Two card program traps to avoid.

I recently delivered a presentation related to card program expansion. Afterward, two different end-users approached me, both expressing a reluctance to expand. Their reason? Card usage does not save their respective organizations money. As we talked further, the conversations revealed two classic program pitfalls. Following are their dilemmas (one pertains to auditing) plus suggestions to address the issues.

Manually Auditing 100% of Transactions

Driven by a fear of landing in the news for card misuse, the first end-user shared that AP manually reviews every transaction every month. They are not alone. Despite being costly and cumbersome, this type of auditing approach has prevailed since the beginning of card payments, especially within public sector organizations.

Suggestions

If your auditing efforts are primarily manual today:

  • Take the time to calculate the labor cost, based on the amount of time spent auditing and the average compensation of the employees performing the audits. 
  • Compare the labor cost to the value and severity of issues found as a result. You might be spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars to find few issues.
  • Explore automated auditing solutions, which can be tailored to your business rules and are often more effective than manual audits. Depending on your current labor cost, you might get a return on your investment more quickly than you think. Solutions are available from a variety of providers. Start by talking with your card issuer.  

If you are not able to pursue automation, at a minimum consider:

  • a more strategic approach; view examples of audit criteria
  • using Microsoft Excel or similar to filter and sort transactions collectively versus auditing each individual cardholder statement
Avoid the traps that prevent your organization from achieving the savings possible from card usage.

Avoid the traps that prevent your organization from achieving the savings possible from card usage.

No Accountability

The second end-user explained how issuing cards to employees has resulted in shopping sprees. Cardholders leave the office to shop with their P-Cards, wasting time and money. (It was unclear if any purchases were personal/fraudulent.) She said that, even if she strengthened card policies and procedures, there still would not be any consequences for the rogue behavior because management was part of the problem. Sometimes they were the shoppers. I had to agree that what she described was a mess.

Suggestions

The above is an extreme case for which an extreme response might be necessary: scale back or even eliminate the cards. (However, the problematic management team might resist that, too.) Rather than increasing check usage, her organization should at least focus on electronic payments—ACH and/or an electronic accounts payable solution like Virtual Cards or buyer-initiated payments.

Overall, unsupportive management is tough, and sometimes impossible, to overcome. If you are a program manager faced with this issue, try the following:

  • Stress best practices to management, including how a successful card program requires clear policies and procedures, consistent enforcement, and consequences for non-compliance.
  • Illustrate what can happen if program participants are not held accountable for their roles, such as fraud and blown budgets; if possible, quantify the problem. 
  • Propose a call or meeting between your management and the card issuer to discuss the importance of accountability.

Final Thoughts

Before embarking on card program expansion, evaluate the strength of your current program. Does it have a solid foundation on which to grow? Does your organization strive for best practices? Clear up major issues before adding volume.

For more information, access resources on card program management and growth.


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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