Treasury and finance teams are playing a major role in achieving the financial and operational agility that have enabled their organisations to weather the pandemic, and evolve into the “new different”. HSBC’s digital cash and liquidity management solutions such as our Corporate Card programmes are key to this. Through Corporate Card programmes, companies can reduce friction and improve efficiency in accounts payable processes. They can generate insights on company-wide spend to make better decisions and manage risk more effectively, and optimise liquidity and working capital in a cost-effective way. Corporate Cards also help to enhance corporate responsibility and supply chain resilience, by supporting smaller suppliers, safely sourcing from new vendors, and establishing operations in new markets.
At HSBC, we continue to invest in innovative Corporate Card solutions that support our clients’ transformation journeys, whether during business-as-usual scenarios or at times of crisis. In this white paper series, we explore how HSBC Corporate Cards offer a simple and easy way for clients to embrace and reap the benefits of digitisation. We look at how these solutions help treasurers and finance managers to adapt more easily to a new and fast-changing environment, whilst building resilience to equip the business for whatever the future may bring.
Just as every client has different operational and strategic priorities, their objectives and the benefits they can achieve through our Corporate Card programmes will also differ. We adopt a consultative process to help clients identify and address points of friction or inefficiency, harness opportunities to reduce costs or generate rebates, and achieve specific working capital goals.
I hope you find this series helpful. Our team of experts will be happy to speak with you about how HSBC Corporate Cards can help your business.
Commercial Cards, HSBC
Part 1. Enhancing efficiency, automation and digitisation
HSBC’s 2019 treasury survey illustrated that operational efficiency is the most important digital transformation driver for treasury teams1 as they seek to take a more strategic role in shaping the business agenda, whilst continuing to manage day-to-day operations in a timely and accurate way. Given pressures on treasury resourcing, and the increased sophistication of the treasury agenda, digitisation and automation have become essential to improve efficiency and agility, allowing resources to be directed to more value-added tasks.
This section explores:
- The growing importance of digitisation
- Challenges of digitising and standardising payments
- How Corporate Cards can support payments digitisation
- The operational benefits of Corporate Cards
- Increasing visibility and control over expenditure
- Eliminating manual processing
- Improving integration and reconciliation
Accelerating the digitisation agenda
Digitisation and automation became even more prominent themes recently and are defining the business of the future. For example, treasury and finance teams were tasked to ensure business continuity in both operations and data-driven decision making when people rapidly moved to remote working. By June 2020, 73 per cent of employees were working remotely, compared to only 13 per cent pre-crisis2, creating an urgent need to digitise and automate processes. HSBC’s ‘Resilience: Building back better’ research found that automation of manual processes is key to response plans, with almost one in four companies (23 per cent) citing it as a top priority. Manual documentation, the need for ‘wet’ signatures and paper-based instruments, such as cheques, all presented significant challenges during the crisis. As a result, HSBC found that 41 per cent of businesses aimed to digitise and adopt paperless documentation processes3.
The shift to remote working – and therefore the importance of digitisation – is likely to be a long term outcome of the pandemic, with CEOs anticipating that a third of their workforce will still be working remotely in 20224.The challenge, however, is that not all treasury and finance teams have the infrastructure in place that allows them to adapt and digitise processes and decision-making. The same HSBC treasury survey revealed that 1 in 5 senior treasury professionals believe that their treasury functions are not equipped to support their organisations’ changing requirements5.
Payments processing is a particular area in which many large corporations struggle to digitise and automate their operations and decision-making, despite having established payment factories and shared service centres (SSCs). In some cases, this is due to inconsistent payment methods and practices across different countries or entities that have not been standardised in the SSC. According to research by Strategic Treasurer, half (51 per cent) of SSC or accounts payable teams could not approve invoices in time to meet standard payment deadlines, with 40 per cent of large corporations reporting that they could not benefit from early payment discounts as a result of delayed approvals6.
Making payments securely and on time, with full visibility over payment obligations is essential to secure the supply of goods and services, manage working capital and build resilience into supply chains. A well-designed Corporate Cards programme can help improve operational efficiency, but also standardise payment flows. While initially, Corporate Cards were used to manage T&E expenses, their use has been steadily expanding to include Purchasing Cards to make business-to-business (B2B) supplier payments. As a result, treasury and finance teams can digitise supplier payments, remove the burden of manual, paper-based processes and continue operations in a remote or hybrid working environment without interruption or loss of efficiency or control. Intuitive tools and online portals, such as HSBC’s MiVision automate and simplify programme administration, and can be accessed conveniently from any location.
1) Control & visibility over expenditure
Companies can use Corporate Cards to ensure that T&E and supplier expenses are incurred in line with corporate policy, with full visibility over expenditure helping to drive economies of scale with strategic suppliers. For employees, managing expenses is less onerous, and avoids the need to use personal cards for business expenses.
Furthermore, by expanding the use of Corporate Card programmes from T&E to Purchasing or Virtual Cards, companies can streamline and accelerate procurement and payment for everyday business purchases, avoiding delay in sourcing goods and services, whilst maintaining central visibility and control over expenditure.
While business travel was dramatically curtailed during the pandemic, Corporate Cards played a critical role when lockdowns were imposed, allowing companies to equip employees with the tools to work from home, or with essential items such as personal protective equipment (PPE) to continue to operate safely. A study by RPMG Research Corporation found that 65 per cent of employees working from home used cards issued by their organisations as the primary means of making business purchases7.
Supply chain disruption during the pandemic also meant that companies had to deal with new suppliers more quickly than normal supplier onboarding processes would allow. Smaller suppliers also had to be supported and paid more quickly to enable them to meet changing demands, and in some cases, to operate at all. Purchasing cards make it easier to pay new or existing suppliers rapidly and securely, whilst maintaining control and avoiding working capital disruption.
Corporate Cards in Practice: Enabling emergency employee repatriation for a global oil field service company
As lockdowns were imposed globally, a leading oil field service company needed to relocate and repatriate employees at speed, often from remote, inaccessible locations. With emergency vendors refusing American Express payments, the company approached HSBC for help. The HSBC team set up a T&E card program within 7 days, including approving credit, signing contracts and issuing cards.
The company faced a race against time to relocate employees, with borders globally shutting down. HSBC’s T&E cards enabled them to mobilise resources quickly to relocate staff with widespread acceptance of MasterCard amongst vendors globally. At the same time, the company benefitted from HSBC’s best-in-class digital platform, with automated processing and rich data, such as travel booking information, to reconcile flows easily. At a time when many employees were working from home, HSBC could issue cards to home addresses, avoiding interruption to the business and ensuring suppliers continued to be paid promptly.
2) Eliminating manual processing through automation
In many countries, such as the United States and Canada, companies still use cheques or other forms of manual, paper-based instruments to make supplier payments. These are expensive to process, prone to error and present the risk of fraud under normal conditions, but become almost impossible to process when offices are closed, and signatories are working remotely. Replacing cheques with Corporate Card payments increases efficiency and reduces cost for both the company and its suppliers. Suppliers are paid on time, without having to collect and pay in cheques, while benefitting from predictable settlement timing and automated processes.
Virtual Cards take payments automation and innovation to the next level. Assigning a unique virtual card number to individual transactions, which are issued only in accordance with corporate policies, makes payments safer, more transparent, and easier to reconcile. Web-based administration tools mean that Virtual Cards can be managed from anywhere. An RPMG survey in June 2020 found that 40 per cent of respondents planned to increase their use of Virtual Cards during the pandemic8.
3) Integration and reconciliation
One of the benefits of using Corporate Cards is the ability to use comprehensive data held on each transaction for automated reconciliation and reporting purposes. HSBC Corporate Card data is accessible through HSBC’s channels and can be integrated seamlessly into clients’ accountancy, enterprise resource planning (ERP), treasury management systems (TMS) and expense management systems (EMS) for automatic reconciliation and analysis.
Tangible benefits of Virtual Cards
Corporate Cards in Practice: Streamlining subcontractor payments for a major construction company
A major construction company made a large number of payments to subcontractors for materials, equipment and overheads. In the past, it was difficult to apply consistent payment controls, and there was a lack of visibility over payments made.
The use of HSBC’s Virtual Cards has enabled the company to pay contractors and suppliers securely and seamlessly whilst ensuring strict adherence to the company’s approvals policy. Multi-level approvals by type and value of payment are automatically enforced, supported by comprehensive reporting and audit.
Consequently, the company can now reconcile subcontractor and supplier payments automatically based on rich data linked to each payment. Trust and accountability are improved, and the risk of fraud or error is greatly reduced. At the same time, suppliers and subcontractors benefit from faster and more predictable payment, improving their own working capital position, and avoiding the need to access other forms of financing.
Corporate Cards in Practice: Relieving the operating burden for a vehicle rental company
A leading commercial car and van hire operation, with more than 46,000 vehicles hired out at any one time, faced a significant burden in processing and re-charging parking and traffic fines of several million pounds per year. While payment and re-charge rules vary by location, these are all managed centrally through a single customer service centre.
To relieve the operational burden, accelerate payment and re-charge, and reduce financial risk, the company opted to implement HSBC’s Virtual Card solution. Virtual cards are integrated seamlessly with existing payment solutions. Each transaction is supported with the correct fine reference number and vehicle rental contract. This provides better management and reduced administration of fines, with more rapid re-charging, less scope for error or omission, easier reconciliation and better cash flow management.
Part 2. Managing risk using Corporate Cards
While treasurers and finance managers are experienced in managing both financial and operational risks, the range and severity of these risks are increasing, particularly cybersecurity risks. CEOs responding to PwC’s annual survey cited cybersecurity in the top four threats to business in 20209.
Corporate Card programmes can play a critical role in helping treasurers to manage their financial, operational and cyber risks, with a variety of built-in protections and customisable controls that offer companies and their employees greater security when making T&E or supplier payments.
This section explores:
- The growing cybersecurity challenge in a remote working environment
- The use of Corporate Cards to minimise cyber and fraud risks
- Safer transactions using Corporate Cards
Closing security loopholes
Fraudsters – both internal and external - frequently exploit organisational weaknesses, particularly remote subsidiaries or teams that may not access a central technology infrastructure, or where group policies, processes, controls and training may be less rigorously enforced. Corporate Cards offer a standardised means of making supplier payments, and automatic enforcement of companies’ purchasing and operational controls, whether employees are based in centralised, subsidiary or homeworking locations. For example, HSBC Corporate Cards enable controls to be configured at an individual cardholder level, setting spend limits, categories and authorisations. Exception monitoring is in place to monitor and highlight breaches and issues in real-time, and firms are protected against deliberate misuse by cardholders.
These issues become particularly important as business leaders rethink their workforce and workplace strategies in a post-pandemic environment. Payments can be made to new or one-off suppliers without compromising on security, but without the burden of lengthy supplier onboarding processes, enabling procurement teams to be more agile and adapt quickly to changing supply chain needs.
When companies transact with a new supplier, Corporate Cards offer protection against non-delivery or defective goods, which provides greater assurance when working with new or one-off suppliers. With online purchasing becoming more prevalent, companies also need to consider how best to purchase online without creating additional risks. To help protect against these risks, HSBC’s Corporate Cards have advanced fraud controls and in some markets, offer protection for customers in the event of loss.
Like most companies, a major multinational pharmaceutical company had to implement business continuity plans at pace at the height of the pandemic, including redeploying a large part of their workforce to working from home. Until that time, most employees were office-based, so the company needed to supply employees with IT, office and printing equipment to allow efficient remote working. To expedite this, and ensure that employees were fully supported, the company needed to implement a secure payment execution mechanism to pay suppliers quickly, many of whom were new suppliers.
To achieve this, the company leveraged an HSBC Purchasing Card solution to pay ad hoc suppliers for one-off purchases. With HSBC’s help, the company was able to issue cards at speed, supported by highly bespoke spend limits and controls, across 34 categories of spend.
As a result, the company was able to move rapidly to remote working, supporting employees with the facilities they required during an already anxious period, and continue business operations without interruption. At the same time, the company benefited from full monitoring and compliance controls and reporting of business spend, both domestically and internationally. Flows could be automatically reconciled, and the purchasing burden significantly reduced, a critical requirement when business continuity was key.
Suppliers now benefit from almost immediate payment, reinforcing relationships and enhancing their working capital position.
Part 3. Harnessing data to drive business insights
One of the most significant benefits of Corporate Cards is the rich data associated with each card payment. Teams across the business can use this data to develop valuable insights in order to refine financial and supply chain strategies.
This section explores:
- How data linked to Corporate Cards help treasurers to understand payment trends and enhance working capital
- How procurement teams can develop insights to help build better supplier relationships and improve the resilience of supply chains
- How Corporate Cards data can input into the company’s ESG agenda
Insights for working capital and liquidity management
Currently, while many treasury teams have implemented sophisticated TMS and ERP solutions, they are frequently reliant on data generated from outside of the treasury function, such as cash flow forecast data, which may be collated manually or extracted from a variety of systems where data is recorded in different ways. As a result, it can take some treasury teams more than four days, and a great deal of manual effort, to collate cash forecast information from across the business10.
By using a Corporate Card programme, treasurers and finance managers have real-time and complete visibility over expenditure, enabling them to fund liquidity needs more accurately, and manage working capital more precisely. Through HSBC’s digital platforms, such as MiVision, treasurers, finance managers and procurement teams have access to a comprehensive range of data fields on each transaction, as well as custom fields, to create better insights into expenditure, liquidity, supplier risk and payment trends. Current and historical transaction analysis enable teams to understand payment trends, with granularity across cost centres, departments, and special projects. Reporting can be customised according to each firm’s cost centre hierarchy and accounting protocols, and integrated into treasury management and enterprise resource planning systems.
Insights for supplier management
Better spend data can help firms understand their supply chains more fully, and get the most out of their supplier relationships. With granular insights on spend per supplier, procurement teams can identify and manage potential supplier concentration risk, and reduce complexity and fragmentation in supply chains. They can also work with strategic suppliers to ensure their working capital needs are met to build supplier chain resilience, and in some cases, negotiate more favourable terms.
Virtual Cards, in particular, can provide rich data, with fully configurable transaction-level data such as item descriptions, inventory and commodity codes, and duty information, offering supply chain and procurement managers significant visibility and control across their supplier ecosystems, including smaller suppliers.
Insights for corporate responsibility
Business leaders are taking their environmental, social and governance (ESG) responsibilities increasingly seriously, amidst growing pressure from stakeholders and consumers to ensure transparency and sustainability of their supply chains. This can be particularly challenging for large, complex organisations with global supply chains. Corporate card programmes play an important role in helping business and finance leaders to meet their ESG and corporate responsibility objectives. For example, HSBC’s MiVision provides a digital single point of access to comprehensive supplier data and insights to help shape supplier policies.
An international non-governmental organisation (NGO) delivers essential crisis response services, poverty reduction programmes, and economic and social development initiatives in less developed countries through both financing and technical assistance. The ability to track and control programme and individual expenditure is essential to demonstrate accountability to international stakeholders and fulfil transparency rules.
Cards and the bank’s best-in-class digital platform, MiVision. This offers rich real-time data on transactions for each cardholder, with automatic alerts based on a variety of triggers to inform administrators of out-of-policy expenses. With this data, the NGO has real-time visibility of local, regional or global spend, with the ability to monitor expenditure at the required level of granularity, e.g., by country, programme, expenditure type, class of travel, etc., which is a key requirement for stakeholders.
Through MiVision, administrators can set, amend or remove card limits in real-time, enabling the organisation to respond rapidly to crisis situations and meet the needs of individual programmes. Employees and representatives, often working in challenging locations, no longer need to carry cash, increasing their personal security.
Part 4. Building financial buffers and resilience
Improving cash flow planning and forecasting accuracy was already a top-three priority for finance and accounting senior managers pre-Covid-1911, but demand and supply shocks early in the pandemic emphasised the limitations of many companies’ planning assumptions, and the need to build in greater resilience. For treasurers, this has a variety of implications, whether ensuring cash flow visibility to allow for accurate liquidity planning, ensuring the right level and cost of working capital buffers, or putting in place flexible, cost-effective financing.
This section explores:
- Building resilience across supply chains using Corporate Cards
- The financial benefits of Corporate Cards
Initiatives to increase financial resilience and agility cannot be restricted to the company’s own operations, but need to extend across supply chains. Twenty-five per cent of businesses surveyed supported the companies they worked with during the crisis by offering better payment terms12.
HSBC’s Corporate Card programmes play an important role in building financial resilience both for the company and its wider supplier ecosystem, including:
- Improving cash flow planning & extending DPO – Flexible payment terms enable treasurers to plan liquidity needs with greater certainty, and extend days payable outstanding (DPO) without delaying supplier payments. This can be particularly useful for smaller or non-strategic suppliers that are not part of the company’s supply chain finance programme
- Minimising working capital funding costs – planned payment dates mean that treasurers can minimise working capital buffers, therefore reducing the cost of working capital financing
- Access flexible financing – with up to 56 days interest-free credit, HSBC’s Corporate Cards offers a cost-effective, flexible short-term funding facility. This, in turn, frees up cash for business purposes or to invest in the money markets
- Leverage unutilised credit lines – companies that already have corporate card programmes in place for T&E may have significant unutilised short term credit lines. By expanding the use of corporate card programmes to other supplier expenditure, or setting up a corporate card programme for the first time, companies have access to a flexible, cost-effective form of short-term financing. As a result, other credit facilities can be used for other purposes as opposed to financing working capital
- Create a revenue stream – rebates from corporate card-based spend can be a significant revenue stream, potentially funding further improvements in treasury and finance digitisation
- Increase supply chain resilience – suppliers can be paid quickly, increasing their own cash flow predictability and the robustness of their working capital position
A global healthcare provider had been settling supplier payments electronically or by cheque, often up to 60 days after invoice approval. This created working capital challenges for a wide range of suppliers, from hospitals to hotels, whilst adding significantly to the company’s payment processing burden. The company, therefore, decided to work with HSBC to implement the bank’s Virtual Card solution with a view to improving suppliers’ experience of working with the company.
Suppliers now benefit from almost immediate payment, reinforcing relationships and enhancing their working capital position. At the same time, the company has gained better control and predictability of supplier payments, with up to 56 days interest-free credit providing significant working capital advantage.
With an extensive footprint and financing for more than 200,000 vehicles annually, our client is one of the largest and longest established commercial and personal vehicle loan providers in South East Asia. The company needs to insure its rental vehicles, which in the past has locked up USD 3-5 million in working capital each month. It can take up to a month for insurance companies to process vehicle and borrower data, so our client made payments to insurance providers 30 days in advance using real-time domestic payments.
To unlock working capital, without compromising supplier relationships, our client worked with HSBC to implement a scalable, secure Corporate Card programme. Suppliers receive settlement almost immediately, so payments no longer need to be made in advance. The programme has a 30-day billing cycle (which covers the processing period and an additional 15-day repayment period from the statement date. Our client, therefore, benefits from up to 45 days of interest-free credit and predictable outflows, enabling treasury to plan liquidity and leverage cash in the meantime for other business purposes. The financial benefit is estimated at USD50-60 million per annum.
Rebates from Corporate Card spend can be valuable contributors to revenue or cost efficiency initiatives. The higher the value of transactions flowing through Corporate Cards, the larger the rebates a firm can generate. The decline in T&E spend has reduced many companies’ rebate potential, leading many to consider expanding the use of cards to other direct purchases, as well as indirect spend such as subscriptions, utilities, or corporate real estate.
Virtual Cards and card-not-present solutions that do not require a physical card also offer an opportunity to extend card use to other payment categories, such as commercial insurance claims, asset management fund redemptions to institutional customers, or government support funds to businesses and other institutions.
A global digital advertiser had provided HSBC T&E cards to its employees, many of whom were engaged in frequent business travel. With global travel massively reduced as a result of the pandemic, the company worked with HSBC to rapidly repurpose existing credit lines to provide a digital, Virtual Card payment solution for supplier payments, ensuring business continuity and stability of their supply chain during a challenging period.
Switching from electronic payment to Virtual Cards offered significant working capital gains, enabling the company to benefit from interest-free credit without compromising suppliers. This gave the company greater financial flexibility to purchase additional advertising opportunities, and with high spend volumes, the team was also able to generate a rebate.
Conclusion: Thriving together with HSBC Corporate Cards
The COVID-19 vaccine is giving business and finance leaders greater confidence and determine how best to adapt and shape their business for the future. Many put in place digital ‘quick fixes’ during the crisis, but are now looking at more permanent solutions that reflect the needs of a “new different” in which sustainability, agility and resilience are the dominant themes. In many cases, companies are revising their workforce and workplace strategies, with remote and hybrid working likely to play a far more significant role in the future, enabled through digitisation.
HSBC Corporate Cards are a key part of business and finance leaders’ toolkit to achieve these objectives, supporting operational efficiency and agility, control and compliance in a disseminated working environment, whilst building financial resilience and flexibility. They are also instrumental in helping corporations thrive by achieving their corporate responsibility objectives towards their employees, their stakeholders and their wider supplier ecosystem.
For more information on how HSBC can help meet your needs please contact your local HSBC representative or visit gbm.hsbc.com
2 Fortune / Deloitte, CEO Survey, June 2020. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/us/Documents/CMO/fortune-deloitte-CEO-survey-october-2020-highlights.pdf
3 HSBC Navigator, “Resilience: Building Back Better”, May 2020. https://www.business.hsbc.com/navigator/resilience-report
4 Fortune / Deloitte, CEO Survey, June 2020. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/chief-executive-officer/articles/ceo-survey-gauging-priorities.html
5 HSBC, ibid.
6 Strategic Treasurer, B2B payments survey, 2019. https://strategictreasurer.com/2019-b2b-payments-survey/
7 Responding to the Crisis: Commercial Cards in the time of Covid-19, RPMG Research Corporation, June 2020. https://rpmgresearch.net/pdf/RespondingToCrisis.pdf
8 RPMG, ibid
9 23rd Annual Global CEO Survey, PWC, 2020. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-survey/2020/reports/pwc-23rd-global-ceo-survey.pdf
10 Strategic Treasurer, ibid
11 Future Ready, Finance Survey, KPMG, 2019. https://home.kpmg/xx/en/home/insights/2019/09/succeeding-where-it-matters-least.html
12 HSBC Navigator, “Resilience: Building Back Better”, May 2020. https://www.business.hsbc.com/navigator/resilience-report
Published: March 2021
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