Virtual cards: 10 benefits & disadvantages you may face

4 minutes
Virtual cards: 10 benefits & disadvantages you may face
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Why virtual cards might be right for you?

Compared to physical cards the reason a virtual card might be right for you is because your business can instantly create new virtual cards for their employees and set spending limits and usage scope for each card. This gives them control over how much each employee can spend and which expense category or merchant type they can use it for.

To make contactless payments using virtual cards, you can simply add them to mobile wallets like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

As your business grows, virtual cards help boost financial efficiency and streamline the expense tracking and reporting process. Here are several reasons why your business may need virtual cards:

  • Employee cards: Your employees can use virtual cards for business-related expenses, such as business travel, meals, or office supplies. This eliminates the need for them to submit expense reports and wait for reimbursements, saving time and effort on both ends. In particular, as the global business travel industry accelerates its rebound, with projections to reach $1.8 trillion USD by 20271, businesses will increasingly use virtual cards to manage their employee spending during business travel.

  • Corporate cards: For businesses that have multiple teams or departments, virtual cards can be issued to different departments or projects. This helps in better expense management and tracking for each team, giving you a clearer picture of where funds are being allocated. For instance, virtual cards can be used to manage recurring software subscription payments and digital ad spend. By using a virtual card, you can easily track these expenses and cancel the subscription if needed by simply cancelling the virtual card itself.

  • Automated expense management: Virtual cards can effortlessly integrate with your existing accounting system like Xero or Quickbooks, streamlining the reconciliation process and reducing administrative overhead. Furthermore, businesses can use them as employee cards to simplify employee reimbursements and reduce out-of-pocket expenses from employees. By automating expense tracking and reporting, virtual cards significantly lower the risk of errors and employee fraud, which constitutes approximately 5% of a company's annual revenue.2

  • Enhanced security: Unlike physical cards, virtual cards cannot be lost or stolen. Moreover, you can instantly freeze or cancel a virtual card if you suspect any fraudulent activity, providing an added layer of security for company funds.

5 benefits of virtual cards in the UK

Integrating virtual cards into your business operations offers numerous advantages, such as improved financial management, increased security, and enhanced operational efficiency. Below, we delve into five key benefits of virtual cards:

  • Global acceptance: If your company frequently engages in international transactions, whether it be for managing SaaS subscriptions and digital ad spend, paying suppliers, or covering business travel expenses, multi-currency virtual cards like Airwallex Borderless Cards offer you a cost-effective solution for managing cross-border payments or payments in foreign currencies other than GBP. Companies using traditional corporate cards often face challenges such as high foreign transaction fees and currency conversion charges. On the other hand, virtual corporate card solutions such as the Airwallex Borderless Card can easily handle transactions in multiple currencies without imposing transaction fees.

  • Instant card creation: Virtual cards can be created instantly and used immediately for transactions, without the need to wait for physical cards to arrive in the mail or having to physically retrieve a card from the office. If you have a growing team, this enables you to quickly issue a virtual card for your new employee without any delays. Moreover, in instances where you have to cancel a virtual card due to suspected misuse, you can create a replacement card on your bank or fintech provider's website right away, ensuring your ongoing transactions remain uninterrupted.

  • Empower employee spending: Businesses can create unlimited virtual cards tailored for various purposes and employees. Virtual cards provide employees with a convenient and secure way to make purchases on behalf of the company, such as flights and hotels for business travel and entertainment expenses. European SaaS company iTrinity uses Airwallex virtual cards to better control company spend, with the ability to create 250 company cards and the option to assign them to individuals or issue employee cards (with the empoyee's name) under the company account. Likewise, iTrinity can issue a unique virtual card per SaaS subscription so it can define limits and better understand its company spend at any given time.

  • Streamlined expense management: The integration of virtual cards into expense management systems offers businesses a more efficient way to track and control spending. On average, it takes 20 minutes to complete one expense report.3 When a payment is made with a virtual card, the transaction details are immediately recorded in the expense management system, freeing up the time needed for collecting receipts and manually entering data. This real-time visibility enables companies to monitor expenses as they happen, allowing for more accurate budgeting and financial planning. As virtual cards provide comprehensive transaction data, including merchant information, date, amount, and category, they streamline the process of categorising expenses and provide more insights into company spending. The detailed collection of data, in addition to real-time monitoring, aids businesses in a much faster and more precise reconciliation of accounts.

  • Enhanced security: As mentioned, virtual cards offer real-time visibility into employee spending, allowing businesses to track expenses as they occur. This enables quick identification of overspending or any fraudulent activities, reducing the risk of financial loss. Additionally, virtual cards can be issued for specific uses with set limits and narrowed down to specific merchant types if needed. This makes it easier to track spending and prevent unauthorised transactions. Virtual cards can be swiftly frozen or cancelled on the spot if any unauthorised use is suspected. This provides an additional layer of security compared to physical cards, where the process of deactivating and reissuing can be time-consuming and costly.

5 disadvantages of virtual cards in the UK

When rolling out virtual cards to your company, you may face several issues such as providing employee training, card fees, and limited card acceptance. Here are some potential disadvantages of virtual cards to consider:

  • Employee resistance: Some employees may be accustomed to using their own personal cards or physical corporate cards and are hesitant to adopt company-owned virtual cards. A seamless transition to virtual cards necessitates company-wide training to ensure all employees are comfortable with the new system. Luckily, most virtual cards are easy for employees to learn and use. They can simply add the cards to their phone’s Apple Pay or Google Pay to get started. Moreover, virtual cards have the benefit of streamlining the expense tracking and reporting process for employees as an added incentive for them to switch over.

  • Reliance on the phone: One of the disadvantages of virtual cards is that they must be stored on mobile wallets or payment apps and accessed through a phone or laptop. However, if your device is out of battery or has a poor connection, you won't be able to use your virtual cards. In such cases, you'll need to use physical cards for payments when smartphone access is unavailable.

  • Fees: Some virtual card providers may impose various fees that add to the overall cost of using these cards. Issuance fees may be charged each time for creating a new virtual card, while transaction fees are incurred each time the card is used for a purchase. Additionally, maintenance fees may be levied on a regular basis simply to keep the card active. Using Airwallex in the UK, businesses can create an unlimited number of virtual cards for free with no maintenance fee and enjoy 0% domestic and international transaction fees on all spending.

Virtual cards vs. Physical cards

When comparing virtual cards to physical cards, the main differences lie in their form and functionality. Virtual cards offer enhanced security features and flexibility, making them ideal for businesses that seek more efficient budget control and expense management. Physical cards, traditionally issued by banks, usually offer less room for customisation and take a longer time to be issued.

  1. Format: Virtual cards exist purely in a digital format and are accessed via mobile wallets or payment apps on your phone or computer. Physical cards are tangible and plastic, designed to be carried in wallets or purses.

  2. Security: Virtual cards are often deemed more secure because, unlike physical cards, their details are stored digitally rather than printed. It is also more likely that virtual cards come with the freeze or lock feature owing to their digital nature, which is not always provided for physical cards. This feature helps prevent unauthorised transactions and reducing fraud risks. Unlike physical cards, which can be lost or stolen without the owner's awareness, virtual cards require login or biometric authentication for use, adding an extra layer of protection.

  3. Issuance: Virtual cards can be generated instantly online, offering immediate accessibility. Physical cards require a much longer processing time and may involve additional steps such as mailing the card to the user's address.

  4. Tracking and monitoring: Virtual cards allow for real-time tracking of transactions, with detailed information on each purchase. They can also easily integrate with accounting systems like Xero or Quickbooks, making expense management and budget tracking more efficient. Physical cards, on the other hand, may require manual entry of transactions into these systems, which can be time-consuming and prone to errors.

  5. Customisation: Fintech providers like Airwallex offer virtual cards that are highly customisable with adjustable spending limits and specified merchant types. While all Airwallex cards come with a default transaction limit of 50,000 USD (or the equivalent in another settlement currency), businesses have the flexibility to set lower limits as needed. This feature allows them to allocate different spending limits to various teams or projects according to the company's budget. In contrast, physical cards provided by traditional banks may impose spending limits based on your business's financial standing and offer limited customization options.

With their convenience and real-time tracking capabilities, virtual cards are fast becoming the go-to choice for many business transactions. For those looking to leverage the benefits of virtual cards, the Airwallex Borderless Card allows users to make transactions across multiple currencies without worrying about hidden fees. You can create as many virtual Visa cards as you like at zero cost. For businesses requiring physical cards, Airwallex also offers free issuance, ensuring flexibility and convenience for all. With one centralised platform, you have better visibility over your team budget and can streamline your expense management more efficiently. Sign up for your free Airwallex Borderless Card now and start spending right away.

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