business spend management provider’s B2B payments solution.

The option comes as the coronavirus disruption changes the ways that people do business.

“As many companies continue to accommodate largely remote workforces for the foreseeable future, the expansion into the U.S. continues to help meet the demand of customers who need a virtual way to pay suppliers and ensure their business continues to be operational,” Coupa said in a press release.

Coupa, known for its business spend management (BSM) solutions, said the integration with American Express has benefits like more pre-approvals for card spend, enhanced security, increased spend visibility while automating invoice matching and reconciliation, streamlined payments for suppliers, and better-managed working capital for buyers.

“Our expanded partnership with Coupa is the latest step in our strategy to accelerate investments in the B2B payments space to better serve our customers and offer best-in-class digital payment solutions,” said American Express’s Trina Dutta, Vice President and General Manager of B2B Payments Automation, Global Commercial Services. “By integrating American Express virtual card capabilities into the unified buyer and supplier experience of Coupa’s fast-growing BSM platform, we’re addressing our customers’ need to digitize payments and thereby becoming more essential to their operational needs.”

B2B payments specialist Billtrust goes public in partnership with South Mountain Merger Corporation

Billtrust, a B2B payments specialist, announced Monday it will go public with help from a partnership with South Mountain Merger Corporation, a publicly traded acquisition company, according to a press release. The combined company will continue as a publicly listed entity and have an estimated value of $1.3 billion.

More coverage: Read about developments in the hot market of payments technology.

The combination will change its name to BTRS Holdings Inc. and is expected to trade on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Billtrust has focused its offerings to the digital transformation of accounts receivable (AR), providing solutions spanning credit decisioning and monitoring, online ordering, invoicing, cash application and collections.

“Over the last 19 years, we have built comprehensive B2B commerce solutions across the value chain, creating real business outcomes and significant value for our customers, while making it easy for them to get paid,” Billtrust’s Founder and CEO Flint Lane said in the press release.

“As we begin our journey as a public company, we are thrilled to partner with the South Mountain team and know we will benefit from their extensive industry experience. We believe AR is ripe for innovation, and together we will continue to invest in opportunities to scale the business, growing both organically and inorganically, as we seek to tackle the large total addressable market.”

David Gustin, a contributing author to Spend Matters who focuses on fintechs, said the AR market is heating up — just like payments technology and the AP automation sector.

"AR software automation, or what is commonly called Order-to-Cash, focuses on process around granting credit to buyers, managing quotations, processing and fulfilling orders, receiving and applying cash, and of course collecting cash when not paid," he said. "The AR software automation market has been playing catch-up to AP automation and portal proliferation that has happened over the last 10 years. Helping companies with invoicing their thousands of customers, helping them apply cash to their ERPs when it comes in and the reconciliation of those payments with the invoice has now become of keen interest to the market. has a market cap of almost $10 billion, High Radius has received over $175 million in funding and now Billtrust has been acquired by a SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company."

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