Visa Inc. is putting some of its most sophisticated commercial card features within reach of small and mid-sized businesses that use credit cards to cover expenses.

The San Francisco-based company this week introduced Visa Payment Controls, an online platform enabling small-business owners to more precisely control where and when employees use business credit cards.

The service for the first time enables business owners to directly make changes to employees' business card spending limits and the types of merchandise allowed for purchases through a Web interface, Visa said.

Small-business owners with credit card programs typically make such changes by going through their card issuers' proprietary systems, Janet Zablock, Visa's global head of small business, said in an interview.

"Until now most small-business card program managers would have to call their bank to make changes, and given the many hats entrepreneurs wear these days, the new platform should enhance operations," Zablock says.

Visa has made such rich controls available for many years for commercial card managers through different platforms, Zablock says.

Now small-business owners have some of the same capabilities, including temporarily authorizing purchases in specific merchandise categories, such as travel and entertainment, she says.

The new controls are specific enough to let business owners pinpoint certain ZIP codes or times for authorizing purchases. This feature helps limit fraud and mismanagement, Zablock says.

"There is far more granularity to the new program, so that business owners can set up very specific rules about how employees use cards," Zablock says, which could help businesses cut down on their use of costly, time-consuming paper invoices for one-time company purchases.

Business owners and employees will also have the option to set up notifications when transactions are blocked, Zablock says. Visa will support text-based alerts for those notifications "as issuers roll out the service," she says.

The Visa Payment Controls platform is available to banks offering small-business card programs to companies with as few as two and as many as 100 employees, she says.

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