Level III data in conjunction with Commercial Card transactions is still not as widespread as buyers would like. Most suppliers, excluding the largest ones, are not even familiar with the term Level III. However, when a supplier does provide it, you expect the transactions to show details about each product and/or service purchased. Instead, you might see the data as one line item only, specifying an invoice number, quantity of one, and item amount that matches the grand total. Why? It can depend on various factors.
Lack of Integration and B2B Expertise
Diane Merrigan, Director of Enterprise Solutions, CardConnect®, agrees that one generic line of Level III data is not uncommon. She says, “The trick is the integration, if it happens at all on the supplier’s side. The supplier’s ERP/invoicing system must be integrated with card payment processing for the Level III data population to be automated. Without this, suppliers have to enter the data manually. If a purchase is comprised of, say, 50 items, few—if any—suppliers will manually input line-item detail for all 50. They will take a shortcut of entering one generic line.”
She also points out that a supplier’s credit card processor is likely not a business-to-business (B2B) specialist, so they do not understand what happens on the customer’s side and why the customer wants the data. The supplier is trained to input any data just to get a better rate [for card acceptance].
I also contacted a network professional for further insight about Level III data quality. He commented that the card networks are starting to incorporate some edits on data as it is submitted for settlement. He conceded that, while still not foolproof, it is getting better.
Differences in Commercial Card Products
I obtained a third perspective from another B2B payments expert in the acquiring business. He reminded me how Level III data was originally designed and intended for traditional Commercial Card products for which a transaction represents a particular purchase or invoice payment. He noted the advent of electronic payables solutions, like one-time use Virtual Cards, was a game changer. A single transaction often covers multiple invoices, creating a dilemma for suppliers since this scenario does not align with the design of Level III data. Fortunately, for buyers, the nature of electronic payables typically makes Level III transaction data unnecessary because they can capture purchase and invoice details in their ERP system.
Approaching Offending Suppliers
Whatever the reason, irrelevant Level III data with “regular” Commercial Card transactions can be frustrating. Buyers might be hesitant to raise the issue with suppliers, afraid that the supplier will stop accepting card payments altogether. Diane Merrigan observes, “The conversation is not an offensive one and suppliers should not take it as such. Buyers may have to explain how the information that the supplier inputs on their end transmits to them, as the buyer, so they can review and reconcile the purchase. When a supplier passes the enhanced data, it is like transmitting an electronic invoice at the time of the transaction.”
The other acquiring professional with whom I spoke recommends, “For traditional Commercial Card products, buyers have the right to ask for the correct data. If suppliers do not pass it, the end-user organization can raise the issue with their card provider.” This is certainly worth a shot, but it might not resolve the problem because the card provider and network are not responsible for data quality. There are no quick solutions.
What if you cannot convince a supplier to improve their Level III data by providing real line-item detail? Diane Merrigan suggests, “If the buyer is only receiving one line item, then make it count. Buyers should guide the supplier to input the best possible data into that one line to help with reconciliation or other activity on their end.”
In your experience, has Level III data progressed over the years, whether in frequency or quality? This has been a topic of discussion ever since I started in the card industry. I know end-users want enhanced data, but some do not use it even if they have it. One program manager told me they would incorporate a consistent process to use the data different ways if more suppliers provided it, but, for now, the limited availability does not justify extensive use. It will be interesting to watch whether Level III data becomes more or less important to organizations, especially as the usage of electronic payables solutions continues to grow.
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…