Wendy Atkins looks at how the Nordic region is leading the charge in using and promoting innovative, cost-saving electronic invoicing systems.

In a digital age, when the concept of the paperless office is often advocated, it seems strange that so many organisations still use traditional invoice systems based on inputting information into a computer, printing it out on paper, putting it in an envelope and sending it via a ‘snail mail’ service. However, in recent years there has been a push to offer solutions and services that are designed to streamline invoice processes and allow organisations operating in the business-to-business, business-to-consumer and government sectors with automated electronic invoice (e-invoice) systems to halve their invoicing costs.

Traditionally the domain of technology companies, e-invoicing is something that banks are increasingly embracing, enabling them to extend their payments services to a broader range of customers. Technology companies have typically directed their e-invoice products at the top 500 companies.

Critical mass

However, for the banking sector, it is not so much a question of size and turnover, it is more what you want to do with your solution, as Raimo Näätsaari, vice-president, head of e-documents at Nordea, explains: “The banking industry already has firm links with top 500 companies as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs, so it’s also possible to include these smaller customers. And once a critical mass of these millions of smaller organisations is reached, that’s when everyone will see the value in e-invoicing.”

In the Nordic region, Nordea’s e-invoice approach reduces the need for large investment in an enterprise resource system. “Nordea has established a standard, which other banks in the region have joined,” says Bo Harald, executive vice-president, head of electronic banking at Nordea.

“Our approach is that invoices are sent as payments, either as single input in netbanks (in other words, no investments or installations are needed) or as files (just like payment files),” he says. “This reuses investments in existing interfaces, payment networks and security, which are clearly the only fast and economical way to achieve migration – and only the banks are in a position to make this happen as they already have the tools and sales power in place.”

Common standards

Like any technical deployments, the development of common standards is important to drive cost efficiency, interoperability and competition.

“Our proposal is that banks in Europe should make a new GSM phenomenon out of this,” says Mr Harald. “The necessary common European Committee for Banking Standards’ standard for payment initiation (ePI) is already established and easy to connect to forthcoming developments when SWIFT/ISO c2b XML standards for payment orders is used. We have seen strong support for this from those who are looking for a means to make business more productive and public sector services better and cheaper. Payments-integrated e-invoicing must be the single most important step in sight.”

A demand-led product

“On the whole, customers are leading the charge for e-invoicing,” says Mr Näätsaari. “However, in Denmark, the public sector has taken a lead by passing legislation that is favourable for e-invoicing. Meanwhile, Finland’s ministry of finance is promoting e-invoicing in society at large as well as promoting more efficient routines for book-keeping.”

In the corporate world, some companies now have policies under which they will only deal with suppliers that issue invoices electronically. Volvo, for example, has opted for this route and it has provided the interface to all its suppliers to enable them to issue invoices electronically. “However, it has been proven to be challenging to have full coverage with these kinds of company-specific set-ups,” says Mr Näätsaari.

The e-invoicing market has the potential to grow rapidly as more organisations begin to understand the economic benefits of doing business this way. However, a number of teething problems are still being addressed (see below).

By working to address these issues, the banking sector is positioning itself to take advantage of future business growth. And, as more organisations become aware of the potential to save time and resources via e-invoicing, this is an area of business that provides many opportunities to banks.

“The volume of invoices sent and received is almost as big as the number of payments sent and received – more than two billion a year in the Nordic countries alone. Only a rather small part of these have so far been sent in electronic form,” says Mr Harald.

“If all invoices could be electronic, and thus easily automated, very large savings for corporate and public sector customers could be achieved – well over €10bn in the Nordic area with additional savings when software is standardised),” he says.


Raimo Näätsaari of Nordea lists possible e-invoicing problems as:

  • Scalability of older and customer-specific solutions
  • Impact of any legal requirements on digital signatures and deployment
  • Too much technology, leading to fragmentation
  • Information overflow
  • Short-sightedness
  • Lack of standards
  • Centralised organisations
  • Tendency to re-invent the wheel



All fields are mandatory

The Banker is a service from the Financial Times. The Financial Times Ltd takes your privacy seriously.

Choose how you want us to contact you.

Invites and Offers from The Banker

Receive exclusive personalised event invitations, carefully curated offers and promotions from The Banker

For more information about how we use your data, please refer to our privacy and cookie policies.

Terms and conditions

Top 1000 2023

Request a demonstration to The Banker Database

Join our community

The Banker on Twitter