Fleet News

Guest opinion: technology fuels network growth

##JeffWoodward--left## JEFF Woodward, UK retail fuel cards manager for BP, argues that the fuel card market is set for dramatic change over the next five years as fleets demand more service and value.

'How can you be sure that the fuel claims of your drivers are all that they seem? The simple answer is you can never be 100% sure. Allowing drivers to pay and reclaim the costs of their fuel opens up a host of ways for them to bend the rules.

In this context, fuel cards have well-documented benefits, including pre-purchase options that can be tailored to your fleet, detailed central invoicing and, in some circumstances when dealing with oil companies, discount on the fuel itself.

What is often overlooked, however, is the uses of the information that is captured on a fuel card. The simple fact is that although most fleets using fuel cards will receive some kind of analysis of the data from the card supplier, few fleet executives make full use of its potential.

Now that most fuel card suppliers have launched online account management, the burden of wading through hundreds of pages of reports is a thing of the past.

Details of fuel transactions can be interrogated as never before. With BP fuel cards there are more than 40 separate pieces of data captured with each transaction, ranging from the time that the driver was at the service station to vehicle mileage.

Fleets tell us that what they require most from this data is a summary of usage, fuel consumption figures and exceptional items. All of these are now easily achievable.

So where do fuel cards go from here? The next five years will give fuel card suppliers various challenges. The continued battle against fraud is top of the agenda. BP has recently introduced online authorisation of its fuel cards across its network. This opens up the possibility for greater security checking.

By 2005 all businesses accepting credit/debit and fuel cards in the UK must have the facility of checking in-card microchips and demanding pin numbers in order to align with EU legislation.

This will allow fuel card suppliers to secure their card transacting environment as well as develop tailored customer offers to meet the needs of the industry.

The UK has seen card fraud losses rise significantly in recent years, reaching £411.4 million in 2001, which represents an increase of 30% on 2000. Rises in counterfeit and fraud on transactions over the phone, mail or internet were the main reasons behind the steep increase.

Criminals have increasingly adopted these fraud methods to take advantage of technology and new payment channels.

The investment required to implement a chip and PIN system in a card is significant. The total cost to banks and retailers will be about £1.1 billion. The demands of drivers have also changed in recent years – they will expect to find much more than the traditional sweets and cigarettes on sale at a service station. Drivers now see the necessary evil of refuelling as an opportunity to refuel themselves with coffee, snacks and somewhere to rest. Convenience is the key.

If a driver can use a visit to a service station to not just purchase fuel and goods from the shop, but also to use a cash point, browse the internet or post a letter then the whole experience becomes more enjoyable and importantly, productive.

The idea of convenience is a major influence on the network of service stations in the UK. It is predicted that the network will shrink significantly over the next few years. Drivers will no longer be able to find a service station on every corner. There will be a greater reliance on a strategic approach to network planning to service the fuel card industry.

However, the network of the future is likely to look a little different from that of today.

Service stations, although fewer in number, are likely to be larger in size and will offer a far greater range of services.

There have been significant changes over the past five years in the fuel card market, driven by the increasing levels of sophistication required by fleet decision-makers. The next five years will see this sophistication raised to new levels – there will be greater demands of technology, insistence on a quality, convenient network and, above all, value for money.'

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