How can virtual card payments improve the procurement experience?
Traditional card-based solutions link one card to one individual. Virtual card solutions, on the other hand, link one ‘virtual card’ to one transaction. It’s a technology that has the potential to add real value to corporate payments – especially as controls on credit limit and dates of use can be set per transaction – but it’s one that is yet to be implemented across the entire corporate environment.
Integrating for efficiencies
The key to unlocking the full potential of virtual card solutions is about partnerships with existing procurement systems, especially in meeting the needs of multinationals.
“In B2B payments, we’ve had good traction for [our solution] in mid to large corporates, but utilisation for the very largest multinationals has been limited, and that’s because of their significant investments in sophisticated procure-to-pay (P2P) software,” says David Price, Managing Director of Client Coverage at Barclaycard .
Those systems allow businesses to procure in a compliant and cost-effective way, and provide a good experience for the user, except when it comes to payments.
The impact on buyer experience
Previously, procurement teams had to step outside the P2P environment to complete payment through a separate portal. Now virtual card platforms are being integrated into procurement systems including Coupa, adding ease of use and another option for users within a technology that is already trusted and familiar.
“From procure-to-pay to procure-and-pay”
“As soon as transactions are authorised, virtual card payments are triggered automatically so there’s no need to leave the environment or to process payment manually,” says David. “The common terminology is procure-to-pay; through integrations, it’s a move towards procure-and-pay.”
Integrated solutions have the potential to improve the buyer experience further, bringing additional benefits to the business such as greater efficiencies, control, data insights and cash flow flexibility.
End-to-end procurement costs are often high because of bureaucracy and paperwork, with efficiency gains made elsewhere in the process lost at the point of payment. That’s especially the case in the tail-end spend of large volumes of small-value transactions. When suppliers are paid using a virtual card platform, there’s no need for a business to run lengthy due diligence checks or set them up on internal finance systems – typically saving them 3-5 hours per transaction for a new supplier.
“Virtual card platforms can help to streamline a business’ payment system.” They can also be used to make payments directly into suppliers’ bank accounts meaning they can be paid using the platform even if they don’t accept card payments.
“That’s the through the card piece in procure-to-pay that we are addressing,” notes David. “Precisionpay, [Barclays virtual card platform] helps to streamline a business’ payment system and also allows payments to be automatically reconciled to invoices and purchase orders, creating further efficiencies.
Authorisations and controls are fundamental to the procurement department, as it looks to avoid uncontrolled or rogue spend. The result can be over-engineered and over-complex control policies, with a bias towards the buyer rather than supplier benefit. Such an imbalance can make it challenging for procurement to negotiate the best deal.
“Objective advice to create sustainable long-term relationships.”
“Therefore, what we suggest is adjusting your policy so that your authorisation and control strategy is reflective not just of a desire to create control but is also proportionate to the supplier you’re working with. As procurement functions start to implement appropriate, supplier centric payment strategies, that’s when some of a virtual card platform’s capability becomes even more valuable.”
Moreover, by using a virtual card solution, companies can flex cash flow, much as a consumer equipped with a credit card could. Payments made today, for instance, can be repaid as per the billing cycle, plus an additional 28 days after the equivalent of a credit card statement has arrived.
Building a strategic partnership
It’s unlikely a virtual card platform would be the right payment vehicle for all suppliers. It’s important to figure out where best to deploy virtual card technology. By analysing a client’s account payable file and understanding their business strategy, it can provide recommendations for different categories of spend and which result in the greatest benefit for the buyers, such as where to quickly drive efficiencies through volume.
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