Skip to content


Paper or Plastic? With Business Transactions, How About Neither?

Virtual corporate cards go mainstream in today’s work-from-home business environment

By Cody McAlester | July 22, 2020

Today, more than 80% of Americans have a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. While the broad adoption of this technology is impressive, most surprising is the pace at which it happened—that figure was just 35% in 2011. Technology adoption happens fast, and it doesn’t take long until you, or your business, are behind the curve.

If you are still playing snake on your Nokia flip phone or if your business is still issuing paper checks or ACHs to vendors—it’s time for a serious upgrade. Chris Zieber, BOK Financial’s corporate card program manager, specializes in helping companies upgrade to modern business payment systems, like MasterCard virtual cards.

In short, a virtual card is a “card-less” credit card that changes its 16-digit number for each vendor payment transaction. This simple tweak on familiar payment systems enables a faster, less expensive, more secure alternative to ACH and check payments for your business. And there might not be a better time to adopt this technology than during the current disruption cycle. According to a study done by the NAPCP, corporate adoption of virtual cards moved from 34% to 42% nationwide since the beginning of the pandemic.

“The coronavirus pandemic required a pivot from the traditional office space for many businesses, which accelerated the adoption of all kinds of technological efficiencies,” said Zieber. “While some of these, like video conferencing, are a good temporary solution to serving clients remotely, adoption of virtual card processes offers benefits with real staying power.”

Faster network speeds

While the Paycheck Protection Program helped alleviate short-term cash flow needs for many small businesses, a look at current payment processes could also be of benefit for companies of all sizes.

“Now that business is beginning to open back up in many parts of the country, the cash conversion cycle is starting to thaw,” said Zieber. “But over the long-term, the most sustainable way for businesses to maintain credit capacity is with quick cash conversion facilitated with a virtual payment method.”

Accelerating the cash conversion cycle benefits both you and your vendors, and virtual cards are essentially the 5G of cash flow. By facilitating instant, virtual payments, waiting on physical checks to be delivered and clear with a financial institution is a thing of the past.

Lower your monthly bill

Not only can virtual payment processing help speed up the cash cycle, but the cost savings are substantial. Virtual cards can allow for early payment discounts with vendors while extending the time for payment to the card provider. Another benefit: businesses may be able to redeploy their human capital in more efficient ways.

“Reconciling transactions through a virtual card is much less time-intensive, freeing up employee resources in your treasury department,” said Zieber. “Human error is also reduced because each virtual card payment has a unique account number, making account reconciliation much easier.”

Along with lowering costs, most corporate card programs offer a rebate program for card usage. Frequent users stand to see substantial amounts of cash back.

No shared data

Account fraud and phishing attacks are ever-present, but the pandemic has emboldened scammers. Making the transition from paper to electronic-based operations is essential to support remote operations, create workflow efficiencies and reduce the risk of fraud, but the addition of virtual cards provides an extra layer of customized protection.

“One of the most valuable reasons to consider a virtual card for your company is the improved security provided with specific transaction-level authorization controls,” said Zieber. “This enables businesses to define who, how, where and when accounts are used, which further curbs the risk that fraud poses to your business.”

More than a hands-free device

There is always a learning curve when adopting a new technology, and virtual card systems are no exception. Finding a vendor that not only helps your business optimize its payment process, but that also continues the partnership past implementation is key.

“We pride ourselves on the relationships we build with our clients,” said Zieber. “From getting on the phone to set this up with your vendors on your behalf during the conversion process, to continuing education for you and your employees on an ongoing basis—our goal is an ongoing, exceptional relationship for our clients.”