Interview: Behind the scenes at Allstar fuel cards
27 May 2014
Author: Jack Carfrae
You could be forgiven for thinking that Allstar just did the fuel card. It's got the biggest network in the country, and you're hard pushed to find somewhere that sells petrol and diesel and doesn't accept a payment card with the company's logo on it.
Changes are afoot at the company though, and if all goes to plan, it won't be long before it's doing a lot more than handling fleet fuel spend.
Managing director Callum Gibson explains the firm's ambitions to BusinessCar: "Our gåoal is to enable businesses to have a single payment mechanism, single reporting, single VAT reclaim around any kind of business travel, so we're looking to extend this to car parking, tolls, and any kind of other payments that sit around a car user: road fund licences, you name it. It's the ability for us to then take that and make it available to our customers, but all payable through an Allstar card."
The firm's plans to spread its wings stem from parent company Fleetcor, which took the reigns from leasing firm Arval in December 2012. Fleetcor has a clutch of other fuel companies in the UK (including the Fuel Card Company and Keyfuels) and overseas, as well as a number of other corporate travel businesses within its portfolio.
To that end, it's well placed to start leaking other products into the UK, which is exactly what it intends to do over the next 12 to 18 months. A chip-and-pin payment service for the Allstar card will be the first big move (see 'Chipping away at the network', right) and is currently scheduled for the end of April.
Although exact time scales have yet to be confirmed, a series of new services are due soon afterwards. Gibson continues: "What you'll see is a number of enhancements through 2014 and 2015, either around the core fuel product or around other services."
One of the ideas in the offing is a hotel service for employees out on the road that could be paid for, potentially at discounted rates, by the fuel card.
"We have a hotel business in America, so when you're moving workers around from A to B, we'll then provide them the low-cost hotel ability with the card," says Gibson.
Another likely move is the integration of telematics systems with fuel cards. Fleetcor already has two telematics companies overseas and Gibson believes there is "a huge amount of synergy in combining a fuel card with a telematics provider".
"Telematics gives you a huge amount of information, but when you overlay fuel data on top of that you effectively end up completing the circle and you get a full insight into what's going on on your fleet - not only on the telematics and data side but also in terms of a fuel card coupled with telematics information giving you significant cost savings as well."
Again, nothing is set in stone as to exactly what is coming and when, but Gibson has some ideas: "Telematics companies provide in-vehicle screens or modules. The thinking on that is that we can actually start messaging and being much more prescriptive to drivers around 'your tank is low, the best site for you to fill up at along your route is.'
"As opposed to buying a fuel card or buying a telematics system, we can see those two merging over time into a complete solution."
Another, less technical development is the idea of sending offers to drivers as a way of getting them to buy discounted essentials.
"Because of the nature of mobile [phones, etc.] we can start using our network to bring services to drivers, so using geocoding and with approval from the fleet owner, we'll be able to put specific offers in front of them that may help drive loyalty or drive behaviour to enable more cost savings or more efficient management of the vehicle," says Gibson.
This is something the firm has actually received requests for, and not from businesses looking to plug their wares. Gibson says fleet operators have been in touch, asking about the feasibility of large-scale offers to help cut their costs.
"Some of them are large corporates [with drivers] out on a national scale, and they're saying to us 'it would be really beneficial if you could provide us with an offer for car washes'.
"These are things the customers are asking for - it's not necessarily an offer I would think about. It's that kind of offer that a company could use its buying power and our buying power to negotiate an offer that, if the relationship hadn't existed, we wouldn't have been able to do."
The last in the line of the firm's developments that it is willing to let slip is more mobile phone apps and integrating them with satellite navigation systems.
"[Apps are] something we're hugely interested in developing at the moment. There are a couple of things in the market already - we have our branded apps that enable customers to understand where your nearest site is; we'll do fuel and price comparisons on those apps as well. We've also worked recently with satnav companies. One of the issues for us around apps is that they're great but you can't use them on the road; we're working with is the likes of TomTom Garmin to enable our customers to download our site-mapping app onto their satnav."
Chipping Away at the network
The Allstar fuel card is about to ditch the current signature service in favour of a chip-and-pin system as part of a tie-up with payment giant Visa. The move, which is set to come into force in April, will allow users to pay via pay-at-pump systems, often found on supermarket forecourts, and is said to improve security by reducing the chances of fuel fraud.
Allstar managing director Callum Gibson explains: "We're going to continue down the path of adding Visa to the Allstar card and bring in the latest Visa chip-and-pin. On the one hand, you can increase fraud protection and control what drivers use. We will deploy the controls, if the company wants, into the fleet so the fleet manager can start stipulating how people use fuel products.
"Let me give you an example: 'Callum is a diesel driver so there is never any need for him to fill up with petrol' - the fleet manager can set up an account where it doesn't do that. Secondly, we can address accounts where drivers are filling up unnecessarily with premium fuels, so again, we can start enabling them to run a programme that educates their drivers and over time turns that off."
The tie-up with Visa is due to go one stage further after the chip-and-pin rollout. The payment giant's logo will eventually be added to the Allstar fuel card, which should bump up fuel coverage from roughly 95% of UK filling stations at present to 100%.
"It's not going to happen in the initial chip-and-pin but we have plans to roll that out in late 2014 or early 2015," says Gibson.
One of the developments Allstar has already rolled out in 2014 is a new two-card scheme known as Allstar Premier, which incorporates a Diesel Discount card. The service marks a tie-up with sister firm and fellow Fleetcor brand Keyfuels, which specialises in supplying fuel to the transport, haulage and commercial vehicle sectors, where it is able to offer discounted diesel. The move opens up "discounted sites" within Allstar's existing petrol station network, where drivers can receive up to a 20% saving on diesel, it claims.
The standard card is accepted in around 8000 petrol stations, and the Diesel Discount card works at 1700 sites within that network.
Peter Bridgen, managing director of Keyfuels, explains the programme: "It's based on a two-card solution and takes advantage of Allstar's massive network, but within that there's almost 1700 sites that are discounted sites or commercial sites that are on the Keyfuels network. It enables us to bring two cards together."
Drivers can locate the discounted service stations via a mobile app, an online fuel-finder programme and through files that could be downloaded onto satnav systems.
Bridgen says the service would also comprise an easier, single, billing system: "While it's a two-card solution we're going to deliver single billing, single invoicing and also single data, so the data delivery is one file. They'll get both sets of transactions in the same file if that's what they want."
He also speculated as to the savings available from the service: "If you look at a fleet of about 100 vehicles, we reckon a 100 vehicles could save as much as £20,000 a year on their fuel bill. Obviously, there are a lot of bigger fleets, some of which are using payment cards and doing it on a pay-and-reclaim basis. Savings are significant, so on diesel it could be up to 4ppl depending on the make-up of the fleet."
Bridgen described the 1700 discount petrol stations as "a mix of different brands".