Wooing Small Business With Business Credit Cards

A few weeks ago (April 18, 2007), Discover Financial Services launched a new business credit card that offers frequent flier miles to small business owners. Among the credit card brands, Discover was one of the last to start offering business credit cards to the small business sector. Reportedly, this is only the latest in a virtual avalanche of business credit cards designed for small business.

One cannot but wonder at the sudden interest.

Perhaps a glance at recent research material will offer some clues. Data shows that in 2006, the small business sector spent $4.9 trillion; but only one-twentieth (5%) of that money was paid through business credit cards in any form (credit or debit card). The credit card companies now want in on that huge market, and believe they can induce small business owners to not only make use of their business credit cards but also to spend more on their cards.

To achieve this, the credit card companies will have to convince the small business owners to use business credit cards in less traditional ways. Traditionally, business credit cards have largely been used to cover travel and entertainment expenses. What card companies want is for businesses to use their business credit cards for everyday spend.

This is the reason behind the new cash back rewards business credit cards. These cards offer 5% discounts on purchases of office supplies, gasoline, courier services and other essential business needs. MasterCard even went as far as launching a business credit card targeted at a specific industry: contractors and construction companies. MasterCard was also the first card company to provide zero-liability protection to small business credit card holders.

Discover’s recently launched business credit cards offer small business the chance to purchase checkbooks. This enables small business owners to pay for purchases from vendors that don’t accept business credit cards. These checkbooks tap into the spending limit on their Discover business credit cards. Visa offers a directly competing program.

American Express sponsors various networking events for small business credit card holders. It also features one of the most extensive business resource databases to help users of its business credit cards to address and resolve their everyday business management problems and concerns.

How big is the potential market for business credit cards, you may ask? If you take the $4.9 trillion small business spending in 2006 and double the current business credit card spend from 5% ($245 billion) to 10%, you have $490 billion. If you charge 15% interest on that, you have a $74 billion potential contribution to profits. In fact, market research companies forecast double-digit growth in small business credit cards between now and 2010, and total charges are projected to reach $740.2 billion by that year. That is a lot of profit.

It has been an uphill climb to get small business owners to subscribe to an expanded use of business credit cards. It takes time, but eventually business owners will respond. One issue that business credit card issuers will have to address is the marked preference of small businesses to pay their full balance for the month as and when it falls due. Card companies do not earn from such transactions. That should be food enough for thought.


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