The U.S. trucking industry has benefited from key improvements in fuel-payments technology, with streamlined mobile apps from the likes of WEX and Comdata steadily replacing clunky, older paper-and-plastic fleet card programs for buying fuel, services and lodging on the road.
But buying fuel is only one segment of the trucking industry that's due for modernization.
Small companies —where cash-flow is tight and personnel turnover is high—play a big role in trucking, and paying drivers and crews for each job is an area of particular complexity that’s resisted change because no pre-existing relationships underpin the system.
For more than 40 years, Comdata Inc., a payments processor with deep roots in the trucking industry, has offered a product called Comchek that solved certain problems, but it could be considered byzantine by today's digital payment standards.
To bring things up to speed, Brentwood, Tenn.-based Comdata is introducing Comchek Mobile, a digital platform connected to a smartphone app that supports multiple functions, including payments to drivers and cargo-moving crews, equipment repairs and other on-the-road needs.
Connecting shippers to a cast of ever-changing trucking industry personnel who haul loads for small companies, the new mobile app eventually will replace a decades-old process that has required participating truck stops to keep Comchek check-paper stock on hand to print out checks for drivers on the move.
“More than 55% of trucking carriers currently are receiving payment with paper checks, and because there’s a long lag time with paper, and liquidity is vital, we’ve made core changes to the system,” said Terrence McCrossan, a senior vice president with Comdata’s North American Trucking division.
The new mobile approach builds on the existing Comdata Card, a Mastercard PIN-debit card that operates on the Maestro payments and Cirrus ATM networks, and adds new functionality through the mobile app.
Payments now may be captured in a single balance and the app supports person-to-person transfers to a driver’s Comdata card, where funds can be stored on the card and used for in-store purchases, ATM withdrawals, bank transfers or for discounted purchases of fuel and hotels available within Comdata’s network of preferred trucking-industry suppliers, according to McCrossan.
While Comdata phases in the new mobile approach, it will continue to support paper-based Comcheks, McCrossan said. That process requires payments' recipients to use a code consisting of more than a dozen digits from Comdata, representing the amount they’re owed. Authorized participants, including banks and truck stops, may convert the code to a regular bank check, issued by Comdata as a Comchek, at participating truck stops and banks. Processing fees begin at about $4.
The complexity of the process evolved from the fact that many shippers and drivers don’t know one another, because drivers typically bid on opportunities to haul loads posted by shippers on load boards and websites, McCrossan explained.
“Where the payer and the payee had no pre-existing relationship, Comcheks have worked for years as a trustworthy way to connect parties, and the mobile platform performs the same task, but it does it much more efficiently, giving users immediate access to their funds in real time, and the ability to track and manage spending all in one app,” McCrossan said.
In addition to drivers and cargo-moving crews, other trucking industry participants including brokers, carriers and third-party logistics companies are clients of Comchek, and McCrossan expects the digital platform’s improvements will expand adoption.
“Trust is a big thing the trucking industry, with the volume of different companies and independent employees, and we expect that improving a system so many people rely on will be transformational to the industry,” McCrossan said.
FleetCor in 2014 purchased Comdata from Ceridian LLC for $3.45 billion.