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. 

12 Simple Solutions to Aid P-Card Program Management

Earlier this year, I witnessed something on a flight that made me think about P-Card program management and the positive impact of simple solutions. The situation involved a toddler, who never once made a peep on the three-hour flight and, yes, he was awake. The source of his fascination was a “toy” from his mother that was both quiet and inexpensive: a plastic cup filled with various soft pompoms—like what you can get at a craft store—that he could sort, count, and take out of the cup and put back in. As a result of watching him, I was inspired to compile simple ideas for a card program that might save time, strengthen card usage, improve compliance, and/or increase cardholder satisfaction. I hope you can find at least one to try.

Simple Solutions

  1. Develop boilerplate language concerning card acceptance that can be incorporated into requests for proposals (RFPs) and contracts with vendors to help boost card usage. Be sure to address things like Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance and surcharging.

  2. Apply default budget/accounting codes for cardholders whose purchases tend to require the same coding. This will minimize manual keying, making their job easier.

  3. Assign a proxy “transaction reconciler” for cardholders who are not at a computer regularly, such as maintenance staff.

  4. Take advantage of online transaction reconciliation tools, including receipt imaging if available. Some organizations still base this task on paper statements. While I readily admit this “simple” solution takes time to adopt, taking advantage of technology should be a simple decision.

  5. Create an email template to use when contacting a cardholder and/or manager about a mistake or possible issue. Not only does this prevent you from having to start from scratch each time, it supports the delivery of a consistent message. Before you finalize a template, obtain management approval to ensure the language strikes the right tone.

  6. Within your policies and procedures (P&P), whether a PDF or web-based, add links within the table of contents (TOC) to each topical section and, within each section, add a link back to the TOC for user navigation ease.

  7. Add short video clips, where meaningful, to the online P&P to show users how to do something. This tactic fits right in to our YouTube world.

  8. If you administer online quizzes, add a link within each question that leads to where the quiz takers can find the answers. After all, the ultimate goal is for program participants to pass the quiz, even if they have to look up the right information.

  9. Schedule reports from the issuer to push to you via email each month to eliminate having to manually generate the desired reports within the issuer’s technology.

  10. Proactively review an “available limit” report once or twice per cycle. Take appropriate action, as needed, in an effort to prevent transaction declines, which can frustrate users and vendors alike, as well as intrude on your day.

  11. If you create regular graphs within Microsoft Excel to showcase program metrics, save your perfected graphs as templates. (Right-click on a finished graph and select Save as Template). This allows you to apply the same formatting to future graphs to more easily achieve a consistent look. (On a newly created graph, right-click and select Change Chart Type to access and apply a saved graph template).

  12. This last one might sound crazy to most people... Issue and distribute cards to individual cardholders versus storing the cards in a central location. Tiffany Lovelace, CPCP, Commercial Card Sales Leader, SVP, Regions Bank, told me about a client who keeps cards in a three-ring binder that employees have to check out and then return again after usage. As she remarked, “Cards are such an amazing tool, yet there they are—trapped in a binder.”

Final Thoughts

Overall, P-Cards should be easy, not hard. If you already have a best practice P-Card program, the tips offered herein might be old news. However, based on the work I’ve done related to middle market organizations, I know that many programs are doing things the hard way too often.

Visit the P-Card Program Management section of the website to access additional resources, including a past blog post on making cards easier to use.

Within the realm of your P-Card program, what can you do to get into the easy lane more often?

Within the realm of your P-Card program, what can you do to get into the easy lane more often?

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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

Where Do Best Practice P-Card Programs Go Next?

What do you do if your Purchasing Card program has already adopted the full range of best practices? Is it time for autopilot mode? I suppose this is an option, but it would be contrary to the spirit of best-in-class programs and the conscientious professionals who led the way. Instead, take your program to the next level. That’s right. Another level is always possible. It is what makes P-Card program management both challenging and enticing. The necessary foundation for program optimization is there. You just have to go for it. Following are five ways to achieve a new level of greatness.

Beyond Best Practices

1. Conduct a Satisfaction Survey

Your program might look good on paper, but are the participants happy? Is there something you can do to maximize their satisfaction? For example, maybe improving the readability of the policies and procedures manual would be a welcomed change that leads to greater card utilization.

2. Address the Problematic People

P-Card best practices do not necessarily fix people. There will always be challenging cardholders, managers, and/or others (e.g., AP). Perhaps they would benefit from some one-on-one attention. Help them reach peak performance in their card program role. See more on cardholder management.

3. Improve Program Management Efficiency

Besides people, what still drains your time? If, despite following best practices, the majority of your time is spent on program operations (versus program strategy/growth), then something is not quite right. For instance, are you generating and distributing reports each month that are not used for any particular purpose? What can be eliminated, scaled back, changed, or automated? What does not add value?

4. Pursue Expansion Opportunities

This is an obvious option and, chances are, you have already identified the opportunities. Put an action plan into motion. Expansion means more: more cardholders, more card types, more card-accepting suppliers, and/or more allowed purchases—anything that increases spend or transaction volume.

5. Increase Program Visibility

This is a broad avenue to explore. Look further than the best practice of regularly sharing P-Card program metrics. Take the initiative to become aware of internal pain points that P-Cards could address. In my program management days, I was able to help my IT contact resolve a need related to tracking fixed assets. Since P-Cards were used to purchase the assets, the related data came in handy for his purposes. A more structured approach would be to participate on any internal committees or work groups pertaining to procure-to-pay processes.

Final Thoughts

Even if you opt for autopilot over the noted possibilities, someone might come along who messes up your perfectly performing program. Too often, program managers encounter a new executive with old ways of thinking. You find yourself being pushed backward and having to fight to retain the best practices you worked so hard to achieve. In these cases, “same level” can be just as rewarding as “next level.” Perseverance is a good quality to have when managing a card program.

See additional resources on P-Card program management and growth.

Where will you take the card program next?

Where will you take the card program next?

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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