Clever cards
Looking to improve your fleet operations? To drive greater efficiencies within your company vehicle management? A good place to start is your fuel card. But has your current one been left by the roadside? 

By Glenn Baker. 
Not all fuel cards are created equal. If you haven’t reviewed your fuel card partnership in recent times there’s a chance your business could be missing out.
So what should business owners look for in a fuel card offering, and how do the card programmes make fleet vehicle management and cashflow easier?
Paul Holland, managing director of Fleetcor Australasia, believes business owners should be clear on where they’ll obtain the most value from a fuel card. “For example, some value the convenience of being able to use it at any fuel station. For others [it’s about] price, extended payment terms or other related services.  
“Control, and the ability to track expenditure, is an inherent feature and the biggest reason why fuel cards are attractive to SMEs.”
Savings can be assessed not only at a transactional level, but from an operational/logistical perspective, says Holland. “For instance, if the fuel card is widely accepted, off-route refuelling can be avoided – this is a cost often overlooked.  
“In addition, having the choice of fuel brands enables you to still obtain price benefits from different oil company price strategies. 
“I think the true value of a fuel card offering should be reflected on the bottom line. It may just be achieved in different ways, depending on the customer challenges – for example, reduced fraud, improved cashflow, less administration, cheaper fuel, and so on.” 
A fuel card offer should alleviate admin burdens for business owners, says Holland. A universal card for fleet expenses negates manual expense reconciliation and employee reimbursements, and provides administrators with consolidated invoices for GST claims.
Visibility and control of expenses is key to effective fleet management, he explains. 
“The ideal fuel card should enable customers to restrict purchases at the vehicle and driver level. For example, restricting card transactions by service type and by dollar limits.”
Fleetcor’s CardSmart offers fuel discounts at multiple, major oil companies and extends to vehicle-related, non-fuel expenses, including servicing, repairs, windscreens, tyres, even RUC, rego and WOF. 
Customers can also subscribe to discounted roadside assistance services with AA.
New service features slated for 2016 are a credit card payment option and a mobile app for locating merchant sites while on the road.
Glen Wallis, NZ CV sales manager for Mobil Fleetcard, says a key requirement of a fuel card offering is: can you use the card where it’s suitable for you. “Mobilcard has a huge chain of acceptors that include Mobil-branded service stations, Pak ‘N Save and New World fuel sites, and many additional fuel sites branded Allied, Waitomo and NPD.” 
Online management of cards and data access can be very important,” adds Wallis. “Especially when you want to do things at a time that suits you rather than anyone else.
“Limits on spending can be very important in securing the use of these cards to what you envisage when you give your staff a card. With each Mobilcard you can limit what is purchased, how much is purchased in a transaction, a day, or a month.”
Many things can impact on the cost effectiveness of your fuel card solution, says Wallis. “These vary from, are sites close to your normal travel route? To, what fees will you have to pay, how often are they charged, or can you get a no fees at all option?” 
And don’t forget to query whether the price/discount structure suits you – so that you actually do reduce the cost that you pay for fuel, he says. 
So how does a fuel card provider help its customers maximise savings and benefits? 
“We believe actionable insights enable our customers to identify improvements within their fleet operations,” says Holland. “Customers can access transactional data and manage their accounts via our online portal. Through our customised exceptions reporting, aberrations in either vehicle performance or driver behaviour become apparent.”
Changing customer requirements and market conditions influence the offerings from card providers. In 2015 Mobilcard featured ‘one price on the day’ wherever you go. 
“These days with significant price differences between locations, always getting the same discount no matter what the pump price has become more important,” explains Glen Wallis. “So now we offer the choice of one price or one discount, whichever’s best for your account.” 
Mobilcard now has a smartphone app so cardholders can quickly find a Mobilcard acceptor when they’re away from their usually travelled routes, he says. “We’re constantly adding new Mobilcard acceptors.”
Trends and predictions
The desire for greater business efficiency continues to drive the fuel card industry in 2016. At a macro level, global crude oil prices have begun to rise again and business fuel users are becoming increasingly aware of their cost base.  
“The smart fleet operator is becoming much more tuned to the value of improved efficiency – managing their consumption, reducing off-route refuelling and not exclusively driving the headline price down,” says Holland.  Fuel price is absolutely important, but typically you can achieve far greater savings through consumption than just price, he adds.
Another trend is the high proportion of New Zealand’s 474,115 light commercial vehicles that are diesel powered (68.4 percent in 2014 according to the Ministry of Transport). Although businesses have made a conscious effort to reduce their carbon footprint by switching to diesel for fuel efficiency, diesel vehicles emit four times the nitrogen dioxide and 22 times more particulate pollution than petrol vehicles, says Holland – citing a 2015 article in The Guardian.
“We expect fleet owners will increasingly demand fuel cards catering for mixed fleets and differing fuel types. 
“Due to heightened awareness of global warming, a growing opportunity for the sector is to offer emissions offsetting programs. We launched our EcoDRIVE programme last August, whereby CardSmart customers can choose to contribute to tree planting and reforestation initiatives in New Zealand and developing countries. 
“To date, over 50,000 trees have been planted by our partners Green Earth Appeal and Greenfleet, due to our programme.”
Successful partnerships
The key to the success of any relationship between card providers and businesses is a mutual understanding of needs.
“A fuel card provider should tailor their offer to customer needs,” says Paul Holland.  “For example, CardSmart does not have any lock-in contracts, so customers can easily and quickly scale the number of fuel cards to their current business requirements.
“A business should assess whether their fuel card provider has a satisfactory resolution timeframe for any issues and requests. Our customers have a dedicated account manager, for service continuity and personalisation.”   
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