How to Help Your Card Program Rise to Its Potential

What is a key reason why some Commercial Card programs excel and others remain sluggish? Industry veteran Erika Jennings, CPCP, shares her insight below along with five pieces of advice that apply to all programs. See whether your organization is doing all five. If not, prioritize where to start making progress.

Unify Your Card Program with Organization Goals

by Erika Jennings, CPCP, Umpqua Bank

Across all industries and all organization sizes, the thing that I find differentiates a best-in-class card program from one that just does “okay” is how well it is aligned with the organization’s goals. The more unified the goals are, the more effective and successful the card program will be.

Success Story

One example that stands out in my mind is a middle market client I worked with a few years ago. They had a One Card program to accommodate all kinds of purchases, including travel expenses. The C-suite insisted that the cards be easy to use. They did not want the employees out in the field—whose priority was selling and serving clients—to spend time on tedious administrative tasks. The card program fit right in with a customized expense management tool to decrease the time and effort required to file an expense report by 50% or more. Because the card program helped the organization reach this key goal, executives sought additional ways in which card payments could increase efficiencies and reduce checks. They started to mandate that their vendors take cards for invoice payments if they wanted to keep the company’s business. They grew a best-in-class ePayables program in their first year by adding card payment language to every possible new (or renewed) vendor contract. As AP received invoices, they took the opportunity to determine if a card could be used.

Programs that Struggle to Take Off

If a card program is thought of as merely a credit card—versus a way to achieve organization goals—it rarely receives the support it needs to really take off. For many organizations, building a card program keeps sliding down their priority list. It’s the inertia of doing what they’ve always done. Some of them do not want to invest in the work involved with establishing a strong card program. Others want to focus on a card program, but just cannot get there due to day-to-day operations consuming all their time. Still others face technology challenges, such as an old ERP system that cannot handle card payments/ePayables.

Middle Market vs. Large Market Companies

Success is possible for every program, but the biggest difference I see between middle market and large market companies is the resource constraint. Everyone is trying to do more with less. Most program administrators I talk with in the middle market are wearing at least three or four hats in their organization, so it is nearly impossible for them to focus on a supplier campaign or even be out of the office for continuing education purposes.

The larger companies have their own challenges, such as working with disparate financial systems and conflicting IT priorities. However, they have more people and more time to effectively run and grow their programs. They are more strategic with their initiatives and less reactive to the changing demands of their finance organization.

Advice for All Programs

If I had to narrow down my recommendations for building a successful card program, it would be the following five actions—no matter what the organization or program size.

  1. Understand your organization’s payables/purchases, including the related hard- and soft-dollar costs. Ultimately, I have seen some organizations finally shift payments from checks to cards to reduce their federal 1099 reporting responsibility. (Please consult your tax advisor about 1099 reporting requirements). 

  2. Seek more information about where cards would best fit. Check, wire, ACH, and card could all have a place in your payables mix. Make sure you understand the cost, benefit and function of each type of payment, and how they benefit your company.

  3. Take advantage of your card provider’s expertise and solutions (e.g., supplier enablement) as much as possible. They should act as your partner. At Umpqua Bank, we see a lot of demand in the middle market for consolidated payment solutions, vendor payment tools, and electronic invoice presentment. Clients love hearing that these are needs we can meet.

  4. Regularly measure your progress toward established goals. Include an annual review of the card program to make sure it’s meeting current business needs.

  5. Identify what’s next. If progress is sluggish, what can you change? If the program has already met the goals, set new ones to continue the success.

Being intentional is such a buzzword these days, but it’s true. Because businesses change and grow, card programs should adapt along with them.

About the Author

Erika Jennings, CPCP, has been involved in the world of P-Cards for nearly 20 years. She started in the industry as a program administrator in the AP department of KinderCare Learning Centers. From there, she joined U.S. Bank in a sales manager role. After 13 years, she moved to Umpqua Bank as a strategic development manager for Commercial Cards. She enjoys being part of Umpqua Bank’s team, working with growing middle market organizations to improve their payables processes.

Umpqua Bank is an Oregon-based community bank recognized for its entrepreneurial approach, innovative use of technology, and distinctive banking solutions. Umpqua Bank has locations across Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada.

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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.