We’ve previously explored how APIs (application programming interfaces) are enabling a new world of digital B2B payments, looking at what they are and how they work.

But for commercial card users and acceptors today, how exactly can APIs help make the purchasing process hassle-free while unlocking more growth potential? Here’s our answers to some of the most common questions we’re asked about APIs by B2B buyers and suppliers.

1. Why should I use APIs to facilitate smarter business payments?
Quite simply because APIs are a great way to integrate efficient digital practices.

Being able to pay for goods or services via digital payments is vital for any buyer looking to streamline accounts payable processes and gain access to a wider supplier pool (and therefore the best range of prices for goods and services).

For many buyers, outgoing payments are a source of constant friction. This could be the time and resource taken up by accounts payable processes, difficulties in forecasting cash flows, or the negative impact on supplier relationships when processes like invoice approval and actual payment takes longer than anticipated. Through APIs, and the services they enable, such pressures can be relieved.

From a supplier perspective, APIs open up the different possibilities and flexibility that digital payments offer. In highly competitive B2B markets, accepting more digital payment types can be a differentiating factor, with buyers looking for convenience and ease as they look to streamline their own payments processes.

Using APIs ensures these services can be integrated with minimal business disruption to reduce development costs and possible downtime of systems.

2. What benefits do payment APIs bring to buyers?
APIs offer a range of benefits to all parties, but the key to their rising popularity among buyers is in the efficiencies and reporting they enable.

APIs are an enabler of digital services, simplifying integrations to allow buyers to use best-in-class solutions such as straight through processing (STP), a buyer-initiated processing service for automated accounts payable.

STP is a service enabling buyers to automate payment flows, cutting down on both the time and amount of resource needed to make a commercial card payment, whether that be virtual or lodged purchasing card. This facilitates reallocation of resources to other parts of the business, and supports better supplier relationships – after all, who doesn’t like to be paid quicker, with less paperwork, less room for human error and with fewer manual processes required?

3. What benefits do payment APIs bring to suppliers?
APIs ease the integration of services and cut development times. This minimises system downtimes which have been a barrier to adoption of digital payment services in the past.

Previously, suppliers were reluctant to update their payments practices, as days, or even weeks without being able to accept payments led to lost sales, customer frustration, and even long-term brand damage. This is alleviated thanks to APIs, which in some cases can facilitate the implementation of services in mere hours.

4. What payment acceptance features can be enabled by APIs?
APIs can be an enabler of any digital service a supplier wants to integrate, payments related or otherwise. One such service is a hosted payment page, through which a supplier can seamlessly and securely accept payments via their website with no redirects to 3rd party sites thanks to API-enabled integration features.

Another example is payment links, a service by which a supplier shares a link to a hosted pay page with a buyer by either email or SMS, allowing them to pay within just a few clicks, and therefore encouraging timely reconciliation.

5. When making a purchase, does the supplier need to have integrated APIs?
It depends on the type of payment method a buyer is looking to use.

For more traditional payment types, where the supplier initiates a transaction, an API may be required to trigger the sequence of events that is required for the transaction process.

However, with emerging technologies such as STP, where the buyer triggers the payment, the supplier’s systems won’t action the payment and therefore does not need an API. One exception is if the supplier wants to pull transaction reports directly into their ERP system, in that event an API can be used. Otherwise email push notifications or online transaction reporting will suffice.

6. Does using a payment API mean buyers have less control of outgoing payments?
No. In fact, APIs can enable buyers to take full advantage of payment methods which improve control and transparency in spending. With STP, for example, buyers gain more visibility over cash flow, enabling better oversight of spend and more informed business decision making. This is also the case with eCommerce payments, where the buyer makes the payments themselves and so has control of how and when the transaction takes place.

In some cases, digital payments enabled by commercial cards and APIs can give buyers access to an up-front line of credit, so they can pay suppliers promptly, boosting important business relationships while protecting their own cashflow, and extending working capital.

7. What do I need to do to start benefitting from payment APIs?
The first step for buyers is to determine your business needs. Depending on factors such as your industry, supplier pool, and current payments setup, different payment services will be better suited to your needs. The great thing about APIs though, is that, once integrated with your back-office system, you will be able to select whichever bespoke cloud-based services you need.

Suppliers can free themselves from the pain of setting up payment integrations with their website or back-office system, where they either had to train/hire expensive human resource to develop and maintain systems, or risk outages while systems were updated.

Thankfully, by using a well-built API from a processor, this is no longer a worry. Development can be carried out with minimal training or experience and a business can maintain its own services. If something does go wrong, a merchant can be assured that the processor will be on hand to provide assistance at any time.