Remote Teams and Cross-Border Payments: Addressing Challenges & Solutions

Cross Border Payment clerk, processing international money transfers for international employees.

Never has innovation held such promise for so many people in such a brief period as it does now.

Innovation in an increasingly and ever-changing distributed and digitalized workforce, and innovation in the ability to transact services in exchange for legal tender.

Job opportunities have opened digital borders which, due to the changes in work modalities, has called for an upgrade in financial solutions to address pay concerns for remote employees.

At the helm of smooth financial operations, particularly for dispersed teams, has ascended to paramount importance.

Yet, akin to any groundbreaking endeavour, it is beset with hurdles to surmount.

International payments have challenged companies, particularly in managing legal obligations related to employment contracts across different countries and cross-border payments, including the accompanying tax considerations.

Despite the surge in fintech, the movement of money across borders can be encumbered by outmoded and fragmented infrastructures, leading to delays and unreliability in transactions​.

As remote work becomes the norm, businesses, notably in the tech sector, are reimagining their approach to employee benefits to cater to a geographically diverse workforce.

The logistical challenges of a global remote team are manifold, encompassing issues like aligning with various time zones and ensuring reliable and compliant payroll processing​.

The challenges in cross-border payments are multi-faceted, including limited access to global payment systems, complex fee structures, and risks related to exchange rates and fraud​​​.

Let’s perform a manual intervention into the business activities that can guarantee effective cross-border payments, particularly in the context of remote work.

The Challenge of Cross-Border Payments for Employers

Companies/ Businesses must comply their processes with international tax regulation.

A report from Rapyd highlights that 41% of global organizations see international expansion as crucial to address their current business concerns, but they face obstacles such as inflation and market volatility. When it comes to cross-border payments, these businesses are dealing with high costs, complexities in managing foreign exchange and regulations, security and compliance risks, and delays.

Specifically, cross-border fees average between $10 to $25more per transaction across all business sizes, with some large businesses paying over $50 more per transaction. Foreign exchange fees can range from 0.25% to 3% or more. Additionally, 38% of businesses experience delays of five days or more in sending or receiving cross-border payments. These delays not only affect the cash flow but also require more resources from the organization, including manual reconciliation.

Another aspect is the transformation in the payments industry due to technological advancements. According to McKinsey’s 2023 Global Payments Report, future revenue growth in the payments industry is likely to be driven by innovations in instant payments and the rise of digital wallets. The decline in cash usage globally and the migration toward lower-fee instruments are reshaping the landscape of payments. The report also notes that in some developing economies, there is a significant shift towards instant payments. For example, in Brazil, almost half of the transactional revenue growth through 2027 is expected to come from instant payments.

Inpay’s analysis of cross-border payments echoes these challenges, noting that high costs, slow transactions, security issues, and a lack of transparency are the primary obstacles. Traditional bank transfers for cross-border payments can take between two and five days, significantly slower than domestic payments due to the involvement of multiple intermediaries. Security is a critical concern, with cross-border payment systems often susceptible to high-level security breaches. A lack of transparency in costs and deductions is another common issue faced by businesses and consumers in cross-border payments​.

On a microeconomic level, finance departments must also contend with currency volatility, regulatory complexities, elevated transaction fees, security risks, and payroll management intricacies are key challenges in cross-border payments. Business must deal with the following:

  • Currency volatility or currency fluctuations are a major challenge in cross-border payments. For instance, a business may invoice in one currency, but by the time the payment is processed, the exchange rate may have shifted, affecting the actual value received. This volatility demands active currency risk management strategies to mitigate potential financial losses.

  • Regulatory complexities, because each country has its own regulatory framework governing international transactions, impacting the speed and cost of cross-border payments. For example, compliance with the United States’ FATCA regulations can add layers of complexity and potential delay to transactions.

  • Elevated transaction fees, since cross-border payments can incur significant fees, especially when multiple intermediaries are involved. For instance, a payment routed through several banks might accumulate fees at each stage, eroding the total amount transferred.

  • The security risk of fraud and cyber threats in cross-border transactions is heightened due to the involvement of multiple parties and systems, like SWIFT. Companies need robust security measures to protect against such risks.

  • International Payroll management involves navigating different tax systems, employment laws, and currency conversions. For example, calculating the correct tax withholdings for an employee in Germany differs significantly from doing so in Japan, adding complexity to global payroll processes.

Consider the scenario of a U.S.-based company employing remote workers in different countries, including Brazil and Colombia. The company faces the following challenges:

  1. High Transaction Fees – When the U.S. company sends payments to its remote workers in Brazil and Colombia, it incurs high cross-border fees, which can average between $10 to $25 more per transaction. For large transactions, these fees can be even higher, significantly increasing operational costs​​.

  2. Currency Conversion and FX Fees – The company also faces additional costs due to currency conversion. Depending on the foreign exchange rates and the currency involved, the company might end up paying 1%-3% or more in FX fees​​.

  3. Payment Delays -The remote workers in Brazil and India often experience delays in receiving payments. The delay can be five days or more, impacting the workers’ financial planning and causing uncertainty​​.

  4. Security and Transparency Issues – Both the employer and remote workers are concerned about the security of their transactions. Any breach or lack of transparency in the payment process can lead to distrust and potential loss of employees.

Impact on Remote Workers and Employers:

For remote workers, these challenges mean:

  • Delayed income, affecting their financial stability.

  • Potentially receiving less money due to high fees and unfavorable exchange rates.

For the employer, these challenges lead to:

  • Increased operational costs due to high transaction fees and FX rates.

  • Administrative burden and resource allocation to manage complex payment processes.

  • Potential legal and compliance risks associated with international transactions.

Specific Financial Impact

While it’s challenging to quote an exact amount of money lost due to these challenges without specific company data, the additional costs can be substantial. For instance, if a company is paying $20 extra per transaction in fees for 100 international transactions per month, the additional cost amounts to $2,000 monthly or $24,000 annually. This does not include potential losses from unfavorable FX rates or the indirect costs associated with delays and administrative burdens.

Managing Cross border payments

International money transfers being made to other countries through neo banks at lower costs.

Managing cross-border payroll payments in today’s interconnected business world is a multi-faceted task that involves navigating various complexities. Here are some best practices and considerations for effectively managing these payments:

  1. Understanding Cross-Border Payments – It’s crucial to recognize that each cross-border transaction involves various data points that need to be accurate to ensure successful transactions. This includes adapting to local networks and understanding the value limitations of transactions in different regions. The Global Payments Initiative (GPI) has been instrumental in modernizing SWIFT systems, focusing on speed and visibility, which is beneficial for cross-border transactions.

  2. Compliance and Security – With the evolution of business payments, compliance and data security take a central role. Adhering to regulatory frameworks, like those outlined by the Financial Stability Board, is essential for ensuring the legality and safety of transactions.

  3. Taxation and Banking Systems – Understanding the tax treaties between countries is essential to prevent double taxation and ensure proper tax compliance. The complexities of different banking systems, including their approach to anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) regulations, also play a critical role in these transactions.

  4. Language and Time Zone Barriers – Global payroll processing requires clear communication, often in multiple languages, to avoid errors in payment processing. Additionally, coordinating payments across different time zones can be challenging, requiring careful scheduling to ensure timely payments.

  5. Growing Demand for Cross-Border Payments – The increasing trend of hiring foreign nationals has resulted in a rise in cross-border employment, thereby increasing the share of global payroll payments. It’s essential for businesses to adapt to these changing dynamics and ensure efficient and compliant payment processes.

  6. Different Methods for Cross-Border Payroll Payments – Understanding the pros and cons of various payment methods, such as international wire transfers, payroll cards, international bank drafts, and eWallets, is critical. Each method has its own set of advantages and challenges, from cost-effectiveness to acceptance and processing times.

  7. Role of Technology – Leveraging technology to streamline the process is crucial. However, it’s important to be aware of the hidden fees that can be associated with using multiple banking systems or third-party payment providers not specifically designed for payroll payments.

Remote Workpay Policies

Employees and employers address pay process and transparency.

A remote work pay policy is crucial in cross-border payments to ensure compliance with varying international labor laws, provide fair and equitable compensation considering local living costs and market rates, and manage the complexities of currency fluctuations and associated transaction fees.

This policy helps in aligning the payroll process with legal and financial requirements across different countries, thus maintaining transparency and fairness in employee remuneration. It also aids in financial planning and budgeting for organizations, ensuring efficient and streamlined compensation management for a globally distributed workforce.

Crafting a comprehensive remote work pay policy involves integrating several key elements, each aligning with various aspects of cross-border transactions, legal compliance, and employee welfare.

The policy should:

  1. Detail Employment Contracts – Define the nature of remote work – whether it’s temporary, permanent, or flexible. Specify any designated remote locations or allow employee discretion.

  2. Classify Employee Status – Identify if the worker is a full-time employee, part-time, contractor, or freelancer. Clarify associated responsibilities, duties, and benefits.

  3. Implement Time Tracking Protocols – Ensure accurate time tracking for fair compensation, using specified software or apps. Set guidelines for time tracking, including submission frequency and approval processes.

  4. Define Pay Cycles and Methods – Clearly articulate the frequency of payments (e.g., monthly, bi-weekly) and preferred methods, like bank transfers or digital wallets, considering cross-border payment landscapes and international money transfer systems.

  5. Localize Employment Benefits – Adapt benefits like health insurance or retirement contributions to the employee’s local standards, ensuring parity with in-office counterparts while respecting local employment laws and international regulations.

  6. Establish Remote Expense Reimbursement Policies – Clearly outline which expenses (e.g., internet, home office supplies) are reimbursable, the process for submitting claims, and budget guidelines.

  7. Ensure Legal Compliance and Financial Inclusion – Stay compliant with employment contracts, local laws, and international regulations. Strive for financial inclusion, ensuring remote team members in different countries and regions receive equitable treatment and benefits.

  8. Promote Transparent Communication – Maintain open communication regarding payment schedules, changes, and any manual interventions required for payroll processing.

  9. Prioritize Security in Payment Processing – Implement secure systems to protect against fraud and cyber threats, especially in international transactions involving financial institutions and payment service providers.

  10. Adopt Best Practices for Global Payroll Processing – Utilize best practices in global payments, considering the complexities of different countries’ regulations, tax laws, and currency conversions.

This policy should be a living document, evolving with changes in international payment methods, financial stability board guidelines, transaction costs, and the broader cross-border payments landscape.

Employers must work closely with HR, legal, and finance teams to ensure the policy addresses common challenges and supports the needs of a diverse, remote workforce.

Best Practices for Remote Teams

Best employer practises to use neo banks for transparency in payroll activities.

To optimize cross-border payments and international payroll processes, there are a few things you can do to enable better more efficient cross border payments.

Leverage Automated Payment Systems

Utilizing automated platforms for contractor payments is crucial. These systems, offered by various payment service providers and financial institutions, enhance punctuality and accuracy, especially in global payments and international transactions.

Regulatory Vigilance in International Payments

Continuous monitoring of evolving regulations across different countries is essential. This proactive approach to understanding international payment methods and legal obligations helps avert potential challenges in cross-border transactions.

Transparent Communication for Payment Schedules

Open and transparent communication about payment schedules, especially with remote team members, ensures clarity and trust. This is particularly important in managing payroll processing and adhering to employment contracts and laws in various countries.

Cost-Effective Payroll Methodologies

Seeking cost-effective solutions for payroll management, including exploring technology-driven options, can optimize payroll expenses. This approach addresses common challenges like currency conversions and transaction fees, improving overall cost-effectiveness.

Efficient International Payroll Processing

Equipping HR and finance teams with the necessary knowledge and tools for efficient international payroll processing ensures timely payments. Understanding the complexities of payroll systems in different countries and time zones is crucial for this.

Fintech Solution Melio, An Exmaple of Future Focused Tools

Melio, a fintech solution, could address these challenges in the following ways:

  1. Lower Transaction Fees – Fintech solutions often offer more competitive rates for international transactions than traditional banks, reducing the cost per transaction for the employer.

  2. Favorable FX Rates – With a platform like Melio, the employer can benefit from more favorable currency exchange rates, potentially saving significant amounts in the long term.

  3. Speed and Efficiency – Melio could offer faster processing of international payments, reducing the delay for remote workers in receiving their payments.

  4. Enhanced Security and Transparency – Fintech platforms usually provide better security features and transparent tracking of transactions, ensuring both parties are informed about the payment status.

  5. Seamless Integration and Automation – Melio can integrate with the company’s existing financial systems, automating the payment process and reducing the administrative burden.

Final Thoughts

Future technology that support employees with payroll solutions and faster payments.

Cross-border payments, though pivotal in reshaping remote work, demand an out-of-the-box response to its inherent complexities.

This requires embracing evolving technologies and regulatory frameworks to enhance international transaction fluidity.

Looking ahead, it appears that though banking is necessary, banks are not. The future of remote work’s financial system will be based on banking on a new set of intermediaries that facilitate easier, faster and more accessible modalities of secure payment for employees while providing cheaper and predictable technology solutions for employers.