Supply Chain Finance, Virtual Credit Cards

Virtual Corporate Credit Cards – From Plastic to Fantastic

Andrew Clayton is the Director for Tradeshift Go, Tradeshift’s virtual corporate credit card platform. We spoke to Andrew to find out more about the rapid evolution of virtual card technologies and why they leave plastic credit cards for dust in terms of visibility, control, and protection from fraud.


You’re very passionate about the virtual corporate credit cards space. Where does that come from?

I’m always thinking about the future, and I firmly believe that virtual corporate credit cards are the future of business payments. The comparison I often make is the invention of the cell phone. Sure, you could make a phone call before, but being able to put that capability in your pocket was a catalyst for something huge that followed. I see huge future potential for the virtual credit cards space, and I’m excited about being there to help others harness its potential.

Aside from the obvious, how are virtual corporate credit cards any different from their plastic equivalents?

Virtual corporate credit cards are not too different from physical credit cards; in many ways, that’s the beauty of the technology. The real difference is the functionality underneath the surface, from increased security and enhanced reconciliation to strict budget controls and increased efficiency on almost everything you do from a spend management standpoint.

A plastic credit card feels like a flip phone in a world built for smartphones. It’s archaic, and the way traditional cards are used in business feels even more archaic. It takes you two and a half weeks to get a physical card, and that inconvenience breeds bad habits. Companies often share their physical cards with 20 or more people. With one card number covering any number of different purchases, they’re making themselves incredibly vulnerable to fraud.

Can you help me understand more about areas where virtual corporate credit cards are beneficial for a business?

Virtual corporate credit cards like Tradeshift Go are ideally suited to the online and over-the-phone purchases businesses make daily. The difference between using physical and virtual cards to perform these transactions is simply night and day.

With a physical card, you’re looking at your transactions and making a guess regarding reconciliations. With a virtual credit card, you can get an accurate real-time view of every transaction across any project or cost center assigned a card.

Whenever you issue a physical card, you’re handing over the purchasing keys to any cardholder and then waiting until the end of the month to see what comes back. Virtual corporate credit cards give you much more control over what spend gets approved, and it does so in a quick, simple, and transparent way.

As an employee, how will virtual corporate credit cards make my life easier?

Virtual credit cards take the pain and stress out of making the purchases you need to do your job. Say you’re purchasing a last-minute order of corporate brochures for your next trade show. In the old world, you’d have two choices; if you happen to be in the office, you might try to hunt down an executive to borrow their card, or more likely, you’ll put the purchase on your own card and cross your fingers that you’ll get reimbursed quickly.

With a virtual credit card platform like Tradeshift Go, you send a request with the amount required, and the moment your request is approved, you’ll be given access to a virtual card to complete that purchase. Imagine you tried to do something similar with a plastic credit card. You might just about get the request approved in time, but you’d be waiting another two weeks before you received your card in the mail.

The flexibility of a virtual card platform also means you can request and assign unique card numbers to different cost centers. It’s entirely up to you. Say you’re running a project, and you want to keep a good handle on how much you’re spending with a specific vendor. All you need do is look up the card that you’ve assigned to that vendor, and you’ll be able to see a comprehensive list of every settlement to date.

From a budget owner’s perspective, what’s the upside of virtual credit cards?

Budget owners want visibility and control over enterprise spend management. Virtual credit cards give them that at a level that is simply unimaginable with traditional physical cards.

In a world of plastic cards with high spending limits, businesses often find themselves playing a guessing game over employee spend in a given month. If you’re trying to keep a tight handle on a specific budget, it can be a nightmare. Virtual cards give budget owners up-front approval on every card purchase made for that business.

In other words, you know exactly where you stand at all times, taking away the risk of overspending and ensuring employees aren’t going rogue with their spending. Suppose you want to see what an individual employee is spending for a particular project. In that case, you can go to the virtual card assigned to them and pull up a comprehensive history of every transaction.

Credit card fraud is obviously a massive issue. Do virtual credit cards offer any additional protection?

According to a report by Nielsen, credit card fraud cost businesses $24.2 billion in 2019. That number is rising at around 6% annually. So in 2023, we could be looking at losses of around $27 billion.

It’s a story that will be familiar to most businesses. You put a corporate credit card on file, and that card gets compromised. Suddenly you have to go to every single one of your vendors to replace the card details you have with them. In some cases, we’re talking about hundreds of different vendors! If that credit card needs replacing, it could take 24-48 hours just for the business to get back up and running.

Virtual credit cards allow you to create a unique credit card number for each vendor you work with or any one-off payment you’re making. In the unfortunate event that a card gets compromised, every other virtual card you have on file elsewhere remains safe. In short, virtual cards prevent the contagion from spreading.

There are considerable benefits to be had for businesses that use virtual cards. So why hasn’t the revolution happened yet?

There’s still some education that needs to happen, and that’s why I’m so excited to be in the position I’m in today. As soon as people we talk to see the benefits of virtual cards for themselves and can apply this to the strategic goals within their business, adoption becomes a no-brainer. And the technology is only going to get better. Currently, virtual cards can only be used for online and over-the-phone payments, but I see that changing rapidly as the technology integrates with mobile wallets.

When you’re speaking to a prospective customer, is there a moment where you can see in their eyes that they get it?

A lot of people think that setting up virtual cards is a long and complicated process, but the moment we begin to demo the Tradeshift Go platform, you can almost see a lightbulb ping over the heads of anyone we’re talking to. We can get someone enrolled in Tradeshift Go in as little as 10 minutes and create a virtual card ready for them to use.

There are other things that people get excited about, such as the segmentation and approval flows that Tradeshift Go offers. It takes five minutes to set up a user, create a virtual card and make a purchase. Budget owners used to timescales running up to two weeks for a physical card can’t fail to be impressed by the simplicity and speed of virtual cards.

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