I’d heard of fleet cards before, but I didn’t know much about them. For those who were like me a fleet card is like a consumer gas card, but designed specifically for a business’s unique needs. What this means is you get your gas expenses in a single card, typically with a nice savings at the pumps. You read that right, fleet cards save you money directly on your gas or fuel purchases. The card we have saves us 8 cents a gallon, all day long, every day, 7 days a week, and even on holidays. This is nice, and we’ve noticed the savings in our overall fuel expense, but that’s not what really has saved our company so much trouble with managing our fuel expenses.
We have 22 vehicles in our fleet, not a huge fleet, but big enough that it creates a lot of considerations to manage it effectively. We grew chaotically and just had corporate cards that we kept in the glove box of each vehicle, didn’t really think much of it. We got busier, and our business expenses expanded, we had more vehicles, more drivers and just assumed it was the cost of doing business. But as growth slowed we noticed our fuel expenses continue to expand, we attributed this to rising fuel costs that all of the news stations reported. But then common sense entered the equation one evening.
My wife commented “with gas prices dropping we’re spending less on gas for our car, which is great with a road trip vacation summer”. She was of course referring to our personal gas expense, but then it dawned on me, our businesses fuel expense has been increasing, but our business has been increasing. This made me wonder how this could be. The answer was disappointing and one of those lessons in leadership that I never would have expected in business.
Our employees, our hardworking employees were stealing from us. These are good people, not hardened criminals who have a history of theft, in some cases people we’ve known for years. This was a hard pill to swallow and one we knew we had to navigate carefully. This is where fleet cards came in to save the day. We deducted that our employees were getting things from the convenience store when filling up, we suspect it started innocently enough, a cup of coffee or soda, then a sandwich or slice of pizza, but when the cat’s away the mice will play. In time we believe it turned into beer, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. I’m not judging our employees, I’m sure they had their reasons, but from our perspective we gave too much freedom and it was time to retake control of our fuel expenses.
We couldn’t call out our employees for stealing, besides it would have been hard to prove. We needed a tactful way of solving this problem without calling them out or we would have had a lot of churn, which costs us a fortune, or worse, theft would escalate in retaliation. As I said earlier, that’s when fleet cards came to the rescue.
With a fleet card you can restrict purchases to just gas or diesel, i.e. things at the pumps ONLY. No more innocent (or not so innocent) self-imposed treats to our drivers. My cynical side would have enjoyed seeing the look on their faces when they tried to charge something other than fuel or gas. Magically, our fuel bill started to decrease, within 1 month we saw a 25% decrease in our fuel expense, all by providing a logical “guardrail” to keep our employees on the straight and narrow. Again, it’s not to say our employees are bad people, they absolutely are not, many are like family to us, but when some are given too much freedom undesirable traits surface.
In addition to reducing theft it also streamlined our accounting, no more pulling fuel from our corporate card expenses and reconciling being manual and time consuming for our cards, it saved a lot of time and almost surely improved our accuracy. It is critical for business expenses to be categorized correctly or you have errors in your tax filings and that costs you money no matter what happens.
If you have a growing business that relies on vehicles we highly recommend checking out a business gas card for your business, the link is the one we ended up going with.