To Drive Cross-Border Payments, Put The Customer’s Money Where Their Mouth Is

The closer you get to a person’s wallet, the more important it is to speak their language. Folks working in localization and international expansion have long embraced this truth. However, the link between payments and language availability is becoming even clearer lately, thanks to a new report from Forrester commissioned by Stripe, called “Resilience In Retail: How European Businesses Are Adapting with Payments.”

Businesses Seek to Grow Beyond Borders

I was excited to read this report, because while there are plenty of reports about the global growth of the rapidly-growing payment space, there aren’t many out there specifically addressing the major blockers that need to be removed to enable this market to grow even faster and reach its full potential across borders. Forrester surveyed 495 people around the world, with 221 respondents hailing from Europe. The report covers some great findings on how businesses are changing their priorities in response to COVID-19, and focuses on cross-border payments, and blockers to business growth.

Guess what the top business priority is for the companies surveyed over the next 12 months? Expanding geographic reach. Businesses want to grow across borders, and the pandemic has highlighted some of the opportunities to do so, as well as some of the challenges.

Often, people think of the topic of expanding geographic reach in somewhat basic terms, like opening up an office in another country and hiring people in a given market. While those are important considerations for international expansion for many businesses, when it comes to the fast-moving worlds of digital business and e-commerce, there are other questions that are more immediate, and I’d argue, more urgent.

Money and Message: The Two Biggest Barriers to E-commerce Growth

What businesses need in order to more easily transact across geographic barriers boil down to their ability to move two things in ways that are as fast and frictionless as possible: money and message.

Payment solutions enable businesses to exchange money with customers. Localization solutions enable businesses to exchange messages with customers. Both require a transmission or an exchange of assets (whether in the form of currency or words) between two parties. The businesses that can do both of these things faster, and better, will ultimately be well-placed to win big and outpace their competitors as they expand globally.

What boggles the mind a bit is that these two disciplines, payments and localization, are so decoupled and disconnected from each other in practice — when for the average business trying to expand internationally, they are hugely intertwined, representing two sides of the same coin. This survey was one of the first times I’ve seen them linked together so explicitly in a single place as the core blockers to international growth, and it got me rather excited about future potential for partnerships and alliances in this area.

Here’s another excerpt, showing that “lack of language support” was one of the top challenges around international expansion and cross-border payments acceptance. It might surprise people to see language rank even higher than currency in response to this question about top challenges. Often, people assume that currency / FX is the single biggest blocker to cross-border payments, but actually, this topic is far more nuanced than one might believe at first glance. Interestingly, language support ranks very high on the list, even higher than connecting to local acquirers (which can be hugely challenging) and accepting local payment methods (also incredibly complex depending on the type of business and their individual context).

Why is language so hugely important in the cross-border payments scenario? It all boils down to trust. People want reassurances before they are willing to make a payment, and the message that surrounds the transaction is vital, sometimes even more important to them than the money (price they pay). It’s worth flagging that one of the other top issues, “country-specific policy and regulatory issues” also requires localization. It’s not just about complying with local policy and regulations. It’s about reassuring customers that this is the case, in their preferred language. This is why, in my experience, issues of money and message are inseparable.

Localization and Payments Specialists Need to Offer Customers a More Complete Solution

In a quick scan of the coverage out there of this research, I didn’t see many write-ups on the link between localization and payments, but to me this particular finding stands out clearly. I would love to see more companies in the Payments space and the Localization space get their heads together, align their offerings and create more partnerships to truly solve for their customers in a bigger, more comprehensive way as they seek to facilitate more transactions across borders. I believe the growth potential would be transformative, especially for the market builders in the payments industry who stand to benefit the most as they continue to develop the market.

Giving more people the opportunity to overcome language barriers and reach customers by helping them understand the value of what they are paying for, in their language, will only facilitate more payments and transactions. Furthermore, improving communication access while expanding payment access could level the playing field and help create more equitable growth for businesses, consumers, and citizens worldwide.

Nataly Kelly

Nataly leads localization at HubSpot and has previously held diverse roles in marketing, international operations and strategy, research, and product development. She writes for Harvard Business Review on topics of international marketing and business. Nataly works remotely from Donegal, Ireland, by way of New England, Ecuador, and rural Illinois where she grew up.

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