Pharmaceutical companies like Merck & Co. distinguish themselves by pushing the boundaries in their research for new cures. But these days, Merck is also focusing on the potential for innovation in financial services, asking for–and getting–some startling advances that should provide the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based drug maker an expansion in cash management that revolutionizes how it works with global banks.

The quest began with an RFP that Merck sent to the big global banks in 2006. The goal for the new treasury setup for which Merck was seeking support: to be able to push one file in one format through one pipe to make payments anywhere in the world in any currency. This would involve directing this information through not only the company's Wall Street Systems treasury workstation, but also through its SAP enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

The RFP went several steps further–transferring the burden of finding the optimal payment track, crossing all the regulatory Ts and enforcing tight security onto the financial institutions. "Until now, banks have made corporations responsible for linking to gateways to various banks and clearing systems," observes Hans-Maarten van den Nouland, Merck's director of international treasury services, who is based in London. "It costs at least $50,000 to develop a localized interface plus annual maintenance. We're turning that around. We're saying, 'Here's what we want to pay. You figure out how to map the payments to the various clearing systems, meet all the technical requirements and do it in the most efficient way.'"

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