The future of travel payment – virtually here!


It’s an indisputable fact that an ever-growing majority of people, via their smartphones, are living lives of instant gratification. It’s also a fact that the number of business travellers worldwide is increasing, while their average age is decreasing.

Driven by their need for real-time convenience, more and more of these techno-savvy, younger business travellers demand the same multichannel payment experiences they’re accustomed to in their personal life. For example, in one trip, travellers on arrival can pay cash for their visas, use a company credit card or virtual card for their accommodation, and pay taxis through a digital wallet powered by MasterPass.

Therefore, while cash is still an option, especially amongst the older generation, digitisation of cash and cards is on the rise, negating the need for business travellers to carry a physical wallet.

The advantages are immediate and real. Digital payments provide the traveller with a better, more seamless experience and alleviate security issues associated with carrying cash or cards.

Essentially, when it comes to payments in business travel, there are three main problems:

‘Card not present’ fraud

A huge, worldwide issue, this is a type of credit card scam that usually happens online or over the phone. Virtual credit cards can alleviate these situations. They are a free service provided by the original card issuer to their customers who want to perform an online payment with the help of their credit cards. A virtual credit card is, in fact, just a credit card number. The virtual card issuers generally provide a software program to be set up on the customer’s computer. This software helps the customer generate an interim credit card number, linked to their permanent one. Customers can then use this interim number for making online purchases. This temporary number cannot be traced back to the original credit card or to the customers’ identity; which means online hackers or deceitful merchants are unable to access the sensitive data. Thus virtual card payments, by delivering a single-use number designated to a single transaction with one supplier, prevent ‘card not present’ fraud.

Policy compliance

Traditionally, corporate credit cards have been seen as the most compliant payment tools. They’re not. Employees can use them at will. This requires audits to make sure that transactions match travel policy, while bookings must be matched to payments manually. With virtual card payments, however, bookings are automatically matched to payment.

Expense reporting

Travellers reconciling expenses into expense reports takes time away from productivity, and can result in non-compliant travel spending. Virtual card payment applied upfront prevents dishonest reporting, gives control back to the travel manager and reduces travel expenses.

Although virtual cards are not yet as common in South Africa as they are in the United States and Europe, corporate technologies and business travellers’ attitudes are evolving rapidly. For example, VCpay is a virtual MasterCard available in South Africa, while earlier this year, Standard Bank launched South Africa’s first virtual card ecosystem. This virtual card can be used on all local websites and will soon be compatible with international platforms. In this dynamic, techno-driven environment, travellers are advised to, while still perhaps carrying cash and cards, acquaint themselves with mobile wallets and ask their companies about the future implementation of virtual cards. Reason is, the future arrives very quickly.