From the October 2007 issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

Good or Good Enough?

Byrne: They could look at best practices to see how they compare. According to the 2005 Purchasing Card Benchmark Survey Report by RPMG, a best-practice card program has a handful of defining characteristics:

  • Card distribution: Best-practice programs distribute cards to 12.2% of employees, more than double the distribution of low performing programs. Best-practice organizations allow departments or business units to decide on how many cards should be distributed.
  • Spending limits: Best practice programs have per transaction limits that are, on average, twice as high as low transaction capture purchasing card programs. The mean transaction limit among high performing organizations was $3,065, with a mean monthly spending limit of $10,981. Eighty-two percent of organizations enforce per transaction limits and all respondents have monthly limits. Best-practice organizations vary the spending limits based on the type of merchant.
  • Spend categories: Best- practice organizations have a wider "allowable span of spend" and are more likely to use p-cards for any given category of goods or services.
  • Program policy: Best practice organizations are more than twice as likely to require the purchasing department to refuse to process requisitions that could be bought on the p-card and more than three times as likely to require Accounts Payable to send a memo reminding employees who requisition goods or services that these items can be bought with the purchasing card.
  • Training: Best-practice organizations are significantly more likely to have an ongoing method of communicating purchasing card information to cardholders and managers, use a Web site to answer purchasing card questions and support program administrator attendance at purchasing card user conferences.
  • Audit and review: Best-practice organizations are more likely to evaluate the spending patterns of their cardholders and formally audit and review the spending approval process for purchasing cards.
  • Top management support: Best practice organizations have a higher level of top management support than low performing programs.
  • Supplier management: Best-practice organizations are more likely to restrict some or all of their spending to "preferred suppliers," as well as to use the p-card spending data to negotiate higher discounts from preferred vendors.

Not all companies that fail to meet these standards need to overhaul their card programs, but it is simply a healthy business practice to take the time, periodically, to evaluate whether better programs or solutions are available. If a company finds that the growth of its card program is not delivering the desired benefits, or that employees are not utilizing travel card programs, for example, it may be time to research an alternative card program.

Even if a company is satisfied with its current program, today's expanded versions offer better service and support and enhanced card spend reporting capabilities and may merit a look. Heavy competition has served as a catalyst for issuers to work with companies to create custom card programs that drive greater operational efficiencies and provide cost savings. Organizations should see it as an opportunity to help improve the performance of their business.

T&R: If a company finds its program lacking or in need of an upgrade, what should be the next step?
Byrne: Companies should contact a card payment provider to schedule a consultation that will give them a better understanding of how their current program compares to solutions offered by other providers. MasterCard has worked closely with companies to help identify key areas of consideration for determining if going out to bid makes good business sense, but other card providers offer similar services. A good start for a company is to conduct a benchmarking session of their own program. For example, the MasterCard Purchase Optimizer is an online survey about your current card programs that is easy to use and takes just about 30 minutes of your time. When all the details of your payment card program are input, The MasterCard Purchase Optimizer performs an instant analysis and provides you with a customized report with actionable recommendations. The Purchase Optimizer can be accessed at www.mastercardbusiness.com.

T&R: Are commercial card conversions necessarily disruptive for companies?
Byrne: The common misconception that the conversion process is a behemoth and expensive often prevents organizations from engaging in one. But the fact is, converting card portfolios is a simple process that can quickly deliver a large return. New technologies have eased the conversion process by standardizing and automating many of the practices that surround it.

T&R: What kinds of best practices should you consider embracing in any conversion effort?

Byrne: To simplify the migration from one card issuer to another, it is important to create a project plan that the company can follow from initiation to implementation. This will help keep costs low and the process streamlined. The following are recommended best practices for fluid conversions:

  • Make conversion practices a selection criterion. Obtain detailed information about the new providers' conversion procedures and capabilities.
  • Request a detailed project plan. Make sure the project plan is not a sample, but is tailored specifically to your organization and meets your expectations and timelines.
  • Make the most of your records review process. Expand your records review process to employee and supplier records for preferred status, making sure details are cross-referenced with Accounts Payable and Purchasing.
  • Ensure procedures are in place for transition exceptions. There are likely to be transaction disputes in any process once the old accounts are closed. Establish rules and procedures for handling such disputes with your current provider before making the switch.
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