The Net Best Thing: P-Card Update

What the year ahead holds for the purchasing card &#8212 and why you may want to give your p-card program another look


Another service that GE offers draws on the company's long history as a leader in Six Sigma. In an "At the Customer, For the Customer" engagement, GE will send one or more of its black belt Six Sigma consultants into a GE Corporate Payment Services client to work with the customer on an issue that may or may not tie in directly to the corporate card program. For example, for one client, a large oil company, GE's quality experts helped the customer on four projects, including streamlining how it reimbursed expatriate employees and improving the risk modeling process used in determining the company's capital budget for the following year. "This customer estimates that it saw upward of $2 million of savings based on our consulting services," says O'Malley. "So it's a great differentiator for us to be able to bring the GE quality toolkit to bear for our customers."

Back on the purchasing card side, GE is rolling out capabilities to make it easier for its clients' p-card program managers to service their companies' cardholders more quickly and efficiently, with a minimal need to draw on GE's resources to support those cardholders. Through its online NetService tool, GE offers the ability to view account status, change limits, view authorizations, close accounts and otherwise administer accounts. A new capability through Net Service is "Manual Authorizations," which allows account managers to go online to authorize a purchase after a cardholder is declined at the point of sale. "We like to say we've eliminated two out of the three phone calls that usually surround declines at the point of sale, and it eliminates a confusing and time-consuming process for the merchant," explains Kristen King-Ward, NetService product manager for GE. "It should reduce 60 or 70 percent of the work associated with these issues."

Driving Adoption

Visa, like the other card companies, has been focusing on expanding adoption of its cards among both suppliers and buying organizations. To encourage greater acceptance on the supply side, for instance, Visa has initiated what it calls its "Large Ticket Interchange" program, which adjusts the fee that the card company charges on a sliding scale, depending on the size of the transaction, to make it more cost-effective for the supplier to accept payment cards. Visa also offers a non-card-based payment model, called Visa Commerce, which allows known buyers and suppliers to transact their commerce payments over the card company's processing network, VisaNet. "We're thinking not just in terms of simple card-based payments, but in terms of how we can bring this great settlement network that we have in VisaNet to bear and do more of these transactions electronically," explains Kenny Thomas, director of corporate relations for Visa International.

On the buy-side, Visa is offering its member banks' customers a service called "Optimization Review," which involves a thorough evaluation of a company's procure-to-pay process against a broad set of best practices to identify opportunities to realize hard- and soft-dollar savings, and to find ways to expand the p-card program at the company. Visa's review of the practices in place at a $1 billion manufacturing company, for instance, revealed that while the manufacturer had a solid procure-to-pay process in place, with many best practices firmly entrenched, the company could still realize further savings by integrating corporate card payments into its e-procurement and electronic invoicing system to automate payment to vendors. The review also suggested that the company put in place more a formal travel and expense function to support business travelers. In sum, Visa projected that the manufacturer could save more than $100,000 due to process efficiencies gained over three years by expanding its card program.

Integrating Payments

Like the other card companies, MasterCard has been rolling out tools and solutions designed to help companies expand their corporate card programs. For example, MasterCard offers a no-cost online survey and diagnostic tool called Purchase Optimizer, developed jointly with Boston-based analyst firm Aberdeen Group, which lets companies benchmark their p-card program against their peers in the marketplace. MasterCard also offers, through its MasterCard Advisors group, a service called Purchase Logic, which provides a Web-based financial tool for evaluating a company's spending patterns. "This is a real in-depth diagnostic that goes through your AP file, analyzes your suppliers to see who accepts the cards and tells you where the opportunities are," explains Marcie Verdin, vice president, large market segment, at MasterCard Corporate Payment Solutions. Those opportunities could include supplier consolidation, process efficiencies and expansion of the card program, potentially resulting in significant savings for a company.

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