Home / Glossary / What is a virtual card?

What is a virtual card?

A virtual card is a payment method that is virtual rather than physical. It functions similarly to a traditional credit card but takes the form of a single-use 16-digit number and three-digit CVV code generated online, instead of a plastic or metal card that is received through the post.

Virtual cards are accepted anywhere traditional physical cards are used, but come with a range of features, controls, and benefits that make them uniquely valuable to businesses. They can play a key role in streamlining how business payments to suppliers or vendors are made.

Fitting into existing accounts payable strategies, virtual cards extend working capital solutions to tail-end suppliers who don’t tend to adopt supply chain finance or dynamic discounting. They also offer significantly improved security controls for businesses, minimizing the risk of fraudulent payments and maverick spend.

The concept of virtual cards isn’t especially new, with a range of institutional banks already offering virtual card products. However, newer virtual card solutions that integrate seamlessly with existing centralized ERP and accounts payable systems offer considerably more value to businesses looking to improve their ability to manage working capital more effectively.

How virtual cards work

Unlike traditional credit cards, which feature a single 16-digit card number and CVV code used repeatedly until the card’s expiry date is reached, virtual credit cards are generated digitally for each individual purchase.

In the typical supplier payment process, they act similarly to traditional credit cards, with a few key differences:

  1. After invoice approval, accounts payable or an automated ERP system sends details of the required payment to the virtual card provider
  2. A single-use account with the required controls is created, and the virtual card account details are sent to the supplier who is being paid
  3. The supplier can enter the virtual card account details into their POS, and it is authorized by their bank almost instantaneously, making the funds available in their account
  4. Settlement data is matched with payment instructions and buyer-side reconciliation is carried out automatically in the ERP system
  5. The buying company pays the bank that issued the virtual credit in line with the virtual card terms, preserving working capital that would otherwise have been due on the invoice date

Once a virtual card payment has been made through the process described above, the associated account is defunct. The account details can no longer be used, and future payments will involve the creation of a brand-new set of virtual card details.

Key benefits of virtual cards

Improved working capital management

In challenging economic conditions, having more control over cash flow and holding on to working capital for as long as possible is a priority for businesses looking to build resilience or grow. Supply chain finance and dynamic discounting solutions enable this aim, but they typically exclusively target larger suppliers.

That leaves the tail-end of your supplier network isolated outside of your working capital management program. Virtual cards are a way of reaching them. They’re the ideal solution for onboarding the suppliers who you interact with in high volume, low value transactions. With a virtual card, you can pay these suppliers in a way they’re familiar with, while preserving your working capital for the length of the payment terms.

Unlike more complicated working capital solutions, rolling out a virtual card solution doesn’t involve significant negotiations. That means you can deploy a virtual card program on a short timeframe, capturing opportunities without compromising your working capital management strategy.

Reduced risk of fraud and maverick spend

Fraud, both internal and external, and maverick spend are damaging to otherwise successful working capital management strategies. Traditional payment methods, such as paper checks and cards on file, are both vulnerable to these risks.

Virtual cards offer greater control and security than the alternatives. Because they operate as unique, single-use accounts, pre-programmed to be charged for the exact amount necessary, they are immune to common fraud and spend control pitfalls.

Using a virtual card means that you can’t be overcharged, misplace your physical card, lose a check in the mail, or suffer from maverick spend. A virtual card can only be used to pay the invoice or group of invoices it’s generated for.

As virtual cards largely operate as a self-service payment method – in that it’s the supplier who’s due the payment that triggers it – they also minimize the liability involved with having to store supplier payment details internally.

Streamlined accounts payable process

Optimizing accounts payable processes can result in significant operational efficiency improvements. Virtual card programs that are integrated with existing ERP and accounts payable systems streamline the way accounts payable works.

Adopting such a program in place of traditional payment methods minimizes the manual burden on the accounts payable team. Sending checks and making payments manually using cards on file is labor-intensive, but the virtual card payment process is quick and simple.

Natural integration with a broader ERP also means that virtual card payments are reconciled automatically. Many virtual card providers also offer in-built cash analytics features, helping to analyze spend and track performance.

Integrating a virtual cards solution

Adopting virtual cards has the potential to revolutionize how you manage payments to small tail-end suppliers. These suppliers, who typically don’t subscribe to more substantial supply chain finance or dynamic discounting solutions, represent an opportunity to improve your working capital management strategy.

Taulia’s Virtual Cards solution integrates with your broader AP process and facilitates secure fuss-free transactions that work for both you and your suppliers. Implementing a virtual card program alongside other solutions aimed at larger suppliers can expand your working capital strategy’s coverage to include your entire supplier base. It’s the missing piece in your working capital arsenal that can make all the difference in your ability to build a strong and consistent cash position.

Accounts receivable automation (or AR automation) is the practice of automating parts of the accounts receivable process in a business. Learn more here.
Flexible Funding is a feature for Taulia Payables that allows buyer organizations to use the right funding at the right time. It gives corporate treasurers options to meet their short-term cash flow needs without restricting the liquidity suppliers rely on.
A working capital funding gap is the difference between short term assets and short-term liabilities. Learn everything you need to know about funding gaps here.
The accounts receivable (AR) process is the series of actions businesses carry out to collect their accounts receivable. Learn more about it here.
The accounts receivable (AR) process is the series of actions businesses carry out to collect their accounts receivable. Learn more about it here.
Accounts receivable factoring is a way for businesses to secure financing by selling their unpaid invoices for cash. Learn more in our glossary post.
Debt financing allows businesses to borrow money to fund their short-term needs. Get a full definition and explanation in our guide to debt finance.
Working capital funding, also known as working capital financing, is a method of business financing. Learn more about the types of working capital funding here.
Integrated ERP systems refers to the combination of an ERP with integrated modules that can help you manage diverse business processes from one platform.
Lean supply chains are designed to maximize efficiency. Learn all about the principles of lean supply chain management in our glossary entry.
Learn everything you need to know about supplier segmentation, including what supplier segmentation model to use and how to tackle the process, in our guide.
What is ESG? ESG stands for environmental, social and governance. Together, these three principles form a framework that’s used to measure how sustainably, ethically, and responsibly an organization is acting. ESG is most often used to describe the efforts companies take to mitigate the potential negative outcomes of their operations. It also refers to a…
What is supply chain management? Supply chain management (SCM) describes the process businesses use to manage the flow of goods, data, and payments throughout a supply chain. Effective supply chain management is instrumental in ensuring every element of the supply chain works towards achieving broader business objectives, whether that’s cost-efficiency, resilience, quick order fulfillment, or…
What is supply chain optimization? Supply chain optimization is the process of refining the structure and operation of a supply chain. It aims to make the best use of resources and technology to extract greater efficiency and performance from the supply chain network. Well-optimized supply chains enable businesses to meet their broader objectives, whether that’s…
What is accounts receivable? Accounts receivable (AR) is the term used to describe money owed to a business by its customers for purchases made on credit. It’s listed as a current asset on the balance sheet, representing the total value of outstanding invoices for products or services sold but not yet paid for. Total accounts…
What is cash flow management? Cash flow management is the process of optimizing the flow of money in and out of a business to achieve a specific operational aim. Effective cash flow management enables businesses to use their working capital better and fuel growth or build resilience. It involves using several levers, including the approach…
What is strategic sourcing? Strategic sourcing is the term used to describe a strategic approach to the sourcing process. It involves the same fundamental steps – research, analysis, negotiation, contracting, and onboarding of new suppliers to fulfill demand for goods or services – but is oriented to contribute to broader business objectives. It also often…
What is automated spend analysis? Automated spend analysis is an automatic digital process that captures, consolidates, and interprets spend data across an organization. It’s used to provide insights into spend efficiency and effectiveness, informing sourcing and purchasing decisions. It’s typically facilitated through dedicated automated spend analysis software, usually integrated with a wider enterprise resource planning…
What is the new FASB accounting treatment for supply chain finance? In September 2022, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) — the governing body for accounting standards in the United States — updated its standards to include a requirement for SCF disclosure on company financial statements. For most organizations, disclosure of an existing SCF program…
What is spend visibility? Spend visibility refers to how well a company can understand and track how, where, and why capital is used in their business operations. Spend visibility increases when finance teams can more accurately see where company money is being spent. Low spend visibility is defined by difficulties tracking spend comprehensively or accurately….
What is 2/10 net 30? 2/10 net 30 is a trade credit often offered by suppliers to buyers. It represents an agreement that the buyer will receive a 2% discount on the net invoice amount if they pay within 10 days. Otherwise, the full invoice amount is due within 30 days. It’s one of the…
What is working capital ratio? Working capital ratio is a measurement that shows a business’s current assets as a proportion of its liabilities. It’s a metric that provides an overview of financial health and liquidity, indicating whether current liabilities can be paid by existing assets. In the case of working capital ratio, assets are typically…
What is a virtual card? A virtual card is a payment method that is virtual rather than physical. It functions similarly to a traditional credit card but takes the form of a single-use 16-digit number and three-digit CVV code generated online, instead of a plastic or metal card that is received through the post. Virtual…
What is e-procurement? E-procurement refers to the set of digital processes that dictate B2B buyer-supplier relationships in the supply chain. Utilizing technology, e-procurement aims to centralize the workflows involved in purchasing goods or services and bring about efficiency improvements. It’s essentially the digitization of the standard procurement process. E-procurement, short for electronic procurement, replaces traditional…
What is source-to-pay? Source-to-pay (or S2P) is the process that outlines how organizations fulfill their sourcing and procurement needs. It begins with the identification of demand for a product or service, encompasses steps including supplier selection, contract management, and requisition, and ends with a payment being made. It can be split into two composite sections:…
What is supplier relationship management? Supplier relationship management is the set of processes that organizations use to build, manage, and maintain relationships with their suppliers, or vendors. A supplier relationship management strategy is essential to ensure that relationships are built productively, with a view to increasing the overall effectiveness and resilience of the supply chain….
What is supplier information management? Supplier information management (SIM) refers to the set of processes or the system that organizations use to collect, store, access, and update important data about their suppliers. From contact details to contractual documentation, the data involved in supplier information management is essential in the broader process of vendor management. A…
What is AP automation? AP automation, short for accounts payable automation, is the use of software to automate part or all of the accounts payable process. It aims to create efficiency in the accounts payable workflow by digitizing how vendor invoices are received, processed, and stored. In removing manual processes and the need for paper-based…
What is accounts payable? Accounts payable (AP) represents the amount that a company owes to its creditors and suppliers (also referred to as a current liability account). Accounts payable is recorded on the balance sheet under current liabilities. When a business purchases goods or services from a supplier on credit, payment isn’t made straight away,…
What is accounts receivable (AR) financing? Accounts receivable or AR financing is a type of financing arrangement which is based on a company receiving financing capital in return for a chosen portion of its accounts receivable. An AR financing arrangement can be structured in several ways, including as an asset sale or a loan. Essentially,…
What is the cash conversion cycle (CCC)? The cash conversion cycle (CCC) – also known as the cash cycle – is a metric expressing how many days it takes a company to convert the cash it spends on inventory back into cash by selling its product. The shorter a company’s CCC, the less time it…
What is cash flow forecasting? Cash flow forecasting, also known as cash forecasting, estimates the expected flow of cash coming in and out of your business, across all areas, over a given period of time. A short-term cash forecast may cover the next 30 days and can be used to identify any funding needs or…
What is Days Inventory Outstanding? (DIO) Days inventory outstanding (DIO) is a working capital management ratio that measures the average number of days that a company holds inventory for before turning it into sales. The lower the figure, the shorter the period that cash is tied up in inventory and the lower the risk that…
What is Days Payable Outstanding? (DPO) Days payable outstanding (DPO) is a useful working capital ratio used in finance departments that measures how many days, on average, it takes a company to pay its suppliers. As such, DPO is an important consideration when it comes to managing a company’s accounts payable – in other words,…
What is Days Sales Outstanding? (DSO) Days sales outstanding (DSO) is a working capital ratio which measures the number of days that a company takes, on average, to collect its accounts receivable. The shorter the DSO, the faster the company collects payment from its customers – and the sooner it is able to make use…
What is dynamic discounting? Dynamic discounting is a solution that provides suppliers with the option of receiving early payment in exchange for a discount on their invoice. As a result, suppliers can typically access lower cost funding than they might otherwise receive, while harnessing working capital in order to invest in growth and innovation. Buyers, meanwhile,…
What is an early payment discount? An early payment discount is a form of trade finance, allowing buyers to pay a discounted amount to suppliers in exchange for settling invoices before their maturity date. Also known as a prompt payment discount or early settlement discount, it’s typically calculated as a percentage of the goods and…
What is inventory management? Inventory management is a systematic approach to sourcing, storing, and selling inventory. Effective inventory management involves optimizing the flow of goods within an organization, from purchase right through to sale, always ensuring that an appropriate quantity is available in the right place and at the right time to meet customer demand. Inventory in…
What is invoice processing? Invoice processing is a business function that involves managing incoming invoices from initial receipt through to payment. It’s carried out by the accounts payable department and is a critical component of the procure-to-pay process as the final step of any procurement activity. The invoice processing cycle is made up of several composite…
What is inventory cycle time? Inventory cycle time is the amount of time it takes to produce and deliver an order from a customer, usually measured in days. It essentially measures the speed at which a company can complete the manufacturing or assembly process from start to end, turning raw materials or components into a…
What is procure-to-pay? (P2P) Procure-to-pay is a term that encompasses the processes which take place when a company purchases, receives and pays for goods and services. The activities that make up the procure-to-pay process range from identifying the initial need for procurement of goods or services to the final steps of approving invoices and paying…
What is the procurement life cycle? The procurement cycle is the process businesses use to find and obtain goods. It involves multiple steps, including identifying the need for a good or service, finding the right supplier, negotiating terms, creating a purchase order, and receiving the delivery. It’s also known as the procurement life cycle or,…
What is receivables finance? Receivables finance, or receivables financing, is a trade finance method businesses can use to receive funding matching the amounts owed to it by its customers in outstanding invoices. These amounts are known as trade receivables or accounts receivable. By financing its receivables, a business can receive payments earlier, meaning it can…
What is reverse factoring? Reverse factoring is a type of supplier finance solution that companies can use to offer early payments to their suppliers based on approved invoices. Suppliers participating in a reverse factoring program can request early payment on invoices from the bank or other finance provider, with the buyer sending payment to the…
What is trade finance? Trade finance is the term used to describe the tools, techniques, and instruments that facilitate trade and protect both buyers and sellers from trade-related risks. The purpose of trade finance is to make it easier for businesses to transact with each other. It also helps to reduce the risks involved in…
What are trade receivables? Trade receivables are defined as the amount owed to a business by its customers following the sale of products or services on credit. Also known as accounts receivable, trade receivables are classified as current assets on the balance sheet. Most companies allow their customers to use credit on purchases of goods…
What is strategic procurement? Strategic procurement, or procurement strategy, is the process businesses use to acquire goods or services of the right quality, at the right price, and in time to meet customer demand. It brings procurement activities in-line with a company’s broader objectives, while also reducing supply chain risk. Strategic procurement is a long-term, organization-wide…
What is supply chain finance? Supply chain finance, also known as supplier finance or reverse factoring, is a financing solution in which suppliers can receive early payment on their invoices. Supply chain finance reduces the risk of supply chain disruption and enables both buyers and suppliers to optimize their working capital. Unlike other receivables finance…
What is vendor management? Vendor management is a term that describes the processes organizations use to manage their suppliers, who are also known as vendors. Vendor management includes activities such as selecting vendors, negotiating contracts, controlling costs, reducing vendor-related risks and ensuring service delivery. The vendors used by a company will vary considerably depending on…
What is working capital management? Working capital management is a business process that helps companies make effective use of their current assets and optimize cash flow. It’s oriented around ensuring short-term financial obligations and expenses can be met, while also contributing towards longer-term business objectives. The goal of working capital management is to maximize operational…