Microsoft’s software products have long been available to customers globally through third parties. But cloud computing is changing the sales paradigm and prompting the company to explore setting up shop locally in emerging economies—first stop, Brazil.
“This will be the first time we’ll accept local payment types in the country,” says Gretchen Kurth, treasury chief of staff at Microsoft.
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft’s push to offer cloud-computing services—in late June it announced the cloud availability of its Office 365 suite of applications in 40 markets—is prompting the company to explore how to take local payment types from customers in other countries as well as Brazil. The effort may involve Microsoft’s incorporating in some countries to accomplish that.
“In addition to selling to resellers and distributors, we’ll be selling online to individuals as well as small, medium and large companies,” Kurth says. “We’re expanding our payment types so we can take local currency from everyone in Brazil.”
Microsoft’s choice to set up shop first in Brazil is unsurprising, given the commodity-rich nation’s rapid growth, which is expected to continue, and the expanding middle class among its population of 200 million. Kurth says the company plans to pursue similar efforts first in the other so-called BRIC countries—Russia, India and China—and then in other emerging markets.
In approaching Brazil, one of Microsoft’s first steps was to analyze how to move funds in and out of the country. Joe Vasen, cash planning manager at Microsoft, says sending funds to corporate entities that already exist in Brazil is relatively easy. “You can wire the funds there, and no special documentation or codes are needed,” Vasen says. “It’s different in Russia. If you don’t have the proper VO codes, the banks will reject the wire.”
Vasen says earnings can be repatriated annually following certain approvals and straightforward steps. That process can still be complicated in emerging markets such as China, even though authorities have worked to simplify it.
A much bigger headache occurs when U.S.-based parent companies lend to their Brazil-based affiliates. As Microsoft grows in a foreign country, Vasen says, it aims to contribute as little cash equity there as possible and rely more on inter-company lending. Brazil, however, requires registering both the debt and the equity and does not permit the debt to exceed equity by more than two times.
In addition, the country recently enacted legislation to tax those loans at 6% if they are outstanding for less than 720 days. The tax aims to prevent speculative money from entering Brazil on a short-term basis because of its appreciating currency and attractive interest rates. But the law also makes it more costly for non-Brazilian parent companies to lend cash to their Brazilian subsidiaries to cover cyclical needs.
“Our philosophy is to minimize the amount of cash we have in a country so it doesn’t remain idle. But we can’t effectively do that in Brazil—if there’s a seasonal need, we can’t lend cash to the Brazilian entity and then ask it to return it three months later when it’s no longer needed,” Kurth says.
Getting paid is obviously an important factor. Checks, ACH and wire transfers are the primary noncredit payment methods in the U.S. In Brazil, international companies must adapt to the boleto bancário, which is akin to a pro forma invoice in terms of the information it contains and the role it plays.
A customer receiving a boleto from Microsoft can take it to a variety of approved outlets and have stated amount transferred from the customer’s bank account to Microsoft’s. The automated payment system is a convenience and can reduce processing costs. However, the boleto must be presented by its stated due date, or a new one must be provided by the issuing bank.
That can be done online or via telephone, and the boleto can be faxed or mailed to the customer. But the most common way to revive an expired boleto is to walk into the local branch of the issuing bank.
“This goes to show how important it is to have a local bank with breadth in the market,” Vasen says
In early July, Microsoft was talking to several prospective banks about supporting its local payments and it likely will choose more than one, Kurth says.
Earlier in its bank search, Microsoft explored the benefits of opening a nonresident bank account. It found that paying into that account required the same level of documentation as making cross-border payments. And worse, it would place a significant burden on customers.
“When money goes into nonresident accounts, central banks tend to view it as going out of the country,” Vasen says. “So they ascribe the same level of controls to payments as any flow of cash that would be going outside the country,” resulting in additional forms for customers to fill out.
On the payment front, Microsoft is also talking to a variety of credit card processors, ranging from the international Visa and MasterCard to local processors, to ensure the company can accept local card and other payment types. “We want to take local payments from even the big international companies, because fees are higher for our customers if we use international settlement,” Kurth says.
See more stories here about countries where multinationals have spotted opportunities.
For more on doing business in Brazil, see Moving Past Emerging-Nation Status.