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Business travel bounces back - Industry roundup: 15 May

Stora Enso publishes framework for green and sustainability-linked financing

Renewable materials firm Stora Enso has launched a combined Green and Sustainability-Linked Financing Framework to further integrate sustainability into its funding and financing activities.

The framework is based on Stora Enso’s sustainability agenda and goals, driving the transformation towards a circular bioeconomy. The combined Green and Sustainability-Linked Financing Framework allows Stora Enso to issue both green and sustainability-linked financing instruments and a combination of the two.

The green financing element of the framework comprises the following six eligible asset categories: sustainable forest management, sustainable product processes, energy efficiency, renewable energy and waste to energy, sustainable water management, and waste management and pollution control. The categories are designed to promote the transition towards a low-carbon and environmentally sustainable society under Stora Enso’s sustainability agenda. The sustainability-linked financing element specifies key performance indicators for Stora Enso’s performance on climate change, biodiversity and circularity.

Stora Enso has set an ambitious goal of offering 100% regenerative solutions by 2050. Being regenerative means providing renewable and fully circular products and solutions that help reduce climate impact and support biodiversity restoration. Stora Enso commits to achieving a net-positive impact on biodiversity in its own forests and plantations through active biodiversity management. For climate, Stora Enso has set an interim science-based target to halve its greenhouse gas emissions in its production and value chain by 2030 from the 2019 baseline.

“We are very pleased to further reinforce the connection between our sustainability agenda and financing strategy, demonstrating our strong commitment to creating value in the bioeconomy,” commented Kaarlo Höysniemi, SVP Group Treasury at Stora Enso. “With this framework, we transparently disclose the progress we are making to maximise our positive impact on the society, thus enabling investors to support our renewable materials journey.”

Stora Enso signed its first sustainability-linked revolving credit facility in 2017 and issued its first green bonds in 2019. In total, Stora Enso has issued eleven green bonds, bilateral loans or sustainability-linked facilities with a total nominal amount of approximately €3.1bn.

The Green and Sustainability-Linked Framework has been developed following the Sustainability-Linked Bond Principles 2020, Green Bond Principles 2021, Green Loan Principles 2023, and the Sustainability-Linked Loan Principles 2023.

SEB acted as an advisor on establishing the Green and Sustainability-Linked Financing Framework. Stora Enso has engaged Sustainalytics as an external reviewer to provide an independent second-party opinion on the framework.


Chasing late payments costs European businesses €275bn every year 

Businesses across Europe are spending more than 74 days per year - more than a quarter of the working year - chasing late payments, according to the annual European Payment Report from credit management services provider Intrum.

The 26th edition of Intrum's study features the opinions of more than 10,000 companies across 29 European countries. It sheds light on the multi-faceted challenges that European businesses are grappling with this year in challenging economic conditions.

Its findings show the time spent chasing late payments by European businesses adds up to a cost of €275bn to the European economy. This is more than the entire GDP of Finland at approximately €272bn.

Compared across Europe, businesses in Finland are also impacted by some of the worst delays, with 51% of businesses spending at least 10 hours every week chasing late payments.

France (49%) is the second in line of countries where businesses spend the most time hunting down money debtors owe them, with Poland (47%), Germany (47%), and Greece (46%) also severely impacted.

When looking at differences between business sectors, the banking and financial services industry spends the most time chasing late payments, with 45% of the surveyed companies in this sector saying they spend at least 10 hours doing so. More than four in 10 organisations in business services, government and public sector, and mining and minerals also see more than 10 hours taken up every week by efforts to resolve late payments, with 44% of the businesses for each of these industries reporting to be impacted to this extent.

In comparison, close to one in three hospitality and leisure businesses (29%) spend less than two hours per week sending reminders for payment. In this industry, the survey also found the lowest proportion of respondents spends 10 hours or more on this effort.

It is worth noting that the efforts businesses in respective sectors spend on tracking outstanding payments could reflect how much resources it has to spend on this activity. At the same time, the research points to a clear link between the number of hours spent chasing late payments and the extent to which companies perceive outstanding receivables as a problem. For example, more than eight in 10 (82%) companies operating in banking and financial services say that late payments are a problem for their business, followed by organisations in the government and public sector (80%).

More than half of European firms (53%) say they are finding it increasingly challenging to reach mutually beneficial terms with customers and suppliers on payments, leading to protracted negotiations and missed payment deadlines. The same proportion of businesses have grown frustrated by customers asking them to postpone the date when they issue invoices, and the deadline to pay begins counting down.

Nearly two-thirds (61%) of businesses also say getting paid more quickly could help them prioritise their sustainability performance, helping to contribute to a more robust, greener economy rather than focusing on efficiency.

As sustainability becomes a stronger motivation behind customers' buying decisions, shifting away from sustainable practices to maintain efficiency could have negative long-term implications for businesses.

Nearly three-fifths (58%) of European businesses take legal action to chase down debt, while a third (34%) have clear internal debt recovery processes. Among those spending over 10 hours a week chasing overdue funds, these figures drop to 53% and 28%, respectively.

In contrast, mediation and alternative dispute resolution processes are more popular among the businesses that take the longest to chase late payments. These provide a less confrontational way to engage with clients and customers, but Intrum’s findings suggest they come at the cost of longer resolution times.


Business travel bounces back

Mastercard Economics Institute’s Travel Industry Trends 2023 report has found that business travel has been resurgent in the past year. Initially lagging leisure travel, business travel found its footing in the latter half of 2022, especially in cultures prioritising a return to the office. 

Leisure and business travel are growing at the same pace. Global leisure travel remains robust, with flight bookings up roughly 31% in March 2023 compared to the same month in 2019. In the second half of 2022 into early 2023, corporate flight bookings caught up to leisure flight bookings driven by regions with a solid return to office culture. Global leisure and business travel are now growing at similar rates.

Business travel faces a unique set of challenges, recovering at a slower pace for most of the past few years than leisure travel due to remote work and a more uncertain macroeconomic environment.

However, growth in commercial flight bookings exceeded leisure travel for a portion of 2022 and is now recovering in tandem with leisure travel in 2023, up 42% year-over-year-to-date change from 2022 to 2023. 

As companies try to control their costs in an uncertain macroeconomic environment, the full recovery of business travel in 2023 and beyond is potentially at risk. Despite these challenges, demand for in-person meetings remains robust, with commercial flight bookings well above pre-pandemic levels.

The report examined a cohort of countries with a robust work-from-home labour market, such as the US, compared to countries with a stronger return-to-office dynamic, such as countries in Europe and Asia Pacific. From 2021 through March 2023, countries where more people returned to their offices outperformed commercial flight bookings by a wide margin compared to their more remote-minded counterparts.

By region, Asia Pacific and Europe led the corporate travel & entertainment (T&E) recovery, with growth in commercial T&E-related expenses up 64% and 42%, respectively, between January 2023 and March 2023.


EMTransfer streamlines real estate transactions with instant payments over US RTP Network

EMTransfer, a real-estate-specific cash management platform provider, is offering real-time payments over The Clearing House’s RTP network through APIs provided by KeyBank.

EMTransfer is one of the first businesses to use KeyBank’s APIs. The APIs allow real-time payments to be sent over the RTP network, a first for the real estate market. It took less than two weeks to integrate RTP functionality into EMTransfer’s systems fully.

The RTP network provides additional features and capabilities that streamline EMTransfer’s real-estate payment process, including immediate confirmation of receipt to all parties in the real estate transaction that the funds were received. Since the RTP network operates 24/7, it eliminates the concern of missing wire cutoff times, and having to pay a per diem fee on the seller’s payoff amount. Agent commissions are disbursed over the RTP network at any time or day of the week, removing the need to send a cheque. For States that allow buyers and sellers to use different title and escrow companies, the RTP network will allow the two companies to instantly move money between their trust accounts if their financial institutions are on the RTP network. Users can also utilise the RTP network’s “Request For Payment” functionality to request and receive cash to close.

Real estate transactions are traditionally paper-based processes that involve intermediary service companies performing many manual tasks, leaving room for costly errors. The primary forms of payment in real estate, cheques or wires, come with many challenges. Wire transfers can be risky, from malicious wire fraud to simple human error. And both wires and cheques are limited by business days and cutoff hours.

With APIs from KeyBank’s API Developer portal, EMTransfer can integrate its cash management offering with the customer’s KeyBank trust account. This allows customers to create and categorise the transfer of funds (i.e., earnest money collection, seller proceeds, and agent commission disbursements) as needed. It is possible to electronically and securely collect bank account information/written authorisation/e-signed lien waivers from consumers in a familiar P2P user experience, while users can initiate the transfer of funds directly to and from their trust accounts using the appropriate payment rail (RTP, Wire, ACH) without requiring a third-party processor to be involved. All parties are automatically informed about the status of the electronic movement of their funds, and it is possible to fully document the transfer of funds throughout the real estate transaction with client and bank receipts.


Visa invests in TerraPay for digital cross-border trade

TerraPay, a global payments infrastructure company, has announced a strategic equity investment from Visa. In addition, the companies are collaborating to connect Visa solutions to the TerraPay network to help streamline digital cross-border commerce for consumers and SMBs. Visa Direct, which facilitates the delivery of funds directly to eligible cards, bank accounts, and wallets worldwide, is the first solution to connect to TerraPay’s network of wallet providers.

The enablement of Visa Direct to TerraPay’s global partner integrations of mobile wallets and bank accounts can support seamless and fast person-to-person remittances for individuals, as well as business pay-outs for small and medium businesses (SMBs), across 108 receive countries.

Global cross-border trade has seen steady growth, mainly from emerging markets. By 2025, cross-border trade is expected to reach US$8 trillion. Despite this boom and the rise of digital payments globally, cross-border business payments continue to be complex and challenging, especially for SMBs. 

TerraPay and Visa’s collaboration will pave the path for holistic pay-in and pay-out solutions that can enhance the usage of eligible commercial cards for SMEs, extending to include added global money-movement capabilities, including cards, accounts, and wallets. At the same time, merchants can use TerraPay’s Request-to-Pay wallet solution globally.

“Combining Visa's scale with our global payments infrastructure, we will be able to help Visa customers enhance their pay-out experiences and scale their businesses faster,” said Ambar Sur, Founder and CEO, TerraPay. “Our collaboration also serves the larger purpose of enhancing the way of life for these individuals and businesses, enabling them with a more connected and accessible global payments ecosystem.”


Nilos launches European IBANs and instant on/off ramp for businesses operating with crypto

Nilos, a financial platform for businesses operating with crypto-currencies, has launched virtual EU IBANs for companies dealing with crypto in Europe. The move has been made possible by their new partnership with Modulr, a payment and card-issuing platform. The solution allows businesses to have a dedicated crypto-friendly payment account, enabling them to create EUR and GBP virtual accounts, make payments across Europe and the UK, and use SEPA and UK Faster Payment rails.

The crypto market has long struggled to find viable payment alternatives, with traditional banking systems proving unhelpful for businesses dealing with crypto-currencies. Even when these businesses find banking options, on/off ramps don't work, onboarding takes more than a month, and compliance is challenging.

Nilos aims to solve these issues by offering customers a modulable payment infrastructure that lets them seamlessly move from crypto to fiat using their business account.

Through the technology, businesses can seamlessly move funds from crypto to fiat in just 7 seconds, with their name as the originator of the payment. This solution eliminates the pain points associated with slow, compliance-heavy processes and empowers businesses to thrive in the evolving landscape of payments.


European Investment Fund and UniCredit to channel €1bn to small businesses across Central and Eastern Europe

The European Investment Fund (EIF), part of the EIB Group, is providing UniCredit Group with two guarantees worth €370m to boost investment made by small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) across seven EU countries, including Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.  InvestEU, the European Union's long-term funding programme, backs the transactions to support sustainable investment, innovation and job creation in Europe, aiming to mobilise at least €372bn in investments for EU policy priorities by 2027.

The EIF guarantees backed by InvestEU will enable UniCredit to provide loans on favourable conditions to 2500 SMEs and small mid-caps across Europe and mobilise investment of around €1bn into the real economy. The resources will primarily go towards investment contributing to the twin green and digital transition, but also to boost the cultural, educational and social sectors.

As part of UniCredit's green lending strategy, loans will also be provided to housing associations and individuals for their own renewable energy and energy efficiency investments in residential buildings, as well as to promote the development of sustainable mobility.

“Providing sustainable finance to fuel social investments and innovation is a critical aspect of our pledge to improve the social aspect of environmental, social and governance in any way we can,” commented Andrea Orcel, CEO of UniCredit. “In the last ten years, our work with EIB Group has enabled easier access to financing for more than 12 000 small and mid-sized businesses in Central and Eastern Europe. Our firm presence and local networks in the region meant that we, in strategic partnership with the EIF and the EIB Group, received the region's biggest allocation of InvestEU guarantee capacity. This will enable us to provide even more for clients as we continuously strive to fulfil our purpose of empowering communities to progress.”

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