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How to choose the right commercial card program

The right commercial card program can help your organization manage costs, streamline efficiency and improve your bottom line. Find out which considerations matter most when choosing the right commercial card program.

Every organization requires goods and services to operate, which makes managing purchasing and payables processes a top priority. The challenge, however, comes in determining the processes that can help achieve cost effectiveness and a profitable bottom line. In this way, a commercial card program can be an essential asset—one that can not only simplify purchasing and payables, but also advance an organization’s goals.

The card program that best fits your needs will allow you to streamline payment processes, manage costs and savings, and deliver the convenience, reliability and security that can help your organization succeed. Here are a few things to consider when deciding which type of card program is best suited to your organization:


Define your payables strategy

It's essential to start the process by benchmarking where you are currently, and then evaluating where you want to be and what you want a card program to help you achieve. If your overall goal is cost reduction, then you're going to be looking for something completely different in a card program than an organization that's looking for a program that offers rewards. Some questions to consider:

  • If you currently have a card program, what does it look like? What do you use it for now, and what are you hoping that it will help you achieve in the future?
  • What are you looking to get out of your payables? Do you have specific goals for the year? If so, what are they, and do they tie to your organization's higher-level goals?

And don't worry if you can't answer these questions on your own—your provider should be able to help you identify your goals and map out a path to success.


Evaluate your purchases and payables structure

You should also look at how purchasing management is structured. Some organizations allow individual cardholders to make purchases directly, while others prefer to have purchases run through an accounts payable department. This raises important factors, such as whether travel and operational expenses are managed together or separately, the size of the team(s) managing those expenses and whether those teams work in the same office.

All these factors introduce complexity, and the best commercial card program will work with your existing structure to streamline purchases and payables.  


Assess unique organizational makeup

Identify with your key stakeholders how your organization behaves now and how that may differ from how you want it to behave, both in the short and the long term. That will help give you an idea of your readiness to implement a card program. Evaluate things like whether or not you have expense policies and procedures in place currently. Are those policies separate for travel versus purchasing, or are they the same? And how do you communicate those policies to your employees? A commercial card program should support your overarching policies and procedures, not make them more difficult to manage.

The size and revenue of your organization also impacts which commercial card program you choose. An organization with $20 million in annual revenue will have different needs than that of a $1 billion organization. Important considerations include the number of employees who will be able to use a card, what they may use it for and whether they will use the same card for all expenses. The volume of your accounts payable spending may also help determine the card program best suited to your needs.

Be sure to consider whether it's more advantageous to manage travel and indirect expenses in one program or to keep them separate and manage distinct programs. The level of complexity (or simplicity) required for purchases and payables will also help determine which card program is best for your organization.


Determine the nature of program implementation

An important aspect in selecting a card program is how easily it can be integrated into your organization’s existing structure, size and operation.

Some organizations may find implementation is easily streamlined with standard specifications for reporting, data feeds and merchant category code (MCC) designations. Other organizations have more multifaceted needs and may require close consultation with their providers to develop tailored implementation plans. This may be the case if your organization has more complex data reporting, data mapping into financial systems and/or several specific MCC designations.


Choose the right provider

Choosing the right provider is critical to the success of your program. Consider whether a provider can scale resources and attention to meet your evolving needs. When evaluating providers, make sure to ask whether they can:

  • Provide you with access to teams that are dedicated to card relationship management, technical support and/or customer service.
  • Deliver the analytics and insights into purchases and payables that can help your organization capture low-value spend and help improve your bottom line.
  • Offer a range of solutions for different types of spend.
  • Provide online reporting options, as well as a configurable online program management tool that can simplify administration and deliver the reports and analysis, which can help your organization identify new opportunities for savings and efficiency.

Just as important, when it comes to simplifying processes, organizations should be able to count on their provider’s dedicated team to notify suppliers of payment changes and to drive acceptance with your network of suppliers.

A card program should help make purchasing and payables simpler, so it can benefit you to work with the provider that your organization already has a financial relationship with. This provider likely knows your organization’s needs, goals and structure, and may be best positioned to work with you to determine the card program that can deliver the most advantages.

Carefully consider the resources and expert dedicated teams the program provider has available to make implementation straightforward and easiest to integrate with your specific needs. All these factors impact the provider you choose, as well as the types of cards your organization needs. And don't feel like you have to be boxed into one type of solution. Many organizations find success with a combination of card solutions.

Learn the best practices businesses are using to drive commercial card payments acceptance across their suppliers.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.P. Morgan, its affiliates, or its employees. The information set forth herein has been obtained or derived from sources believed to be reliable. Neither the author nor J.P. Morgan makes any representations or warranties as to the information’s accuracy or completeness.  The information contained herein has been provided solely for informational purposes and does not constitute an offer, solicitation, advice or recommendation, to make any investment decisions or purchase any financial instruments, and may not be construed as such.

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