Want your vendor to change the way it's doing business? Maybe you should join forces with other big corporations to put more purchasing power behind your request. That's the model General Electric Co. followed as it put together a group of more than 30 companies, 80% of them Fortune 500 members, to work with international banks on a standard for electronic billing.

Electronic billing by banks is common in the U.S. and Canada, but hasn't arrived in the rest of the world. Corporations are eager to achieve it because of the savings it can provide. The GE-led group, dubbed the International Bank Compensation Initiative, includes such prominent companies as ChevronTexaco, Lucent Technologies, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Textron and United Parcel Service. "We didn't want to approach banks on a one-off basis and ask them to develop something specifically for GE," says William Faulkner, manager in operations services at GE. "We're trying to enlarge the scope and get a standard developed from these international banks, a common format for the transmission of this data."

Robert Hemstreet, director of global treasury operations at Textron, says he gets far more information from banks in North America than from those overseas. Textron's U.S. and Canadian banks provide monthly account analyses that detail "every line item the bank is charging us for, the unit price [and] number of transactions," he says. For its operations overseas, Textron's corporate treasury doesn't get consolidated data on the volume of business, the charge for each item or the total charges, and it must rely on the overseas operations to monitor costs. "In some respects, we fly blind in terms of our costs," Hemstreet says.

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