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.

Who is the best card issuer?

Over the years, I have fielded many questions from end-users who wanted an opinion on the “best” issuer. My standard answer is that every issuer has both happy and not-so-happy customers. Best is subjective, varying by end-user. Making the best decision involves identifying your organization’s specific needs and goals first, then determining the best match. I used to say issuers differ the most in three broad categories, but now I add two more to the list.

Monetary Incentives

I start with this one to get it out of the way, not because I think it is most important. (I addressed the dark side of rebates last year, including how it can cloud judgment when selecting an issuer.) Sometimes it is challenging to compare issuers’ financial proposals because each might use different criteria. Things to consider are:

  • Number of factors that figure into the rebate calculation and how your program might fare based on historical data
  • Minimum spend threshold to qualify for incentives and what happens if you do not meet specified requirements
  • How large-ticket transactions are treated
  • Potential for a one-time signing bonus
  • Contract duration

Do not just review an issuer’s proposed table of basis points; read the accompanying details and stipulations.

Customer Service

Money only goes so far. The people factor can make or break an issuer/end-user relationship, as well as a card program. A strong relationship, including getting answers and help when needed, increases the likelihood of program success. What is important to your organization in this area? Considerations when evaluating issuers include: 

  • How will they support your program goals and help you identify improvement opportunities? 
  • Will you have a dedicated relationship manager (RM) or a broad team of customer service reps? 
  • Will you have a say in the RM assigned to you? 
  • What should you expect in terms of support and service? What is their role versus your role?
  • Will they proactively offer Commercial Card education and share industry news/changes that may affect you? 


Program management technology should make things easy for your organization and not move you backward. Take test drives of the options and allow your heaviest users to do so. Identify the types of reports most critical to you and ensure the technology offers them in the format you prefer. Again, it is all about your needs and requirements, including those of AP, Tax, Audit, etc.  

Winner or loser? Increase your odds of selecting the right issuer by not making a random decision.  

Winner or loser? Increase your odds of selecting the right issuer by not making a random decision.  

The final two categories may not apply to every organization, but both are becoming increasingly common.

Electronic Accounts Payable (EAP)

If you are interested in an EAP solution, be familiar with the different types. Do you prefer a push model (buyer-initiated payments) or pull model (supplier-initiated payments)? Or do you want to have both available to you? Also explore whether a proposed solution will integrate with your existing finance/AP system(s). Further, what level of EAP support does each potential issuer offer? Training and supplier outreach are two elements. 

Global Capabilities

This might be the biggest differential. If your card program covers more than one country, take care in developing detailed RFP questions. It is not just a matter of whether an issuer says it can support a certain country (yes/no); it is a matter of how.  

RFP Help

This blog post only scratches the surface of card issuer selection. If your organization is seeking assistance with a request for proposal (RFP) project, contact Recharged Education to discuss further and obtain a quote. See also additional RFP-related content.

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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