Corporate card usage has surged in popularity, especially among small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) grappling with inflationary pressures and rising costs.
However, despite this trend, the traditional financial services sector continues to hinder the widespread adoption of business credit cards, resulting in a mere 28% of smaller SMBs having access to corporate credit cards.
PYMNTS Intelligence research underscores the challenges faced by these small businesses, citing factors such as cost, eligibility criteria as well as a lengthy and complex application process as the major obstacles to accessing corporate credit cards.
Malte Rau, CEO at Berlin-based FinTech firm Pliant, discussed these hurdles in a recent interview with PYMNTS, pointing to the outdated method of clients submitting written requests to their banks, triggering a prolonged three- to four-week wait for a new card with preset limits, as an added challenge.
This is in stark contrast to the seamless experience offered by virtual cards, Rau said, which enable clients to obtain and modify their cards instantly with just a click. The integration of features like Google Pay and Apple Pay for offline transactions further enhances this user-friendly experience.
Another critical gap emerges in the post-transaction phase, where businesses grapple with extensive bookkeeping for each transaction. According to Rau, this is where the value of a seamless solution, such as a mobile app, to capture transaction data and send it directly to accounting, comes into play.
“This is a key driver for the adoption of business cards, resolving a pain point overlooked by traditional banks,” he said.
Pliant not only bridges this gap but also offers clients a real-time view of spend data, eliminating the dependency on monthly bank card statements to track expenditure. Additionally, the FinTech firm provides features like displaying decline reasons in real time, reducing the need for “massive call centers” to address transaction issues, thereby enhancing overall efficiency.
Bridging the Multicurrency Gap
In a move to cater to companies transacting across borders, Pliant now offers multicurrency capabilities in 11 different currencies, enabling clients to receive bills in the same currency they transact in, while addressing the diverse needs of European companies with subsidiaries in non-Euro markets like the Nordics.
This diversity makes it crucial to offer a comprehensive “last-mile” solution that “ticks all the boxes,” he explained, especially in larger requests for proposals (RFPs), where dealing in multiple currencies is imperative.
Moreover, as businesses increasingly generate revenue internationally, Rau noted that corporate cards that enable them to settle bills in a currency that matches their international revenues is key, minimizing losses associated with volatile exchange rates.
In contrast to traditional providers like banks and established card companies, Pliant adheres to scheme exchange rates without adding extra fees, a transparent fee structure which Rau said has contributed to the increased awareness and adoption of virtual cards in the European market.
And as transaction sizes grow larger, he said businesses recognize the financial impact of foreign exchange (FX) fees on their transactions, making the cost-saving aspect more pronounced.
Controlling Flow of Funds with Ease
Having successfully secured 33 million euros ($36 million) in Series A funding in 2023 and an additional 100 million euros ($109 million) debt facility, Pliant is looking to advance its mission of reimagining credit cards, offering companies a way to issue physical and virtual cards to their customers, as well as automate payment processes and track spending in real time.
The acquisition of an electronic money institution (EMI) license in Finland last August has also enhanced its capabilities, allowing Pliant to serve customers in 25 countries across the European Economic Area (EEA), including in Spain where it recently launched.
This license provides flexibility and control over the flow of funds, enabling the development of additional in-house products and services without the constraints of relying on third-parties and partners.
“The bottom line is once you have a license and you’re able to touch money, it makes it easier to achieve a more streamlined and efficient business model, not to mention the commercial advantages involved,” Rau said.