The COVID-19 pandemic has quickened the rate of technological adoption for businesses across the globe. From equipping remote workers with the resources needed to perform their daily job functions to navigating communications, customer service and product rollouts, businesses have faced a year like never before.
Some have floundered, but those that have adapted have thrived.
Payment and technology provider Comdata, a FLEETCOR Technologies (NYSE: FLT) company, adapted and quickly rolled out a new digital payment solution in September based on its legacy Comchek payment system.
“What we saw as COVID hit was there was this pretty sudden and immediate ask from our customers as well as merchants and warehouses that accept [Comchek] that they needed a way to automate this process,” Justin King, senior vice president and head of product at Comdata, told FreightWaves.
Officially announced in September, Virtual Comchek allows truck drivers to make payments for expenses such as vehicle repair, roadside assistance, vehicle parts, equipment and services such as lumpers. A fleet using Virtual Comchek sends the driver a one-time digital payment card that the driver can access and use wherever Mastercard is accepted.
While Comdata was already developing Virtual Comchek as the digital evolution of its legacy Comchek paper product – first introduced in 1972 – COVID accelerated that development and rollout.
“We got a lot of asks for that, and fortunately, we were actually working on the latest generation of our Virtual Comchek before that happened so when COVID hit, we hit the gas on that and launched it this summer,” King said.
Moving to a virtual payment system is just one adaptation the industry has seen because of COVID. King mentioned that companies using automated payments were able to continue processing those in a timely manner, but COVID did impact the speed of payments from shippers and suppliers to carriers.
“It’s a function of accounts payable departments being remote,” he said. “Some companies were able to pivot very quickly to automated payables, which is another thing we do here at Comdata, and shift to AP clerks working at home. Some saw days payable go way out. There was some hardship there, but I think we’ve mostly recovered.”
In addition to Comchek and Virtual Comchek, Comdata offers fleet payment solutions, permit and tax services, Comdata OneLook and FleetAdvance fueling solutions, and national tire programs.
King said what he has seen, though, is a willingness of drivers to accept the digital and virtual services Comdata is now offering. He believes it is the result of a blending of a driver’s personal life and business life – as technology has overtaken the consumer world, businesses have had to adapt.
“What I’ve seen is drivers and small fleets have been much more willing and able to adopt these processes,” he said. “It’s neat to see someone post a question in a drivers’ group and everyone will pile on with how much better the process is.
“Our business lives and personal lives are probably more blurred than they’ve ever been,” King added. “Drivers have been pretty quick to adopt this stuff. They don’t want to be walking around warehouses with paper wasting time. Time is money to them.”
On broader industry trends, King said the growth of electric vehicles will have an impact on Comdata’s business, but the company is adapting to that.
“Our business is payment and fuel card payments, but our business is more than that,” he said. “It’s about control – providing data to fleets so they can control their money.”
To illustrate his point, King pointed to the rollout of Enhanced Authorization Controls. The solution, announced in September, utilizes a truck’s GPS and monitors tank capacity and tank level data to prevent fuel card fraud.
“In the future, that same technology can help fuel an autonomous truck where there isn’t someone to swipe a card,” King said.
This type of technology innovation is continuing at Comdata, and COVID has only accelerated that. King believes the industry will continue to see more innovation, comparing the introduction of technologies to the early days of the microwave.
“Once you get a microwave and realize how great and fast and easy it is, you are not going to go back to using an oven,” he summed up.