WEX Taps Smartphones For Fleet Management

The payment company uses apps and QR codes to connect drivers, vehicles, and payments. One of eight Elite 100 Business Innovation award winners.

Vehicle fleet owners face a lot of challenges managing expenses. Take fuel -- their vehicles certainly do, and in vast quantities. How do fleet owners make sure that their vehicles are fueled (and the data around those fuelings recorded) while keeping gas and money out of the vehicles and pockets of crooks and careless employees?

WEX, a corporate payments company, is addressing the challenge with a pilot project called Mobile Payment Gateway Enabler. This technology works with the latest smartphone and electronic wallet technology to tie payment mechanisms to vehicles, and vehicles to operators on a dynamic basis. An employee uses a smartphone to read a QR code on the vehicle, at which point the system associates the employee to that vehicle and connects the vehicle to the employee's correct payment card. The system is meant to help address fleet managers' headache of having hundreds of employees shuffling among hundreds of different vehicles.

"It doesn't matter who's driving what vehicle; drivers simply link to the QR code, and it's brought all the information together," says Steve Crowley, WEX CIO and senior VP.

Before the advent of smartphones and digital wallets, a driver might simply look in the ashtray to find a company credit card for that vehicle. Among the problems of this system, though, is the unfortunate fact that there is no guarantee that the fuel purchased by the card went into a company vehicle, or even that the purchase made on the card was actually fuel.

The Mobile Payment Gateway Enabler helps combat both problems. The gateway is able to limit credit card approvals by type, time, and location. Geo-fencing restricts the card for use only in certain places. The system can control the transaction type so employees can't use the card to buy food or airline tickets. It can also limit the number of times a card can be used within a period of time.

"We turn the credit card off, turn it back on for a limited period of time in order to make the transaction, then shut it back down," Crowley says.

WEX also is exploring partnerships and technology that would allow it to authorize the card at a particular fuel pump and limit the authorization to only that pump -- and even that, for a short period of time.

One of the early lessons from the Apple Pay and Google Wallet experience is that fraud problems generally come from unauthorized use of legitimate credit cards -- not interception of the data as it moves from one part of the transaction chain to another. Crowley says that the nature of the businesses WEX works with, where fleet managers have vetted and know their drivers, helps WEX minimize the risks on the human side of the security equation. That manager-driver relationship is part of what makes WEX systems different than an open system such as Apple Pay or Google Wallet. "We have that extra layer of trust built in,” Crowley says.

In addition to the financial management and security aspects, WEX's system returns transaction details that go beyond the vendor name and purchase amount. It provides the equivalent of an itemized invoice on each purchase, so fleet managers can track number of gallons purchased, price per gallon, and other details that let managers run a more efficient operation.

WEX intends to offer the gateway service to the fleet owner at no added cost; WEX derives its revenue from the credit card transactions that it authorizes and clears. The Mobile Payment Gateway Enabler will be going to early pilot customers in the second quarter of 2015 with full rollout scheduled for later this year.

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