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Virtual Cards API FAQ

Virtual Cards – General

What is a virtual card?

A virtual card, also commonly called a virtual card number (VCN), single use account, or pseudo card number is a digital-only card that can be created on demand through an API connection to a bank.

SVB's virtual cards are commercial credit cards that can be used by SVB clients to make payments. Each virtual card number can be created in real time, and through the API you can define a set of spending controls, attach reference data, and receive reporting on card usage.

How do virtual cards differ from traditional plastic cards?

Virtual cards are standard 16-digit card numbers and have all of the standard associated information—a cardholder name, billing address, CVC2, and MM/YY expiration date—needed to make a purchase or payment. They can be processed by card-accepting merchants through their existing infrastructure like any other card payments.

However, no plastic card is ever issued, only the virtual card number, so virtual cards are best suited for online purchases and payments where card information is directly sent to your suppliers or trading partners.

What are some common uses of virtual cards for payments?

Virtual cards are commonly used by companies for their own corporate purchasing and travel needs and as a payment method to pay suppliers for approved invoices, alongside checks and ACH.

Additionally, virtual cards are being used by companies for new, innovative payments use cases. Essentially, VCNs are programmable credit card numbers. With features such as spend controls, the ability to create one-time-use cards, and real-time authorization and decline reporting, it's possible for SVB clients to create custom, embedded payment flows unique to their business models. We've seen great use cases from ecommerce marketplaces, B2B and C2B bill payment services, on demand services, alternate lending companies, claims payments, online travel booking, and many more!

What kinds of spending controls can I set on a virtual card?

When creating or updating a virtual card, you can define the total spending limit for the card, number of times it can be used, as well as a start date and end date for when it can be used. You can also define a per transaction minimum and maximum. By setting the per transaction maximum and minimum to the same amount, you can restrict the card to only be used for that amount. Controls are also available to restrict to specific Merchant ID's (MIDs) and Merchant Category Codes.

Are virtual cards credit cards or prepaid cards?

SVB's virtual cards are corporate credit cards, not prepaid cards.

Rather than pre-funding your program and tying up cash before creating virtual cards, a credit limit is established for your card program and you will be able to use VCNs for purchases as long as the outstanding balance on your card program has not reached the credit limit. Your company will then periodically to pay SVB back for the outstanding balance as per the terms of your card program agreement.

Do virtual card numbers recycle?

No, each virtual card number is only issued once to a client, and the card numbers are not pooled or recycled over time.

Are there limitations on how many virtual cards my company can create?

No, there is not a hard limit on the number of virtual cards you can create at any given time, but the usage of virtual cards in transactions will be limited by the available credit on your company's card program.

What is an RCN (Real Card Number)?

The RCN is a "real card number" which acts as a parent account for your virtual card numbers. Each virtual card number that you create has to be assigned to an RCN. This RCN will have a credit line and an outstanding balance that needs to be periodically repaid; repayment happens at the RCN level not the individual VCN level. The RCN itself is not directly used for making card purchases.

What currencies are available and can I make international payments?

SVB virtual cards and their underlying card program are currently available in USD.

While the spending controls you set are in USD, you can still use virtual cards to pay international merchants. We recommend adding a buffer to the spending limit when creating a VCN for an international transaction to accommodate exchange rate fluctuations between the time you create the card and when it is used by the merchant. The exchange rate is set by Mastercard, and additional foreign transaction fees may apply as per your card agreement.

What virtual card reporting options are available?

You have several options for viewing your virtual card and VCN transaction details for transactions submitted through the API:

API: View virtual cards and transaction details (authorizations and clearings)

Website: View virtual cards and transaction details (authorizations and clearings)

File: If you need to send transaction details to an expense reporting provider, SVB can send a daily CDF3 file—standard Mastercard file format for card transactions. Please contact your company's Global Treasury Product Advisor if you need to set up a CDF3 file.


Virtual Cards – Credit Card Transaction Basics

What is an authorization?

When a merchant processes your VCN for a transaction, they route an authorization request through the Mastercard network to SVB. The controls you set on the VCN are checked, as are your company's overall card credit line, fraud screening, etc. and the merchant receives either an authorization approval or a decline response. Merchants are almost always required to obtain an authorization approval based on the Mastercard network rules

This authorization request step happens when the merchant keys in your virtual card to their virtual terminal or you complete checkout on an ecommerce page. It is similar to what happens with a plastic card when that card is swiped or the chip is inserted at the point of sale in a store.

Authorizations happen in real-time and reporting on authorization approval and decline events are available through the VCN API and webhook events.

An authorization is necessary to check whether the card holds sufficient funds and is approved to purchase by a Merchant.  Authorizations are available through the API in near-real time.

What is clearing data?  Is this the same as settlement data?

After a merchant receives an authorization approval, they must perform a second step to complete the card transaction and receive funds. This second step is often performed at the end of the same day or the next day, and sometimes merchants do not complete this step until goods are shipped. This second step is called clearing. Sometimes merchants refer to it as "capturing" a transaction. Clearing causes the funds to move between the issuing bank (SVB) and the merchant's acquiring bank, which is called settlement. Clearing also causes the card transaction to "post" to your RCN's account. Capture, clearing, settlement, and posting are all part of this same process.

Clearings are processed by Mastercard in batches and clearing data is updated daily through the VCN API and webhook events.

Why are transaction amounts sometimes different between authorizations and clearings?

There may be times when the authorization amount and clearing amount differ for a transaction. The spending controls you set on a virtual card are enforced at the time of authorization, but not clearing.

The most common scenario is a merchant authorizing for a higher amount based on an estimated total but then clearing for a final amount that is lower. An international transaction may also have different cardholder billing amounts due to the exchange rate changing between the time of authorization and clearing.

There are a few merchant categories in which the Mastercard rules permit a merchant to submit a clearing amount higher than the authorization amount, usually where tipping or gratuity is involved (e.g. restaurants, hair salons, hotels), but in most scenarios a merchant is required by the card network rules to submit a transaction for clearing at an amount equal to or less than the amount of their authorization approval. If you observe transactions where the clearing amount is unexpectedly higher than the authorization amount, we recommend you contact the merchant directly to investigate, and if necessary contact SVB Card Services for additional research.

What is a "forced posting"?

A forced posting is a common term for transactions where the merchant submitted a clearing event without first receiving the proper authorization approval. If you observe an unexpected clearing record that does not have an associated authorization approval, we recommend contacting the merchant directly to investigate, and if necessary contact SVB Card Services for additional research. If the transaction was not properly authorized, you may be able to dispute the transaction with the merchant


Using Virtual Cards  

Why is my virtual card being declined during the authorization process?

If the transaction is not allowed based on a control you set on the VCN (i.e. transaction amount, number of uses, validity period), the transaction will be declined and a reason will be populated in the vcn_response field.

A transaction may also be declined if your overall card program has reached its credit limit or for reasons related to fraud prevention. These program level reasons are populated in the issuer_response field.

There may also be rare circumstances where the card is declined by the merchant or their acquiring bank and are not sent to Mastercard and SVB for authorization. In these cases, decline information will not appear as SVB will not have visibility into the local merchant decision.

What happens when I cancel a virtual card?

Canceling a VCN will prevent future authorization approvals on the card. Returns will still be processed and any previously approved authorizations will still be allowed to clear based on the Mastercard Rules

Canceling a VCN also means the VCN information, authorization data, and clearing data will no longer be visible through the VCN API. If you are looking to temporarily disable a card, consider changing the controls on the card rather than cancelling it (e.g. change the total_card_limit to $1 to prevent any transactions above $1)

Cancelled VCNs cannot be un-cancelled.

How do returns / refunds work for virtual cards?

If a merchant initiates a refund, the available balance on your VCN will increase and the refund will appear on your RCN, reducing the outstanding balance owed to SVB.

Refunds will continue to work even if the VCN has expired or has been cancelled, the spending controls you set on the card only apply to purchases, not refunds.

Depending on how the merchant initiates the refund, you will only see the refund in your clearing events as a "credit" and generally will not see an authorization event for the refund. Refunds may take a few days to process before they appear on your accounts.

Can I stop a VCN transaction after it has been authorized by the merchant?

No, not through the Virtual Card API. Even if you cancel the VCN or change the spending controls on the card, that will only impact future authorizations or purchase attempts. Any existing authorizations will be honored per the Mastercard network rules and clearings will be allowed. Please contact the merchant directly if you are looking to stop or reverse a transaction after the merchant has received authorization.

What happens if I cancel an order before it the transaction clears?

In most cases, if the merchant supports cancelling an online order, and you cancel an order after a merchant has received an authorization approval but before the merchant has submitted the transaction for clearing, the authorization will remain in effect but the merchant will not submit the transaction for clearing. The available_balance on the VCN would remain reduced by the original authorization amount but if the transaction does not clear you will not be billed.

In some circumstances, the merchant will reverse the authorization approval. If they reverse the authorization approval, the available_balance on the VCN will increase by the reversal amount. However, the authorization reversal will not appear through the API as an authorization event.

How do I repay my RCN outstanding card balance?

Your RCN's outstanding card balance can be viewed through SVB Online Banking or by contacting SVB Card Services. You can schedule a payment through SVB Online Banking, contacting SVB Card Services, setting up an auto-pay schedule, or following the instructions on your paper statement

Can I add a virtual card to a mobile wallet (e.g. Apple Pay or Google Pay)?

No, currently virtual cards cannot be added to mobile wallets. They are commonly used for online purchases or for direct delivery to a supplier or vendor of you company.


API-Specific Usage

Can I reuse a virtual card?

Yes, virtual cards can be used for multiple purchases based on the transactions_max parameter that you set when creating them. You can also update the controls on a virtual card over time.

Is there a website that can be used alongside the VCN API?

Yes, authorized users at your company can log in to SVB's [SmartData card portal](https://smartdata.svb.com/). This website allows you to view the VCNs that your company has created, view transaction activity, update your virtual card program, and even create VCNs.

While you can create and update VCNs via this web interface, we recommend doing so primarily through the API. VCNs created on the website are not viewable through the API, and any updates made on the website to VCNs that were created on the API will not be reflected in the API.

What are the pre-requisites for production implementation?

In order to use the VCN API in production, your company will have to be an SVB client, and you will have to establish a virtual card program with your SVB Global Treasury Product advisor, which includes completing an application, legal agreements, and credit underwriting. Once the card program is approved and the RCN is established, SVB will be able to issue production VCN API keys.

What are the pre-requisites for trying out the VCN API sandbox (test) environment?

If you are already an SVB client, we can provide you with a sandbox (test) key once you sign the SVB API License Agreement.  Additional legal documents and forms will need to be completed for production use in order to establish the production card program.

What can be done in the sandbox (test environment)?

Our test environment allows you to check the syntax of your API code, but not to submit any end-to-end transactions. With access to our sandbox environment, you’ll be able to create, read, update, and delete test VCNs.