E-documents could save European firms €50bn a year


30 Apr 2004

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Up to €50bn a year could be shaved off the cost of doing business in Europe if firms adopt electronic documentation to enable a more seamless transfer of goods and services across the expanded European Union, according to a plan recommended by the Finnish Ministry of Finance and presented to an audience of lawyers and businesspeople in Dublin this week.

Addressing the European e-Business Legal Conference at Dublin’s Mansion House as part of eWeek, an event sponsored by Beauchamps Solicitors, Raimo Näätsari, vice president of e-business for Nordea, a leading bank in the Nordic region, said that a proposal created by the Finnish Ministry of Finance to develop an electronic format for transferring invoices, payment and other important business documents such as credit notes and bills of lading could save European businesses €50bn a year.

Nordea is regarded as one of the Nordic region’s most progressive banks, particularly in terms of electronic banking, with some 3.7m customers in Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Some 41pc of its business customers pay their invoices electronically. Nordea’s Netbank is the most frequently used in the world. In the first half of 2003 customers logged on to the service 62.1m times and made 71m payments.

The Finnish model, said Näätsari, takes into account interoperable technologies like web services. “We are urging the creation of a system that is similar to an electronic envelope, with defined sender and receiver fields, and which includes a segment that enables electronic payment initiation once opened. The electronic document would be intelligent enough to take into consideration taxation [like Vat]. We are looking at what companies need and believe that various nations’ tax authorities could play a leading role by putting the structures in place.

“The key message I would urge is that governments that embark on this initiative should bundle electronic documentation and e-invoicing methods around a common need, real life situations. Standalone projects don’t work.

“I would also urge European countries to start early on these initiatives, but also to do their homework first, and pay attention to infrastructure needs such as data mining to improve services,” Näätsari told the conference.

By John Kennedy