In the beginning–that is, about a decade ago when purchasing cards were first being introduced–all p-card programs were created with the same goal in mind: Cut the absurdly high cost of processing purchases. Back then, companies were spending more, in many cases, to process the buying of little things than they were spending for the goods and services themselves. This fiscal madness had to be cured quickly, and p-cards offered the best available medicine.

Cookie-cutter programs proliferated, and in a competitive marketplace, issuing banks and card associations jockeyed vigorously for position by touting a variety of bells and whistles. At the end of the day, the differences were superficial, and best practice was essentially defined by the speed and efficiency with which a program could be implemented.

In recent years, that definition of best practice has changed significantly and differs widely from company to company and from industry to industry. To be sure, p-cards remain something of a commodity, subject to card association rules. But thanks to demands for customization from more savvy treasuries, that commodity is no longer a plug and play solution, but rather a carefully integrated tool in corporate procurement strategies.

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