International payments for nonprofits made easy

International payments for nonprofits made easy

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In the days before COVID-19, companies with a distributed workforce or remote team were growing. But in the face of a global pandemic, we see more and more companies going “virtual.” Google, Apple, Twitter, Amazon and Facebook are among the world’s leading businesses to announce their workforce can continue to work remotely through late 2020 or longer due to COVID-19.

It’s times like these when I am ever so thankful for a platform like BILL. One of our clients wrote us in early March after sending in a payable, “We are so grateful we can still function during this public health crisis.” Our clientele at Blue Fox is primarily nonprofit organizations and social enterprises. Several of our clients do business internationally, paying independent contractors or vendors in countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Most have modest budgets under $5 million.

One of our clients, whose programs include microfinance, education, food, health care, and social support to orphans and women in East Africa, recently revamped their hiring practices and wanted to source talent and services anywhere in the world. But this presented some challenges in terms of payment fees and internal controls. “What is the best way to pay an international vendor?” they asked.

As I usually do, I asked how they had done things in the past. They’d used PayPal, ad hoc wire transfer, and other services. DANGER, DANGER WILL ROBINSON! My accounting red flag went up.

This client already uses BILL so I immediately suggested we use its international payments feature. I explained the key advantages and they quickly (and happily!) agreed. Here’s my two cents (five cents?) on why it’s a no-brainer to use BILL for international payments.

1. Maintain a consistent audit trail and internal controls.

This is arguably the single most important aspect of using international payments at BILL, especially for nonprofit organizations with an annual audit. We have approval workflows in place and a fully digitized audit trail for each transaction. The minute that you step outside of that workflow, you likely put internal controls at risk.

There’s a myriad of different “send money” apps out there that can facilitate international payment. Some are free, others charge modest fees. But companies may be fee-focused at their own peril. If one person is tasked with facilitating a transfer to an international vendor, how can you ensure that payment is approved and accurate? Is that person the controller? The A/P clerk? How do you decide? If you get an annual audit, how is the backup documentation related to that payment recorded? In what currency is that payment recorded? How much more manual work is it to ensure that controls are in place and payments are being made and accounted for properly?

With BILL, international payments to over 130 countries may be seamlessly handled without disrupting internal workflows and controls. And of course, all BILL transactions sync to QuickBooks Online, our primary accounting software solution, among several of the industry leaders in general ledger software. That means no double entry or extra manual work to record an off-platform payment. To me, this functionality alone makes it worth serious consideration.

2. Save big on bank and wire transfer fees.

We all know that bank fees can be a killer. It doesn’t seem to matter what bank you do business with; they often charge high wire transfer fees and currency conversion costs.

Before there were payment apps to facilitate international wires and payments, there was only one option – the bank wire transfer. In my 20+ career years, I’ve seen banks charge anywhere from $15-50 for a wire transfer. Easy to see why “bank fees” is a line item on many business tax returns.

The fee for international payments at BILL is a straightforward $9.99 for transfers in US dollars. No, your eyes aren’t crossed. That’s a hair short of $10. Think of the savings! For our nonprofit clientele in particular, this is a huge advantage. Nonprofits can often negotiate with banks for no-fee or low-fee checking or merchant processing services. But there’s no negotiating on wire transfer fees from what I’ve seen. BILL offers tremendous savings here.

3. Save even more by paying in local currency.

But wait! There’s more! More savings to be had. In a genius move (still don’t know how they manage to offer this), BILL offers a company the ability to make international payments in local currency. The list of supported currencies is growing all the time.

Why is the ability to pay in local currency such a big deal? Two primary reasons.

First, the BILL fee for payment in local currency is $0. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada. No, your eyes are not crossed again! Congrats – in one move you’ve saved your client the full cost of wire transfer fees. (You’re a Rockstar! We’ll never fire you, says your client!)

Second, BILL offers competitive exchange rates for payments in local currencies. You can easily check the latest exchange rates on their currency converter. To avoid high bank fees and additional fees from intermediary banks, you can use BILL to deliver the payment in your vendor’s local currency. For cost-sensitive companies (aren’t we all??) that means savings above and beyond the $0 transfer fee.

4. Keep vendors happy with secure, accurate bank data collection and wire/payment codes.

One of the biggest advantages of BILL in general is the ability to onboard and pay a vendor securely without a lot of fuss and paperwork. When we set up a new vendor for any of our clients using BILL, if we have their name and email we let them do the rest of the heavy lifting when we invite them to accept electronic payments. The vendor gets an email, adds their bank information and details, and we’re good to go.

The process is slightly different if a vendor is international. With the exception of vendors in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Eurozone, international vendor bank information must be added to the vendor profile in BILL manually. Do it once, though, and you’re done. Our solution? We ask the international vendor to submit a PDF of their banking information to our client’s BILL email address. We know that’s a secure endpoint. (You never want vendors to email you this type of information!) Once received, we retrieve and add the bank information manually.

As an added bonus, in countries where a vendor may be charged an additional fee for a certain type of transfer (like payment for services vs goods purchased), BILL knows that and you will be prompted at payment setup to select the correct code for payments to that vendor. This keeps your client’s vendors happy, too!

As a fully virtual accounting firm with clients all over the country, we have found BILL to be an efficient, flexible tool that enables us to provide client advisory services in a cost-effective manner. (I’ve said before that we would never provide bill payment support as a service to our clients if BILL didn’t exist.) The roll out of international payments in the fall of 2019 just makes life that much easier. Gone are the days of tracking down backup documentation for payments/transfers made a dozen different ways.

Lately it seems like there are too many problems out in the world to solve. But accountants are intrepid problem-solvers. We love a good puzzle, don’t we?! Yet sometimes we solve problems of our own making. The leverage that BILL provides is proactive - it’s intelligent problem prevention. Don’t make problems for yourself, and don’t waste another minute of your day on your client’s international payments outside of the platform.

What’s your experience been with BILL’s international payment features? We’d love to hear it in the comments.

See more about how Blue Fox and BILL work together.

Our team at Blue Fox proudly uses BILL! Isn’t that obvious?! We leverage only the best-of-breed technology solutions to automate and streamline back office operations for nonprofits and social enterprises. And, we take a radically client-focused approach to get our clients up and running. Learn more at

The information provided on this page does not, and is not intended to constitute legal or financial advice and is for general informational purposes only. The content is provided "as-is"; no representations are made that the content is error free.