CRT Insight Feature: Fuel cards – really? How long does plastic have left…?

Isn't it astonishing how many of us still talk about "the fuel cards market"? Many of the major downstream oil companies have “fuel card” divisions; private equity firms talk about investments in the “fuel card space”, and there is even a group on this app called “Fuel Card Connections” (you might even be reading this feature in that group thread (lol)).

Automotive OEM’s and leasing companies, though, increasingly talk about “mobility” rather than corporate vehicles; transport firms don’t talk about truck operations but about “logistics”. One challenger in European markets embeds its commercial fuel business in an “Expense Management” division.


All of these are enlightened choices of language, focused on what is actually delivered for the business-to-business customer. A “fuel card” is no more than a rectangular piece of embossed plastic, with either a magnetic encoded strip or a simple embedded chip in it. Nothing more, nothing less.


Some might think the point I’m making is at best mere semantics, at worst pedantry. But is it?
The language an organisation uses to describe its business tells us a lot about how it approaches its customers. We’ll place a bet with you: in our markets, we reckon providers who call themselves “mobility solutions”, “expense management”, or even “payments technologies” are growing (and will continue to grow) faster than those business which call themselves “fuel cards”. Crazy idea, maybe – but run with it. Test that hypothesis for yourself and you'll see that it stands up.

However much some of the market’s current leadership wants to remain in a darkened 1980s cave, customers don’t buy fuel cards. Sorry if that comes as a shock. Customers – always - look to achieve a balance of spend control and driver convenience. Payments are one part of achieving that balance – and cards no more than one method of payment. A method of payment which is about to be rapidly overtaken by new technologies which are safer, more flexible and more easily integrated.

Inez Berkhof, MD of MSTS Europe, has an interesting perspective on the future of payments in the fuel space: "It’s simple, really. Payments should be fast, automated and frictionless while providing fleets with choice, flexible spend control and protection. Future innovation - driven by the latest payments technologies - may lead us in a card-less direction, but must be centred on what transport customers need for growth. I believe this simple, but disruptive model will reshape the competitive landscape”

Absolutely, Inez. We might think it's all about cards. But as long as it's faster, less effort and more secure - customers will quickly exchange their plastic for something which gives them greater control. We see a market where commercial fleets have had enough of issuers deploying cards to direct vehicles to their highest margin sites. As a result, those same businesses will be the jubilant early adopters of new payments technologies which enable them to define and choose where and how they refuel.


There are a number of new payments methodologies which are starting to make traditional “fuel cards” look very clunky. A system has been developed in the Baltics which transmits a secure PIN to a driver’s smartphone. Fuel cards have been more or less wiped out in commercial refuelling in Turkey by vehicle recognition technology. And any business which thinks e-wallets and mobile payments will not penetrate into corporate fuel payments (and fast) is - quite frankly - living in never-never land.

It seems, also, that there is no shortage of imaginative new challenger in the market ready and willing to adopt these new technologies and disrupt the existing status quo. It isn’t a big stretch of the imagination to see leasing companies pioneering connected car and smartphone payment technologies in building an expense management-based proposition. Equally, you can see some of the low cost independent and/or unmanned fuel networks in Europe – or indeed the bunker networks in the UK - deploying RFID (vehicle recognition technology) to sharpen up their control offer and increase customer loyalty.

So we don’t think it’s semantics at all. If you’re still calling yourself a fuel cards business, and still think you’re operating in a fuel cards market, you’d better think again. And quickly.

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We'll be continuing our look at technological developments in fuel payments with a new Insight Feature feature each week, assessing the implications for Europe's fuel and fleet markets. Come back here next week to check out the next feature in this new technologies series: "Tele-what? Why everyone is so not getting excited about telematics..."

To find out more about CRT's work supporting companies in Europe's fuel and fleet markets, please take a look at our website at www.crt-europe.com.

To enquire about, or register an interest in our definitive report "Commercial Refuelling in Europe: Insight into Today, Outlook for Tomorrow" please contact us via the website link above or email me on npa@crt-europe.com. Intended to serve as a detailed guide for financial investors, a reliable tool for strategic marketers in the sector itself, and a handbook for new entrants and solutions providers, the report includes:


Insight into Today

 

  • •    Market size and growth, country by country
  • •    Structural segmentation of the market, and size of segments
  • •    Sale channel and channel margin analysis - segment by segment
  • •    In-depth look at today's competitive landscape (refiners, retailers, dealers/franchisees, independents, solutions providers)
  • •    Detailed look at Europe's Top 5 markets

 

Outlook for Tomorrow

 

  • •    Key trends driving market evolution
    •    Internationalization: drivers, impact and implications
    •    Digitalization: drivers, impact and implications
    •    Outsourcing: drivers, impact and implications
    •    Comparative strategic scenarios
    •    The fuel payments market in 2022

 

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