The simple fact of paying for something a month after
you’ve bought it can make a tremendous difference to
company cashflow, according to Tony Goodwin, chief
executive of Antal International, a world-wide recruitment
agency with 180 staff in five Asian offices including Hong
Kong and Singapore, and around U.S.$15 million annual
turnover. “You improve cashflow management because
you always feel that someone else is shouldering
responsibility. It buys you another month, which is very
important,” he says.
Mr. Goodwin is expanding rapidly in the region, focusing
on both large and on-the-rise small cities. “As the
business grows, we will do it through the use of corporate
cards,” says Mr. Goodwin. “They’re integral to the way we
Being able to check the business spending of his Asian
employees from any device, through online monitoring
software, has been a great help, says Mr. Goodwin. “It has
made corporate cards even more of a resource. Along
with my chief financial officer, I can check balances and
who is spending what.”
Antal has operated in the region for 17 years and has no
problems paying with corporate cards. “They want to
embrace the Western way of doing business and
corporate cards fall into that category,” Mr. Goodwin adds.
For employers, the advantages of giving employees
corporate cards extend beyond the issues of monitoring
and cashflow. As Richard Koch, head of the card
payments policy unit at U.K. Cards Association, an
industry body, points out, digital systems allow companies
and organisations (such as governments) to collect
payments data and put it to all kinds of uses.
“There is considerable scope to collect large amounts of
data and use it to arrange purchasing discounts,” says Mr.
Koch. “And companies are always keen to use this
data to monitor spending. They can also set limits on
certain kinds of spending, or decide what suppliers their
New technology allows people to link data from lodge
cards (business travel accounts), for example, with other
cards that employees hold, then aggregate the
information and allow combined spends to be signed off
by an employer. This saves time for both employees and
employers getting approvals for spending and dealing
“Many companies in Asia have found that
corporate cards allow people to buy things they
need for their business in an efficient way, saving
them the administration and hassle of invoicing
and administration,” says Mr. Koch.
At customer management consultancy the Collinson
Group, Chris Rogers, Singapore-based director of market
development, argues that Asian companies have been
quick to recognise corporate cards as a more efficient
way of dealing with payments. Companies benefit from
gaining up to 51 days to pay for goods and services, while
their employees have less administrative burden when
submitting expense claims.
“We’re seeing growth particularly among young
entrepreneurs,” says Mr. Rogers. “It’s partly a ‘face’
issue [the status symbol of having a smart-looking card]
and partly waking up to the benefits of having a
platform that works on their behalf. A lot of SMEs are
technology-focused, so anything that can help
them be more efficient is popular.”
Mr. Rogers notes that it has been reported that the
commercial-card market in Asia will be worth up to
U.S.$200 billion a year. “The trick here is getting people to
use the card. If they are SMEs, then the user and the
employer tend to be one and the same, whereas the
employee of a larger company may simply want to use
their air miles for private travel,” he says.
Certainly there remains a little reluctance among some
Asian companies to provide employees with corporate
cards, although that attitude is diminishing. For some
there is a trust issue, with employers concerned that
employees might abuse the privilege of having a card.
The opportunities for growth are substantial. At the
Asia-Pacific Smart Card Association, chairman Greg Pote
says that while commercial cards are less commonly used
in Asia than in the U.S. or Europe at present, the scope for
more business people to use them is enormous. “Like
many Asian people in business, I stay in lots of hotels,
book flights and travel extensively around Asia. Our
organisation also organises conferences which myself or
my director usually settle using our personal credit cards.
As settling conference bills could easily be U.S.$40,000, a
purchasing card might be useful.”
If he worked with a company like Antal International, he
would already have one.
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