Accounts payables managers have no shortage of methods they can use to pay vendor invoices or that employees can use regularly for discretionary spending.
From traditional paper checks and wire transfers, to ACH, purchasing cards (P-cards) and ghost cards, each company can mix and match the payment methods they use to allow for maximum benefit based on the companys size, number of transactions and average dollar amount per transaction, among other factors.
While most of these payment methods and their strengths and weaknesses are known, companies should also consider a relative newcomer to the payments world: electronic accounts payable (EAP) card accounts.
Often referred to as virtual cards, EAP can provide a safe, flexible and cost-effective method of paying for goods and services that falls in line with existing accounting practices and workflows. Thats because EAP payment is processed via a card account after an invoice is received. The power of EAP is that the cards spending limit is adjustable to match the amount of each invoice with an associated single-use card number (EAP is also often referred to as single-use accounts).
According to the 2014 Purchasing Card Benchmark Survey Results report from RPMG Research Corp., only 18% of companies reported using EAP among their payment mix in 2013. But the companies that have adopted EAP also have made it a significant part of their payment strategy, with those same 18% of companies accounting for 39% of purchasing card spending on all P-card accounts, and 23% of all P-card transactions across the entire survey sample.
While EAP may not seem that different from purchasing cards, which have set spending limits, the major difference is the ability to dynamically adjust the spending limit to coincide with each specific transaction. So while purchasing cards are typically used for discretionary spending and spending that is not tied to a purchase order or invoice, EAP is always tied to an invoice and authorized to pay the exact invoice amount.
For this reason, adopters of EAP tend to use this payment method for higher invoice amounts, with vendors that have a large number of invoices payable each month, for purchasing goods not allowed via P-card and for transactions that may require additional approvals. Because of this, each EAP transaction averages $4,727, more than ten times that of a typical P-card transaction of $454.
As organizations have begun to recognize the advantage of EAP for specific regular transactions, its use has accelerated. Average monthly EAP spending of surveyed companies reached $1.9 million in 2013, more than two-and-a-half times the average monthly spend of $747,522 just a few years earlier. Among EAP-using organizations, EAP spending now accounts for 55% of all card purchases, up from just 26 percent in 2009. When compared with similar-sized companies that do not employ EAP accounts, those using EAP showed 81% higher spending on all card accounts ($3.2 million to $1.8 million). With many card programs tied to incentive plans for their use, its easy to see how adoption of EAP can significantly increase the rebates a company receives each yearmoney that goes directly to the bottom line.
With the tight controls associated with EAP accounts, broader adoption can also help organizations further protect against payment fraud. According to the 2014 AFP
Payments Fraud and Control Survey from the Association for Financial Professionals, 60% of organizations were the targets of attempted or actual fraud in 2013. Twenty-seven percent of financial professionals that had experienced payment fraud said these incidents had increased since 2012. The average loss for companies as a result was more than $23,000.
While only 18% of companies use EAP, it is still a relatively new payment option, having only been available to AP managers for about six years. That said, organizations are quickly learning of its benefits. According to the RPMG survey, among organizations not currently using EAP, 10% were expected to adopt it this year and another 20% planned to add it by 2016. If those planned adoptions pan out, EAP use will rise to 43% of the organizations surveyed by 2016. If this adoption occurs, these companies would be expected to increase their cumulative per year card spending from $149 billion to $270 billion.
Among companies already using EAP, 65 percent expect to increase spending on the platform in the next five years, with an expected average spending growth rate in that period of 69%, a 13.8% yearly spending increase. This is not to say EAP will displace other existing payment methods such as purchasing cards, wire transfers, ACH and the like. But due to its unique features, companies that are looking to take a holistic approach to their AP operations would be wise to add EAP to the payment mix.
Meitra Aycock is the vice president of commercial credit product management for Comdata.