Corporations are gradually shedding their unease with electronic payment methods, an evolution that likely will accelerate over the next few years, according to a new report from the Association for Financial Professionals.

The typical organization still makes 74 percent of its business-to-business payments by check, but that’s down from 81 percent in 2004, said the association, which in September surveyed 493 corporate financial professionals about their payment practices.

Forty-three percent of survey respondents said their organizations are very likely within three years to convert the bulk of their payments to major suppliers from checks to electronic payments (those made through automated clearinghouses, wire transfers, or card payment systems). In the association’s 2004 survey, only 28 percent said that. Even for suppliers not considered “major,” 33 percent of companies expect to be paying them electronically three years from now, according to the new survey.

The most common reason for switching to electronic payments is to save money, with 59 percent of respondents citing that as one of the top three benefits. Next were improved cash forecasting (41 percent) and straight-through processing to accounting systems (32 percent.

As for barriers to the use of electronic payments, the weightiest is a shortage of IT resources for making the switch; 38 percent of respondents said that is a major barrier and an additional 38 percent said it’s a minor barrier. Also difficult to overcome are a lack of integration between electronic payment and accounting systems (30 percent said it’s a major barrier, 43 percent a minor barrier), and the reluctance of suppliers to accept electronic payments (only 18 percent characterized that as a major issue, but 55 percent said it’s a minor one.

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