Virtual card solution keeps travel business moving

  • Article

With business hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Travel Company Edinburgh was in urgent need of a smooth way to keep cash flowing. HSBC’s solution put the company back in control as it adapts to thrive in new circumstances.


From a 2,000-delegate conference in Edinburgh to a Caribbean honeymoon, The Travel Company Edinburgh sets out to ensure the perfect trip for every client. The company handles business and leisure travel overseas as well as inbound visits to Scotland.

Ken McNab bought the business as a franchise in 1992; it became fully independent in 2000. Building a reputation for comprehensive, bespoke travel services, Ken and his team have grown the business to a multi-million-pound turnover.

The challenge

Inevitably, travel restrictions linked to COVID-19 put a big dent in the firm’s business. Luckily, it retained contracts for clients in fields such as oil and gas, telecoms and government, whose essential business travel was exempt from restrictions. Handling these clients’ weekly transport and accommodation needs in European and Scandinavian destinations kept the business humming.

The pandemic had another unwelcome effect, however. Both providers of the firm’s corporate charge cards lost appetite for serving the travel industry, and sought to reduce the company’s credit limits. That was an existential threat for a business that runs on making high-value advance payments for flights, hotels and other bookings.

The solution

Ken approached HSBC, which has provided the company’s business banking services for several years. After meeting to understand his credit needs, HSBC swiftly put a solution in place.

The key feature was the provision of virtual cards. This enabled events and operations team members of The Travel Company Edinburgh to make bookings via an online portal, using secure, one-off 16-digit card numbers. Within an overall £175,000 credit limit, Ken can assign individual card limits for each employee and flex these across the company in response to changing needs.

Clients can be assigned cards too, Ken explains: “A client team can use a ‘ghost’ card for their hotel stay, up to an agreed limit. When they leave at the end of the week, the hotel bills us for the amount and debits the card at the same time. We then bill the client. Because HSBC has agreed terms of 25 days’ interest-free credit, our cash flow works smoothly.”

Besides the virtual cards, HSBC provided physical corporate cards for Ken and his general manager, Angelina Fairgrieve, enabling them to pay for business expenses. Transactions from both the virtual and physical cards can be tracked on the MiVision platform.

The process

With the company’s existing card providers set to withdraw early in 2021, Ken had little time to spare. From his initial call to HSBC just before Christmas, it took just three weeks including the holiday period to authorise his credit and get the new system running.

“HSBC really pulled the stops out – I was impressed with the speed and efficiency with which they set up the accounts,” Ken says. “Unlike other providers who offered off-the-shelf deals, they sat with us and identified what services would benefit us and the terms our business needed.”

The benefits

Besides the flexibility and security of the virtual card system, Ken values the ease of control he now enjoys. The intuitively designed platform offers visibility of all transactions, with the ability to check, for example, all payments over a certain value.

“We burn up £500,000 a month to keep the business on the right level, with an average transaction of £300. It’s difficult to keep control of that,” Ken says. “Now we can look at the data on a daily basis. We can tie each payment to the right individual and department, so we can bill promptly and move the money around faster.

“It’s easier to trade with overseas hotels, because we have the ability to pay in euros or dollars. HSBC also offered us currency cards, which we might take up in future if we have clients needing smart cards or Switch cards to use abroad.

“Rather than dealing with two different provider sources, we now benefit from a simplified system and a single accounting process. HSBC have given us exactly the facilities we need to take the business forward.”

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