Written by Kayle Paustian, Financial Advisory Manager, airCFO.
As your startup grows, you’re constantly working to optimize the levers of your business tied to cash flow and burn rate. Many of our startup clients overlook a highly effective tool to help you do just that: credit cards.
In this article, we share:
- How your startup should use credit cards to improve operations
- How to select the best credit card for your startup
- Our favorite cards we recommend to our startup clients
Why Your Startup Should Use Credit Cards
Oftentimes, startups come to us without a clear spend management strategy and instead rely on expense reimbursements as a tactical way to manage this side of the business.
However, if a business has a large number of transactions with multiple authorized personnel making purchases, they should consider signing up for a corporate credit card. When utilized correctly, a credit card can help automate many components of startup’s accounting & finance processes, including:
It is often difficult to hold company leaders accountable to sticking to their budgets, so instead of trying to keep your leaders in line, you can limit the amount that they are able to spend, from maximum spend to merchant locking, allowing better cost controls.
Even better, some corporate cards let you place limits on specific categories. So instead of being limited after paying a large vendor expense, you can have additional flexibility in splitting the limits that each of the cards has.
Additionally, credit cards integrated with software can send automated alerts to notify the business of price increases, wasteful spending, and triage requests, and approve expenses instantly.
As the source of much of your company’s spend, your corporate card should be able to give you ongoing insight into your expenses at the vendor level.
It’s useful to be able to analyze that spend across different dimensions; for example, you should be able to toggle between a view of your Sales department’s total spend and a view of total travel spend across all departments.
Some cards also enable integrations outside of your accounting program. For instance, you can gain the ability to receive spend notifications through tools you already use like Slack.
Using credit cards creates a smoother, more timely process to track business expenses (as opposed to surprise purchases or management approvals before an employee can expense a purchase).
It also takes the pressure off of employees to front the cost, or submit the expenses, and employees do not need to keep receipts.
Whether you are managing your books yourself or using the services of airCFO, having your corporate card automatically categorize your expenses and sync with your accounting system can save hours of time each month. Some systems are better than others when it comes to sanitizing your vendor data to keep expenses consistently recorded and categorized.
How To Choose The Best Credit Card For Your Startup
At the most basic level, corporate credit cards today are a commodity – every card offers very similar financing terms and ‘perks’.
The top providers today differentiate themselves through their technology platforms that automate key processes & supercharge the productivity of Finance teams.
We recommend cards that offer these benefits:
Ease Of Use / Functionality
You want a card that integrates with back office tools, such as Quickbooks, Xero, NetSuite, and so on.
As well, it’s important to have real-time visibility into expenses and to be able to automate expense reporting, including automated receipt requests, to keep your spend data tidy and easy to access.
We also only recommend tools that have great support – a hallmark of smooth operations for any company.
Costs should be competitive and clearly communicated, including annual fees, setup fees, onboarding costs, and fraud purchase protection.
Many cards have perks, including cash back on all purchases, or points that can be redeemed for travel rewards.
Commonly Used Startup Credit Cards
When it comes to hard-working credit cards that complement your spend management strategy, there are a handful of options to consider:
The incumbent, American Express Business Platinum, has long been the answer for most founders. They’ve been forced to innovate from within as Divvy, Brex, and Ramp have come onto the scene tailoring their model to smaller business and high growth startups. Their rewards and perks are still top in the marketplace – but beware of their high annual fees.
Brex offers founders peace of mind by providing a solution where there’s no personal guarantee tied to the founder. Their rewards programs also make it a favorable option amongst the market.
Founders should be aware that they might not be accepted to Brex if they don’t have enough funds in their bank based on their underwriting process.
Unlike the AMEX credit card, Brex is a charge card. This means you cannot carry a balance month over month. At the end of the month, your bank account will be charged automatically to pay off the outstanding balance.
Charge cards like Brex do not require a personal guarantee keeping your personal credit protected and separate from your company.
For founders who want to build a budget using their spend management platform; we’d recommend Divvy. Divvy has a built in expense tool that gives startup leaders the ability to monitor spend and stay within their limits of the yearly budgets.
It offers a number of ways to redeem the points accumulated but not all of the points may be redeemed equally. For instance, travel bonuses will net you the highest benefit but statement credits will return the least.
Similar to Brex, Divvy is a charge card – you can’t carry over a balance.
Our Recommendation – Ramp
Ramp is a fast growing corporate credit card that has some unique features not found in other cards. While it is yet another charge card, it has some unique features we really appreciate as startup operators.
Ramp is ideal for teams who are looking for an automated way to analyze expenses for savings, get a top-line view of their company’s spending, and forecast spend by department, merchant, or employee with accurate, real-time data. Their product is impressive across the three dimensions that we use to evaluate corporate card options:
Ease of Use / Functionality
Ramp’s ability to provide Slack notifications will help keep you in the loop on expenses flowing through your account so you are not surprised when a $50,000 AWS bill shows up at the end of the month.
Additionally, Ramp can help you identify opportunities to save. Ramp’s analytics can detect *duplication* of software vendors. For example, if multiple employees are paying for Hubspot, it can be a sign for the business to onboard Hubspot as a permanent vendor and negotiate a contract that’s more beneficial across the board (leverage economies of scale).
Similarly, if one employee is using Monday and another employee is using Trello, Ramp will prompt you to investigate why employees are choosing to use two different tools to accomplish the same function.
Our Sr. Accountant Jon had this to say about his experience working with Ramp:
“Their integration with Quickbooks is solid. They have a pretty cool spend analysis dashboard and their tech is supposed to help companies save money by avoiding duplicate software spend. They also have Slack alerts/financial breakdowns which are useful. Finally, they just added an expense reimbursement functionality which is free and is better than Expensify.”
Ramp offers a free plan that allows unlimited users & Cards, real-time insights into savings and 1.5% cash back. In order to get Category Restrictions, Slack Integration and Vendor Management there is a $7/user/month fee attached. In partnership with airCFO, you can get started with Ramp for free.
Their rewards program is also the simplest of the alternatives where they partner with leading companies to offer their customers $175,000+ in the most valuable collection of exclusive deals, discounts, and sign-up offers in the industry. If you want your team leaders to have insight into what expenses are hitting their departments and where the expenses are coming from Ramp is a great card.
At airCFO, we take the guesswork out of finding tools and resources to manage your back-office. When you team up with airCFO, you’ll know exactly which tools work best for your specific situation, where to start, and how to make the transition to more efficient business management.
Interested in selecting the credit card that fits best into your startup’s tech stack? Or how airCFO can help take those back-office tasks off your plate? Feel free to schedule a conversation with us!
Author Note: Kayle serves as a Financial Advisory Manager at airCFO. He has a background as a fractional CFO working with multiple startups prior to joining our team. He brings a wealth of knowledge ranging from financial modeling to M&A.