Middle market program challenges.

Unlike large corporations, middle market organizations tend to have fewer resources to apply to a card program. This is just one of many hurdles they may face. To get some outside perspective on the topic, Recharged Education invited Shanda Goodwin, CPCP, Heartland Financial USA Inc., to weigh in. She understands the unique aspects of this sector and how to get programs on the right track. In the article below, she outlines five common challenges and offers some insight to help the middle market begin tackling them.  

Middle Market Companies: Common challenges in developing & implementing a commercial card program as part of their payment strategy and considerations for overcoming them.

by Shanda Goodwin, CPCP, Heartland Financial USA Inc.

As a commercial card payment solution provider for a family of community banks throughout the country, many of the clients in our portfolios are middle market companies usually with revenues of $5 million or more and an average of 50 to 1000 employees. Many times implementation and ongoing management of a card program can be challenging for these clients due to a variety of reasons associated with size and resources. However, like all roadblocks, most can be overcome. Having positive partnerships and the right conversations can drive the innovation needed to create positive results.

Overcome multiple challenges by finding the right provider partner to help put your program on a clear path.

Overcome multiple challenges by finding the right provider partner to help put your program on a clear path.

Common Challenges

If you fit within the middle market arena, you likely have experienced one or more of the following challenges:

1. Finding the right fit provider/issuer

Having common values of local ownership that is focused on relationships with conversations that are consultative versus sales driven can be hard to find. Once the sales process and card issuance occur, support for ongoing development of the program is missing.

2. Lack of internal IT support needed to address implementation of card technology platforms or data feeds

So often owners and those in procurement or accounts payable also have many other roles to fill within the company, creating a lack of resources in general for the program. This, along with limited ERP platforms, can make integrating with file feeds challenging.

  • Tip: Some card technology platforms can now support integration with less robust ERP systems. Finding this information on the front end of conversations is critical for the success of the program once launched.

3. Perception that there will be a loss of control over spend if employees have a card

As a community bank issuer, many of our clients are in a transition phase with their company moving from a highly centralized style of management to roles now becoming more defined with a higher number of employees than when the company first began. Loss of control in implementing a commercial card program for an additional method of payment is a common misconception. Implementing a program actually brings MORE control and added visibility, creating new opportunities and the ability to leverage a payment strategy with vendors for the organization.

  • Research by RPMG Research Corporation has found that financial loss experienced by card misrepresentation and internal or external fraud in relation to P-Card are relatively low—well under 1% of card spend.
  • Understanding the coverage available through the Visa Liability Waiver program (or similar), along with the use of a cardholder agreement for those utilizing a card within the program, can mitigate these risks.

4. Lack of awareness of what program best practices look like

Due to their size and the need to wear so many different hats, the foundation of the card program may be missing key pieces such as:

  • Definition of roles and a separation of duties for those managing the card program
  • Defining clear objectives and goals for the program – what processes are targeted for improvement?
  • Creating policies and procedures for built-in controls, along with employee training at implementation and ongoing training requirements
  • Winning over senior management for support of the card program and its value add for the company

5. Leveraging relationships with vendors—creating a payment strategy in pricing

Maximize your negotiating power for payment terms and discounting. Identifying all payment methods, and partnering with accounts payable and procurement to incorporate commercial card acceptance into supplier contract terms, can bring everyone to the table, including suppliers, for a win. 

Our commercial card team here at Heartland consistently participates in calls with suppliers to help facilitate conversations surrounding the benefits of card acceptance including gaining a competitive advantage over other similar vendors by offering additional payment methods for their customers. We emphasize that card acceptance can provide electronic remittance records and carries less risk of return funds as these payments are secure funds tied to a credit line. On the contrary, check payments provide limited remittance information and can be returned for stop payment or lack of funds in the account. Faster, more secure and electronic methods of payment often drive better payment terms for the buyer. Card payments benefit all parties involved.


For successful card program implementation and ongoing program management, understand your current payment processes and where improvements are needed. Then determine which provider will “provide” the best fit to help you identify and address internal roadblocks. There are many choices available to the middle market when it comes to banking and commercial card issuers. It is always best practice to consider more than one for their overall product and technology offerings, as well as the true level of service they provide. 

About the Author

Shanda Goodwin, CPCP and CPS Account Specialist Senior for Commercial Card Payment Solutions, a division of Heartland Financial USA Inc., has more than 20 years in the community banking industry with experience in product development including retail, commercial and treasury management products, now specializing in implementation and ongoing support of commercial card programs. 

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About Heartland Financial USA Inc.

Heartland Financial USA, Inc. is a diversified financial services company with assets exceeding $8 billion. The company provides banking, mortgage, private client, investment, insurance and consumer finance services to individuals and businesses. Heartland currently has 108 banking locations serving 85 communities in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and California. Additional information about Heartland Financial USA, Inc. is available at www.htlf.com.

7 program staffing factors

How many full-time equivalents (FTEs) are needed for Commercial Card program management? While this sounds a tad like a “light bulb joke,” it is an important question. A common measurement reported in industry studies is program manager/program administrator (PM/PA) FTEs per number of cardholders. This is just one small part and an industry average does not necessarily represent what is ideal for your organization. To evaluate whether your card program is appropriately staffed, consider the following seven variables. You might find that the issue is not a lack of staffing, but rather gaps or hurdles elsewhere within the program.

Factors to Evaluate

Any of these can change or evolve over time:

  1. Program goals: What purchases and suppliers are targeted? What is the actual or expected transaction volume? 
  2. Geographic locations: Are cardholders local only? Is the program operational in one country or more than one?
  3. Cardholder status: Besides the number of cardholders, it is worthwhile to consider their skills and turnover.
  4. Training: Do you conduct live training (in-person or virtual), or provide recorded training?
  5. Technology: What tasks are accomplished manually versus tasks supported or executed with technology?
  6. PM/PA aptitude: Is the right person or people managing the program?
  7. Special projects: What is happening that affects those who have a program management role?

What Could Require More FTEs

  • A wide range of targeted purchases and/or suppliers
  • High transaction volume
  • A geographically dispersed program, especially one spanning more than one country
  • Cardholders who do not grasp (or read) procedures, thereby needing more ongoing help 
  • A notable number of new cardholders each month
  • Live training for every new cardholder and/or manager
  • A high number of manual tasks (e.g., transaction auditing)
  • A PM/PA who is not well suited for the role, so others have to pick up the slack
  • Projects demanding extra time, such as a request for proposal (RFP) for a card issuer or technology provider, switching issuers, or implementing new technology (e.g., an auditing solution, different ERP system, etc.)

Some of these bullet points are naturally positive things, like a program that allows all sorts of purchases. Some are neutral and depend on other factors to make them positive or negative (e.g., live training might be fine until it becomes too time consuming due to a high number of new cardholders). Some are simply a drain on time (e.g., manual tasks). Nevertheless, the more that apply to your program, the more FTEs you will need.


In short, your current FTE number is likely appropriate if:

  • your program is meeting or exceeding goals
  • audit results are consistently acceptable
  • the program is well received internally
  • more time is spent on strategic program activities than on operations
  • the PM/PA has a manageable workload (yes, “manageable” is subjective, so it warrants a conversation with management)

Your organization invested time to implement a card program. Doing what is necessary to help it succeed should be a priority. Many factors are within an organization’s control, such as taking advantage of technology to streamline program management. No matter what is lacking in a Commercial Card program, ignoring issues increases the likelihood that your program will not achieve its full potential.

Finding the bullseye in your program management staffing level first requires evaluating many factors.

Finding the bullseye in your program management staffing level first requires evaluating many factors.

Virtual Workshop Opportunity

P-Card and ePayables Payment Strategies, a Three-part Series

Program management FTEs directly tie in with an organization’s overall payment strategy. Attend this virtual workshop to acquire key aspects of building a cohesive payments plan: 1) understanding the options, 2) assessing your card opportunity and devising a plan, and 3) working with suppliers. Learn more...

While this event is targeted at higher education institutions, the content is applicable and suitable for all types of organizations.

About the Author

Blog post author Lynn Larson, CPCP, is the founder of Recharged Education. With more than 15 years of Commercial Card experience, her mission is to make industry education readily accessible to all. Learn more

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Move forward with fleet data.

Is your organization taking advantage of data to manage fuel and fleet expenses? Have you identified your data needs? How would you rate your fleet program in terms of cost savings, security, and control? Recharged Education recently found the perfect content to help your organization take a fresh look at its fleet. In the article, “Data-driven Visibility into Fleet Card Programs,” Jeffrey Pape, Senior Vice President, U.S. Bank Transportation Solutions, examines the benefits of fleet-related data and provides recommendations your organization can act on.

The following article was originally published August 4; reprinted with permission from U.S. Bank.

Data-driven Visibility into Fleet Card Programs

by Jeffrey Pape, Senior Vice President, U.S. Bank Transportation Solutions

Data. It’s the watchword for succeeding in today’s business environment. More and more, we’re being told to let the data be the guide. Quality improvement initiatives stress the importance of making decisions based on verifiable data rather than assumptions and guesswork. Nowhere is this truer than in fleet management, where there is a growing need to optimize data in order to enhance security, reduce cost and improve overall visibility.

The fuel card is an important part of this equation. When it comes to focused fuel cards over non-fuel-focused solutions, the ideal fuel-focused solution is designed to provide the fleet manager with data and control, and the fleet with efficiency and accountability.

Industry best practices call for taking advantage of the fuel-focused card for the significant benefits it offers fleet managers and drivers:

  • The power of a secure, established network that ensures widespread acceptance
  • The ability to limit purchases based on pre-authorized parameters
  • The ability to capture detailed transaction data that can be flagged for exceptions, audited regularly and allocated appropriately across the organization

The key is having data-driven visibility into your fleet program, at the level that your organization needs. The technology behind today’s best fleet and fuel card programs can help integrate that data into your internal systems for greater visibility and control.

Assessing Your Data Needs

The first step in gaining more visibility is figuring out what kind of data you need, at what level of detail and granularity. If your fleet department operates out of a general fund, you may not need to know much more than the total of how much you spent on fuel or maintenance this month, for overall expense management. However, more and more organizations are moving toward a structure of internal service funds, where each department is its own operating center with its own budget to manage. In that environment, there’s greater need for accountability, and that requires more robust and more detailed data.

For example, you may need to track costs not only on a vehicle or equipment basis, but also on a line-item basis where each transaction is brought into your system and the costs allocated out to the departments that own them. Rather than just knowing that Driver X had $100 in fuel expenses this week, you may want to drill down to what kind of fuel was purchased and where, what the odometer reading was, and whether these things correlate appropriately. That way you have the data you need to allocate costs appropriately, but you can also assess the potential for fraud, and identify whether additional communication or training is required.

Data-driven visibility into maintenance expenses is also a critical part of effective fleet management, especially when there are regulatory reporting requirements involved. If the Department of Transportation comes in and wants to verify tire purchases or inspection dates, having that data available from your card provider is imperative.

A good fleet card program can help you manage your spend and set controls to match your internal policies, so that you can manage by exception.

Move forward with identifying the fleet data you need and then incorporate it into your program.

Move forward with identifying the fleet data you need and then incorporate it into your program.

Data Integration Powers Results

When it comes to managing that level of data, a good dashboard is imperative. The key is being able to define and easily access the data you’re looking for. You might have multiple pieces of information floating around—purchasing card data, corporate travel card data, and fuel card data—and trying to compile everything into one place can be difficult. A portal that can aggregate this information provides you with simplicity.

Having that overall dashboard view of your fleet card data gives you an important ability to see the macro view—a valuable tool for senior management looking for the big picture. Integrating the data further into the organization’s financial management system can help you see—and adjust—how your fleet is affecting overall company profitability and other metrics.

Improved Fleet Management for Cost Savings, Security and Control

One of the best things you can do for cost control is to make sure that the people who are actually spending the money actually get the reports and see where their money is going.

For example, perhaps data shows that fleet drivers are buying premium unleaded fuel when regular unleaded would suffice for their vehicles. Significant cost savings could be achieved by addressing that situation through additional training and education to reinforce appropriate fuel purchasing criteria, and ensuring that the fleet organization is doing what’s best for the company.

When retail fuel prices vary considerably from station to station, price and site locators can help guide drivers to an optimal fueling route. Additional data-driven visibility into fuel card spending allows you to score and evaluate drivers on how they are complying with those parameters, and provide valuable corrective feedback to improve performance.

Best practices call for fleet managers to use the fuel-card data to check for unusual product codes, inconsistent fuel quantity, and unusually large transaction amounts. Exceptions can then be addressed with the driver.

Next Steps and Recommendations

What can your organization do to move the needle in the right direction?

  1. Determine your data requirements
  2. Review your options for fuel and fleet card solutions
  3. Implement a program that provides the greatest value
  4. Monitor and refine over time for maximum results

To learn more about how fuel cards came impact your fleet and your bottom line, visit bankonus.usbpayment.com.

External Sources/Guest Bloggers

Please contact Recharged Education if you are interested in contributing to the blog. Content must be educational. 

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