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February 10, 2017 4:02 PM, EST
Fuel Cards Advance
Fleets Save Time, Money With Technology-Enabled Services
Comdata

This story appears in the February 6 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

Trucking companies today are doing much more with fuel cards than purchasing diesel. As card issuers deploy technology to connect new services to their cards, fleets are using them to better control fuel spending, gather data on their operations and even book hotel reservations.

Increasingly, fuel card services are accessible on mobile apps and limited only by a fleet’s needs and, to an extent, by its credit worthiness.

“I use my card for [International Fuel Tax Agreement] reporting and to see what my trucks are consuming weekly,” said Jaime Fernandez, director of operations at American Shield Transportation Inc., a small carrier based in West Covina, California.

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Fernandez said he also appreciates the fuel discounts negotiated by his card issuer.

“I get 10 to 12 cents a gallon cheaper than what’s out there. I can also get truck washes and cash with my card,” he said. “Fleets not using fuel cards are definitely missing out on a lot of services.”

Because fleets’ fueling and administrative needs vary widely depending on their size and operations, card providers regularly expand their services or offer new ones.

Wex Inc., provider of Fleet One and Electronic Funds Source fuel cards, introduced ClearView, a web-based fleet analytics tool, in late 2015.

“We found in our market survey that 45% of fleet managers were looking for tools to help them analyze and optimize their operations, and ClearView does that,” said Bernie Kavanagh, senior vice president at Wex. “It’s an easy-to-use tool that helps fleet managers uncover cost-saving opportunities, saving tens of thousands of dollars in some cases.”

Along with fuel cards, Wex’s EFS subsidiary provides customized services designed to help carriers better manage and control fuel expenses while providing increased visibility of their operations, as well as increased efficiencies through EFS’ integrations with carriers’ back-office systems, said Tim Hampton, senior vice president at EFS.

EFS’ fuel management and reconciliation feature allows fleets to audit transactions and ensure they’re receiving the discounts they have negotiated with merchants.

“The tool can provide benchmarking, auditing, reporting, compliance-tracking and price discovery as it relates to fuel expenses,” Hampton said.

EFS also offers Carrier TrendSource, a proprietary web portal that uses the “big data” collected by EFS to reveal trends.

Fleets can use the site to benchmark against peer groups, create actionable items and build dashboards to spot trends and standouts across a variety of performance metrics.

Wex acquired EFS last year for about $1.1 billion. The transaction, first announced in October 2015, closed July 1.

Comdata, another fuel card provider, offers services tailored to fleets of different sizes, said Greg Secord, president of North American trucking at the firm.

The company’s FleetAdvance program offers integrations with transportation management systems, which are used by the majority of fleets with 100 or more trucks, he said.

At the same time, Comdata offers its MyFleet program for customers with fewer than 100 trucks, which usually don’t have a TMS and don’t require those integration capabilities.

Both programs offer radio frequency identification, or RFID, to speed the fueling process and add a level of security.

“RFID technology cuts a ton of driver time because the pump is activated as soon as they drive in,” Secord said.

The service also helps prevent fraud “because you absolutely ensure that the truck is where it’s supposed to be for it to get fuel,” he added.

Fleets with TMS software can work through their systems to turn a Comdata fuel card on, equip it with spending limits and allow the user to pay for fuel or another expense before turning the card off again. Card charges also can be tied to a particular job via the TMS.

Fleets without a TMS also can use their Comdata cards to pay for a range of items, including oil changes and overnight accommodations, if company management chooses these features. Transactions simply appear on the fleet’s card statement.

The company also launched its Comdata Hotel Network last year.

“This was huge for fleets, because they want the card to be the vehicle for purchasing everything,” Secord said. “And because Comdata books millions of rooms a year, our customers can save 20% on hotel costs.”

Central Freight Lines Inc., a Waco, Texas-based regional less-than-truckload carrier with more than 1,000 trucks, uses Comdata’s hotel feature regularly.

“It has allowed us to save thousands of dollars per month on lodging expenses,” said Todd Militzer, the fleet’s chief financial officer. “The hotel network was exactly what we were looking for to keep our guys safe on the road and worry-free in emergencies without breaking the bank.”

Central Freight Lines ranks No. 94 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

Fuel card providers can offer fleet customers a vast array of data. The Voyager Fleet Card, issued by U.S. Bank, captures 117 pieces of information that can be sliced and diced in customer management reports, said Marie LeMoine, vice president at U.S. Bank.

Those reports can reveal dollars spent at each merchant, nonfuel purchases and the cards with the highest fuel volume purchased, for example.

“How you use the card depends on what kind of data you need, at what level of granularity,” she said. “You might be satisfied just knowing that Driver X had $100 in fuel expenses this week. Or you may want to drill down to learn what kind of fuel was purchased and where, what the odometer reading was at time of purchase and whether these things correlate appropriately. With our card, managers can take a high-level glimpse of their operations or turn a microscope onto specific activity — it’s as easy as setting report parameters.”

Until last fall, U.S. Bank offered two types of fuel cards, one for light- and medium-duty fleets and one for over-the-road carriers, but now the company offers a single card for all vehicle classes.

“The Voyager Fleet Card brings together two closed-loop networks, with all the complex functionality needed by commercial, heavy-duty vehicles at truck stops, as well as the more standard controls needed by fleets that use retail gas locations,” LeMoine said. “It makes a fleet manager’s job easier to have just one card, portal and network with a view across all vehicles and transactions.”

John Elliott, CEO of Load One, a 325-truck fleet based in Taylor, Michigan, said his company uses its fuel cards primarily as a data-collection tool and to direct-bill with vendors.

“We don’t use them as fuel management tools per se because we negotiate directly with suppliers on our pricing,” Elliott said. “But we’ll have our fuel card provider do studies to compare the fuel pricing they’re seeing in the market to the pricing we’re seeing. This helps us validate that we’re making the best fuel-purchasing decisions for our company.”

Most large fleets have fuel cards, but the market penetration appears to be lower among smaller fleets, said Jake Zuanich, president of P-Fleet Inc., which offers the CFN and Fuelman cards and is a channel partner for the Voyager card.

Instead of fuel cards, smaller trucking companies “may be using credit cards, debit cards or cash,” he said.

To serve one segment of the small fleet market, P-Fleet offers the GoDirect fuel card for independent contract haulers.

Fleets with fuel card accounts typically allow their owner- operators to use them, “but that can be challenging administratively, because the carrier has to deduct those charges, keep track of them and then deduct money from the [owner-operator’s] settlement check,” Zuanich said.

Contractors hauling for a card-approved carrier are automatically approved for a GoDirect card “with the agreement that we’ll deduct their charges from the carrier’s payment to them,” Zuanich said. “It’s much easier, because this takes the carrier completely out of it and the invoices go directly to the [owner-operators].”

Pat Callahan, owner of Callahan’s Express Delivery in Eustis, Florida, has a GoDirect card for the five to 10 trucks he uses for contract work with XPO Logistics.

“I use the GoDirect website attached to the card to track fuel prices, track mileage and make changes to my drivers list,” Callahan said. “I also use it to check on my drivers, and I get alerts when something’s not right.”

For example, Callahan said a driver might run personal errands with a company truck or use the company fuel card to put gasoline in a personal vehicle.

“If you compare super gasoline and diesel fuel, they’re about the same price, and a driver might think I won’t notice the difference,” he said. “But I get an e-mail alert when something happens that’s outside the criteria I’ve specified, so I call the driver.”

Callahan once discovered that one driver was taking a truck home.

“I saw the mileage and the fuel amount, and he was $100 over budget, so I asked him if he was using my truck for his personal use,” Callahan said. “He said his car broke down, and he didn’t think I’d mind.”

Phoenix Intermodal Management Services Inc., of San Antonio, contracts with about 120 drivers who use GoDirect cards.

“The drivers get their own cards and can have accounts in their names,” company controller Ross Darilek said. “The drivers agree that whomever they’re working for will withhold money from their checks to pay on their behalf — or the drivers can pay for the fuel themselves. And we don’t have to do the accounting.”

One aspect of fuel card services that issuers were loath to discuss specifically was pricing.

“The cost is net positive for any fleet,” Comdata’s Secord said. “There are transaction fees with each transaction on the card, but in addition to fuel discounts, customers get price comparisons that can save even more, and then there are the antifraud measures. The compliance piece also saves fleets money, because they don’t have to hire someone else to do that work.”

All card issuers interviewed said customers can be billed daily, weekly or monthly.

“The longer it takes to bill and collect, the higher the credit that’s needed,” P-Fleet’s Zuanich said.

Card issuers also agreed that business is growing and that the largest opportunities for expansion lie with smaller fleets.

“There’s probably no more mobile workforce in North America than truckers,” Secord said. “We’re working to take everything mobile as we move forward and digitize our products so we can put as much technology as possible in the hands of people on the road.” ³