The rise of single-use virtual cards can largely be attributed to online shoppers looking for a more secure way to pay merchants, but applications of the payment technology have since proliferated.
Increasingly, corporates are looking to make use of virtual cards within their broader B2B payments strategies, too.
It's this increase in demand that led Privacy.com, a financial technology platform that launched as a way for consumers to generate single-use virtual cards, to expand the scope of operations and step into the B2B payments space. According to CEO Bo Jiang, the company hadn't begun to consider the B2B application until existing customers started using the platform for corporate spend use cases and requesting additional features that would support the function.
In a recent conversation with PYMNTS, Jiang said there are similarities between consumers and corporates when it comes to the benefit of virtual cards, especially revolving around the security value proposition. But placing a few hundred dollars, and tens of thousands of dollars, on a virtual card are two different beasts, leading Privacy.com to consider a different avenue to corporate adoption of its B2C product.
"We started out with the point-and-click dashboard solution, but over time we realized some of our business customers were getting bigger," he said. "They started asking for an API [application programming interface] to programmatically automate their payments."
The API Route to Virtual Card Adoption
Privacy.com is in the midst of developing that API, fueled by a recently announced $10.2 million Series A funding round.
While an online platform to manually generate a virtual card can be beneficial in certain B2B contexts, for example in the case of ad hoc purchases of office supplies or the like, an API can enable organizations to obtain the benefits of virtual cards without the friction of manual card generation or reconciliation — a task that becomes monumental in size as transaction volumes increase.
"When you start hitting hundreds of thousands, or millions, of dollars a month, automation becomes more useful,because human error grows more likely," explained Jiang. "The ability to track and push data into a database, and have real-time notifications and transactions, becomes much more valuable with scale."
Again, as a result of customer feedback, Jiang noted that the company has seen a few promising applications of the API.
One is for organizations to wield the data integration tool within their own existing back-office systems, including accounts payable (AP) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) portals. Another, however, is for third-party solution providers like expense management or procurement solutions to use the API in order to add the ability to generate single-use virtual cards automatically from directly within their enterprise software solutions.
Beyond Payments Security
For corporate payers, the value proposition in implementing single-use virtual cards to make payments expands beyond the concept of transaction security and fraud mitigation.
According to Jiang, corporates, like consumers, are looking for a more favorable payment experience. With automatic transaction notifications and other value-added features, virtual cards can provide a level of visibility and transaction data not attainable through other payment methods like paper checks. And generating ACH files can similarly be a burden, he added.
There are incentives for developers and third-party software providers interested in integrating virtual card generation capabilities into their own solutions, too. Privacy.com's revenue model is based on obtaining a portion of the interchange fee, which is partially passed on to developers. That can be an important new revenue stream for organizations, Jiang highlighted, particularly for portals that see high volumes of checks and ACH transactions passing through.
"If you're able to push some of that spend over to virtual cards, that can be a meaningful increase in revenue," he said. "With COVID-19, a lot of companies are looking for more ways to supplement their existing revenue streams, so this represents a very real revenue opportunity."
That interchange fee, however, remains a major barrier to adoption thanks to suppliers' reluctance to accept cards. While corporates can obtain value in automated single-use virtual card generation for high-volume, high-value transactions, vendors are significantly less likely to accept the payment — and its attributed interchange fee — as those volumes increase.
It will be a hurdle that companies like Privacy.com and others in the commercial card and corporate spend arena must address moving forward. For now, Jiang said that the company is leaving it up to the broader market to address.
"There are probably ways [to incentivize supplier acceptance], but we've always left it up to the merchant," he said. "If they don't accept it, it's just an additional friction for the buyer. There are huge tailwinds for corporate card adoption. It's a rapidly growing sector and will continue to grow rapidly. ACH and checks aren't going away anytime soon, but there's a lot of room to move that over to cards as we digitize the back office.
"For us," he added, "it's about empowering the business to pay with whatever method they're most comfortable with."