Oil companies must work their fuel cards harder to counter the threat from commercial credit cards, warns a new report from Datamonitor.

Fuel card providers are increasingly coming under pressure from strong credit card offerings, which include benefits such as retail discounts, loyalty reward points and even fuel discounts.

Smaller companies find these benefits particularly attractive, which has resulted in commercial credit cards seeing higher growth than fuel cards.

While fuel cards generally offer a specialised and superior fuel offering, they might be perceived as lacking flexibility, said Datamonitor forecourts analyst Ricky Hill. "Their usage is largely restricted to service stations and their discounts are generally limited to petrol, diesel and fuel-related products. Meanwhile, credit cards can be used to make purchases for almost any product or service, which is especially important for smaller business," he said.

Hill added that companies often did not use fuel cards as they believed their business was too small to warrant one or they found credit cards practical because they could be used for all purchases. He advised oil companies to continue increasing the flexibility of their fuel cards and offering benefits such as multi-retailer loyalty programmes. .

He pointed to the BP fuel card as one that swapped loyalty points for products in mainstream retailers. Said Hill: "Businesses want one flexible payment card, and a fuel card which can offer that flexibility, stands a good chance of success."