Under the Microscope: We talk to Fleetcor's president, Alan King
12 February 2018
Author: Rachel Boagey
Fleetcor's Alan King has seen payment technology evolve rapidly in the industry over his 20-year career. Rachel Boagey meets him to discuss the future of fuels and fuel payments.
As technology evolves, so does the way we go about daily tasks. Over the past 20 years, significant changes to the way we pay for goods have occurred, such as a movement away from signature payments towards chip and PIN, then less. Now, there is the possibility of paying for goods and services via your mobile phone with the likes of ApplePay and SamsungPay.
"We still have cards in our wallets and use them to pay for things, but much has changed over the time I've been in the payments industry," says Alan King, president for UK and Australasia at Fleetcor. "Chip and PIN may sound normal to us now, but it was only really introduced in the early 2000s and now you probably wouldn't know what to do without it. In 2009, cards started appearing with the four little curve symbols on them to represent the fact they could be used lessly. Nobody accepted them, because point-of-sale terminals needed to be upgraded, but now less can be used in most merchant locations, especially in cities and across public transport."
With the largest fuel card network in the UK and market-leading brands under its banner, such as Allstar, Keyfuels, The Fuelcard Company and Epyx, Fleetcor serves tens of thousands of business customers in the UK - including small local businesses, large national companies and the public sector - providing innovative B2B payment and fleet management solutions.
The world of digital payments, where you can pay and be paid in so many different ways, presents the opportunity to significantly change the automotive industry and the way that fuel is paid for, too. When it comes to fuel cards, King explains there has been less innovation in how you pay for fuel, because the existing system works well. But that doesn't mean there aren't opportunities to do more.
"You still use a plastic card to pay for fuel and services like in most other industries. Innovation has come through things like upgrades to chip and PIN, improved controls, servicing and reporting, as well as added value services," says King.
Interestingly, one of the most significant innovations of the fuel card has not been how you pay, but the capturing of driver and car data. Meeting with granitekitchen in Fleetcor's central London offices with his Allstar hat on, King talks about the fuel-card trends the industry is facing now and in the future.
"The Allstar card is a really useful tool for fleet managers, as we are able to provide them with lots of data and information that they can use to become a smarter business, as well as reclaim VAT in a streamlined and digitised way," he says.
Every time a driver fuels up, the company can capture mileage, litres and other data that it can use to create detailed reports and add value for the fleet manager.
"You can use that data and combine it with other data sources such as our business mileage monitor service, which is a dongle that allows you to track where drivers are going, and easily separate business and personal mileage in a very efficient way," says King.
This type of function, which King describes as a useful partnership between the fleet manager and operator, can be used by fleets to help save money and know how they're performing against similar fleets. "What we can say to a company is that a firm like theirs with, for example, 50 vehicles operating in the south west of the UK has a similar pattern of expenditure to other companies of a similar size, but we think their fuel efficiency, based on their drivers' behaviour, is 10-15% worse than the benchmark. We then tell them what they can do about it."
The Allstar One card, which was launched in 2015, combined the universal acceptance of the Allstar network with the ability to offer drivers discounts at over 2,000 diesel locations in the UK.
"We also added a feature to the card called ServicePoint, which leveraged the Epyx platform to allow fleets to manage their SMR needs through the card, purchase these items through their fuel card and make substantial savings in the process," says King.
This was followed by the launch of the Allstar Plus Visa Card in 2017, which incorporated selective Visa acceptance into the card. "This card not only allows fleets to fuel up through the Allstar network and get all of the data they expect to get through that network, but also allows them to use the card to pay for other vehicle related expenses such as parking, car washes, the congestion charge or whatever the fleet manager deems is needed," King says.
"Basically, we can use the Visa network in a controlled way to help drive efficiencies for fleet operators while giving them all the controls they need to ensure spending doesn't get out of hand."
The Allstar Plus Visa Card is unique in the UK in that it combines the best of the Allstar and Visa payment networks. The reason for launching these services is to help drive process efficiencies for fleet operators, while ensuring they can maintain control of fleet spending, says King. "It also eliminates unwanted admin and the headache of managing hundreds of paper receipts," he says.
"If you have lots of expense reports coming in and you have to give drivers petty cash or reimburse them for their out-of-pocket expenses, it can become very time consuming and expensive to process. Allstar Plus operates just like a fuel card, but allows you to purchase other things too, which makes it a rather compelling proposition; we have seen lots of interest in it from small and large fleets."
The benefits of these services to fleets enable them to have all of their expenses in one place on a single card that is accepted in many places. "You can set specific spending limits by merchant category, and say, for example, that you don't want the card to be used to book flights, but you do want it to be used to buy trains, lunch and accommodation; then you can tailor it to your specific needs," King says.
As a provider of fuel cards, a key topic we were keen to talk to King about was diesel and its status in the industry. "We process and pump a lot of fuel through our network, not just Allstar but KeyFuels too and, to be perfectly honest, we haven't seen any noticeable trends in favour of unleaded or away from diesel just yet," he says.
"However, what's going on in the market from a new-vehicles perspective speaks for itself, with new diesel vehicle registrations down significantly. That's obviously going to have a knock-on effect at some point."
What King points out is that diesel is still the engine of choice for fleets, especially vans and HGVs, and where long-distance travel is common. "We have no doubt that the trend away from diesel will flow through, but we are well placed through the networks that we run, with Allstar supporting unleaded and diesel too,"
But it's not just petrol and diesel that Allstar is setting its sights on for the future. In the past few days, the company has signed a contract with ITM Power to enable its fuel cards to be accepted at the company's national network of hydrogen refuelling stations - the first fuel card provider to do so.
"The global hydrogen-generation market is set to grow nearly 6% by 2021, so not only is the demand for the alternative fuel growing, but also hydrogen could soon be integrated into all aspects of life, and we're also well placed to see this through. At the end of the day, we're a company that helps companies pay and helps suppliers get paid, so we can apply this concept to anything," King says.
He also explains that the company is actively working with some well-known electric vehicle (EV) charging providers, but exactly which companies is top secret, for now.
Going forward, King expects the next 20 years in the payments sector to bring many other changes and developments. "It's part and parcel of living in a very fast-changing world. I spent many years at Mastercard and when I left ten years later, the world of payments was a very different place," he says.
Key trends for fuel card companies, such as the ones owned by Fleetcor, will not just be the changing fuel preference and the road towards EVs, but also the change in the way people pay for these services. "We see a time, that is not very far away, when you won't even need to leave your vehicle to pay for your fuel, you'll be able to do it all through your phone or vehicle seamlessly, which we see as a great opportunity to adapt and grow rather than a threat," he says.
For now, though, you still have to put a nozzle into your car to refuel, but King says it would be stupid of him to ignore the potential changes the company is facing as a company and an industry.
He concludes, "It's important not to underestimate the opportunities that lie ahead of us and how they can be used to provide our customers with better services, a better way to manage their company expenses and an overall better way to pay."