Cross-border billing is frustrating both business and governments worldwide - not only because of differences between international tax regimes but also because of the lack of a global payment network.
Since Reuters announced a £500m business transformation programme last February, the company has been moving all its operations to an Internet business model, supported by Web-enabled systems and processes.
But according to Niels Steenstrup, director of e-commerce capability management at Reuters, one of the biggest challenges to implementing the new business model is the ability to do cross-border bill presentation and payment.
"Bill presentation is less of a problem but payment is really difficult. It is a problem for all global companies," he said.
One of the main difficulties was the regulatory and tax environment, which made it difficult to sell products at a global price, but the key issue was the lack of a well-integrated banking network for clearing funds cross-border, Steenstrup said.
"We want to be able to do a direct debit or credit transfer out of a customer's account but for that you have to rely on the regional banking network - there is no global equivalent.
"In the business-to-business space customers want to be able to pay a bill using their own account payment system with their own payment methods - cheque, credit transfer, direct debit or giro - and the issue is how to accommodate those different payment methods on a global scale.
"We want to avoid implementing [a unique system] in 50 different countries," Steenstrup added.
The only global network available was the credit card network, but with a 2%-4% fee on each transaction it was very expensive, he said.
Hugh Davies, head of European payments at Citibank, said, "Corporates in the B2B space are not going to use credit cards - it is far too expensive.
"Every country has its own automated clearing house which is the ideal payment mechanism companies will be looking at, but in Europe we have 14 different clearing systems, all in different formats and run by different governments. It's the biggest stumbling block for companies in the B2B arena," Davies added.
Although the European Union was looking to deal with the issue, Davies said he believed it would be between two and four years before there would be a single payment area within Europe.
This was first published in March 2001