Herding Cats, uh, Cardholders

Every Commercial Card program has at least one challenging cardholder. I’m willing to bet, though, that this statement is conservative. What can make cardholder management so difficult at times? For one, it is an interesting dynamic when you need people to follow policies and procedures, but you are not their manager. Several years ago, I heard Julie Miguel, CPCP, Purchasing Card administrator, Tension Corporation, use the phrase “herding cats” in relation to cardholders. Her good insight is shared below, in addition to tips from Jennifer Hart Barb, program administrator, James Madison University. The advice is grouped into four broad recommendations, including: 1) review your program structure for best practices, 2) consider the cardholders, 3) utilize effective communication, and 4) determine what you can control.   

Review Your Program Structure

Are aspects of your program helping or hurting your cardholder management efforts? For example:

Jennifer Hart Barb stresses, “Management needs to agree, in advance, that they are willing to apply consequences even if a cardholder is good at their ‘real’ job.”

Consider the Cardholders 

Jennifer provides a good reminder that most cardholders are not “fiscal people” and their minds may not work like yours. Try to understand cardholders’ core jobs and anticipate potential challenges. One example is a Facilities Maintenance team whose focus is on the building. Because they are not typically sitting at computers, reconciling transactions can be challenging. One possible solution is assigning a proxy to do the task for them. She has also had success in:

  • conducting a separate, in-person training session for one department to increase their comfort level
  • doing weekly audits to give cardholders timely feedback and help prevent the same mistake multiple times within a cycle

Julie Miguel has found it beneficial to identify the recurring situations that generate the most headaches and the characteristics of the cardholders who typically cause these situations. From there, she developed different approaches, including vigilance and clear communication (e.g., reports to managers, emails to cardholders), which leads to the next point.

Utilize Effective Communication

Your communication efforts can go a long way toward working with cardholders. Jennifer recommends being consistent in your answers and says, “If you encounter an argumentative cardholder, avoid engaging in a back-and-forth debate. Ensure there are documented policies and procedures to support your stance.” She acknowledges that it’s easy to jump to conclusions when dealing with a “problematic” cardholder, which is why consistency is so important. Using template emails is one solution.

If managing cardholders feels a bit like herding cats, then examine your program more closely to identify any contributing factors.

If managing cardholders feels a bit like herding cats, then examine your program more closely to identify any contributing factors.

Adding to what Jennifer and Julie suggest, I formed good relationships with cardholders by doing the following.

  • Be accessible. Per a previous blog post on adding a human touch to program management, take advantage of opportunities to simply say hello to cardholders and ask how things are going.  
  • Be an ally. Acknowledge you are both in the same boat in having to uphold organization rules. Neither of you might agree with some rules, so take the approach that you are trying to help them comply. 

Determine What You Can Control

Should some rules be changed? If so, are you authorized to do so? Julie described to me how one cardholder’s tardiness with reconciling used to hold up the entire accounting process. This drove them to adopt default accounting codes that allow the process to occur on time, forcing the cardholder and their department to correct any coding mistakes.

However, some things might be rooted in corporate culture that executives are unwilling to change. Julie concedes, “My program is not perfect, but it is not within my power to make it perfect.” She also admits, “Since I have managed the program from the beginning and have an emotional attachment to it, I would take cardholder misbehavior as a personal affront. I’ve had to work at moderating my responses. It also helps to maintain a sense of humor.” I agree! 

See more about P-Card program management.

About the Author

Blog post author Lynn Larson, CPCP, is the founder of Recharged Education. With 20 years of Commercial Card experience, her mission is to make industry education readily accessible to all. Learn more

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