Q & A: Charging Ahead

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With a history dating back to 1950, Diners Club International has grown into a respected global brand with a proud heritage as the world’s first charge card. It is now issued in more than 200 countries and accepted by 14 million establishments around the world. Hot on the heels of the launch of Diners Club SA’s new rewards programme, Grace van Deventer, Head of Commercial Cards, took time out to answer a few Business Traveller Africa questions.

Q: In the charge card space, how do the needs of business travellers in Africa differ from those elsewhere in the world?
A:
Although the requirements are similar, the business traveller’s need is largely driven by what is currently available and accepted in Africa. Africa is still predominantly a cash-driven economy and faces various challenges from a local regulatory and infrastructural perspective that inhibits card payment expansion. Although there exists technology that allows you to use your cell phone as a point of acceptance for card payments, and you can use GSM technology and the web for the routing of transactions, there is a long way to go, particularly when it comes to travel payments.

Q: How has Diners Club adapted its offering to address these differences?
A:
Our focus is largely on South Africa, but we’ve built acceptance for our cards in about 18 markets across Africa, and we have aspirations to start issuing corporate cards in those markets. We are also in the midst of reviewing our e-commerce strategy.

Q: What role do you believe the charge card should play in the corporate travel space?
A: How businesses pay is vital in terms of tracking, monitoring and accounting for travel spend. Travel expenses are one of the largest controllable expenses after salaries and information technology; however data systems are vital – not just for the company but also their suppliers.

Q: Are things like lounge access, travel insurance and links with loyalty programmes now a given?
Q:
Yes, across all major card offerings. Diners Club has recently launched its own rewards programme called ClubMiles, which gives companies the flexibility to redeem their rewards by booking almost any airline. We have noticed that with all things being much the same, flexibility has become a major differentiator, and of course service. The programme will be expanded to accommodation and car rentals over the next few months..

Q: What are the benefits of ClubMiles?
A:
Members have flexibility regarding their choice of airlines, flights and seats. They can pay for airport taxes with their miles and they get free basic travel insurance cover if under 74 years of age. Personal card members receive 2,500 joining Miles on their first eligible transaction after registration. Any BA or SAA reward miles will be calculated up to the time that a member moves to ClubMiles and will be allocated to the relevant frequent flyer number. Platinum cardholders will earn 1 Mile for every R7,50 spent. Corporate cardholders will receive 1 Mile for every R12 spent.

Q: Just how important and topical is the issue of effective reconciliation in the current charge card space?
A:
It’s probably one of the most topical issues at the moment. Companies find it challenging to collate accurate information from different sources and currently obtain this information in various formats.

Q: The Corporate Card is one of Diners Club’s many travel-related products. Why was it developed and what are its benefits?
A: Corporate cards are most often issued to company executives who frequently travel and need to settle their travel and entertainment bill directly. Internationally there is a preference for a corporate card in wallet, which makes it easier to track and account for travel spend, however due to South Africa’s mandatory environment we have adapted our product to allow the customer the choice of issuing the card with the liability resting on the company, or in the cardholder’s personal capacity. The cardholder also has access to over 450 airport and member lounges around the world and can link it to various loyalty and rewards programmes we subscribe to, including our own.

Q: What are currently the biggest talking points in the charge card space?
A:
Automated end-to-end expense management and streamlining bill-backs, subjects we believe are not mutually exclusive. Bill-backs are extremely labour intensive due to the amount of supporting documents that need to be reviewed. The piece of paper that is required to account for a particular purchase is also slow to reach the right hands, which causes delays in the accounting and payment process and often leads to additional costs in terms of penalties, both direct and indirect. Diners Club’s Dynamic Virtual Card provides the additional reference data to streamline reconciliation and enhance reporting. It further reduces costs and improves cash flow, as the merchant discount rate is carried by the vendor whom is settled immediately, rather than the TMC. Through the once-off issuance of card information online, it eliminates the need to store card information and reduces the risk associated with the distribution of card information to third parties.