Even with our mobile devices, business travel today can still be quite a hassle. One of the most difficult tasks that travelers still face is accessing their company card information, says Christina Hall, senior product development manager at TSYS, but that’s just one of many problems – other serious stressors include out-of-pocket reimbursement, filing expense reports and more. MPD CEO Karen Webster recently caught up with Hall to get the key exclusive insights from a new TSYS study on corporate travel expenses. What are some of the opportunities for improving value propositions of corporate card programs – and while mobile seems like the obvious solution, what’s taking so long?
KW: We are here to talk a little bit about a study that you just completed, looking at corporate travel expenses, and in particular, corporate credit card programs. I’d love to get your perspective on what you found to be the key insights from that work.
CH: Absolutely. We entered this primary research project with the Global Business Travelers Association (GBTA) Foundation. Our main focus was to understand some of the needs and challenges with regards to business travelers and travel managers. We wanted to get a 360-degree perspective from both sides, and really understand what level of satisfaction they are getting from their current payment processes. In addition, we wanted to understand what sort of emerging technologies around mobile payments and mobile experience were influencing their work and their business.
One insight that I found interesting was the fact that from both the business traveler and the travel manager’s perspective, use of company cards was high. Well, that part didn’t surprise me, but the use of personal cards was also very high – that did surprise me.
A little more than 50 percent of companies we surveyed were doing individual versus corporate bills. Yet 91 percent of the companies were offering corporate card programs, and 60 percent of travelers were using their personal cards. So I think it depends on the circumstances and whether or not they were looking to earn corporate points or miles.
KW: That is very interesting and it must have had an impact on how that expense is managed on the corporate side as well.
CH: Absolutely, it introduces a lot of risk with regard to expense management and out-of-pocket expenses for travel managers. Out-of-pocket reimbursement is one of the frustrations that business travelers had with using their personal cards. While many of them are using their personal card, they weren’t necessarily happy with that scenario.
Another insight that was really interesting was around the use of the company card and accessing account information. The most difficult task cited by the business travelers we surveyed was accessing their company card information. And with the many, many tools that are available out there, from issuers, associations and third-party providers, you would think that it wouldn’t be an issue. Not only with accessing the card account information, but maintaining, keeping up with their receipts, keeping up with and filing their expense reports. Those were all the Top 3 challenges that business travelers were still facing in 2014.
KW: I can certainly relate to the filing of expense receipts and it really is challenging and unless you stay on top of it, it becomes a real chore. Is that one of the ways that you would advise your card issuers to think about enhancing their programs? I can imagine that not only did you draw great insights from your work, but also you probably started thinking about what can be done.
CH: Absolutely. I think there are quite a few opportunities for improving the value propositions for corporate card programs for our clients and other commercial issuers. But integrating mobile-based solutions into their expense management offerings is key. I believe, and don’t hold me to this, but there are more than 300 expense management applications in the apps market today. So there’s no shortage of technology, yet reaching the end user is still a challenge.
I would definitely encourage issuers of programs and cards to really focus on integrating mobile-based solutions in a seamless way, not only for accessing card account information but also for managing and maintaining images for receipts – and even potentially their routing, submission and approval process for expense report management. Those would be big wins for any commercial issuer looking to improve their programs.
Another interesting thing to note here is that this is not just from the perspective of the business traveler. The travel managers we surveyed had some level of influence and/or decision-making responsibility for the payment processes around travel expenses for their company. And this is one area where the feedback from both the travel managers and business travelers converged. They both wanted more improved process efficiency, more mobile integration in regards to expense management.
KW: I’m wondering whether your report shed any insights on the drivers for wanting to adopt these new mobile enabled automated technologies. Is it to actually reduce the cost of travel? Or to make travel management programs more efficient? Is it both?
CH: I think when you start looking back at some of the feedback we’ve received from travel managers, you’ll see that maintaining compliance and control, that was their No. 1 area of improvement for card programs. The business traveler is not as concerned about that. But the travel manager wants to control costs, ensure compliance to business policies and wants be able to enact granular control to really shape the traveler’s behavior to how they use the company card for business travel, and with the end result to control expenses.
There are also other capabilities such as automated auditing and implementing enhanced controls on a card program. These are things that card providers and other third-party providers can make available to corporate customers to help them manage their expenses and really audit their programs for compliance.
KW: With these very different objectives, as there always is, from business travelers that really want the convenience of mobile and travel managers to want the ability for travelers to comply, how do you advise card issuers to find that happy medium? What are some of the strategies you’re advising them to consider?
CH: At the end of the day it’s really important to focus on the user experience. It does get quite complex for card providers because you have multiple layers of users in the corporate space. You’ve got the travelers themselves, the travel manager and probably a card program administrator who may have a whole other set of objectives. So I think a focus on the end user experience, and implementing tools that will allow each of those individual types of users to be able to conduct the business that they need to conduct, is important. The business traveler truly wants to be able to conduct their travel with simplicity and ease, and wants to be able to check off the boxes that are mandated by their company policy. That’s in terms of filing their expense report, maintaining those receipts, and turning them in in a timely fashion. Whatever a card provider can do to ease and streamline the business traveler’s administrative tasks is going to be a win.
On the flip side, for the management and administration side of the company, it’s about products and solutions that can be implemented to allow them to manage their particular business. To let them be able to keep track of those expenses, and to be able to control and monitor compliance. Those tools are completely separate from the business traveler, but they provide the travel manager a way to ensure that their program is running efficiently.
I don’t think they’re in contention with one another quite honestly; I think that they are separate paths. I think a card provider who wants to grow their T&E program – a card provider who wants to retain some of that market share in terms of spend that’s going to personal cards – is going to focus on the different needs and solutions that will meet the different needs of those various constituencies.
KW: How is the business of business travel? I know that during the financial crisis, it took a bit of a hit. Is it now recovering? Is it expected to be a very big growth area?
CH: I think that we foresee modest growth over the coming years. However, business travel is still a huge expense driver for many corporate customers — in the hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s not a small addressable market, and there are certainly opportunities for growth. I think it will continue to grow as the economy continues to grow. There are external dependencies on local, national and global economies, and as we see those strengthen, we will continue to see growth in business travel.
Right now it’s important that card providers and other third-party providers in this space really focus on improving their programs and growing as much as they can.
For more information on corporate travel expenses and card programs, download the recently released TSYS whitepaper below.
Senior Product Development Manager, TSYS
Christina Hall, senior product development manager, TSYS Commercial Services, is tasked with defining the company’s commercial payments strategy and working across the TSYS enterprise to deliver payment solutions for issuers who support the small business, corporate and government sectors. Hall is a five-year veteran of TSYS, having also spent time with TSYS Information Technology, Operations Management, Consulting and Product Management. She has more than 10 years of professional experience serving financial institutions, the payments industry and non-profit organizations. Christina has a bachelor’s degree in management information systems from Troy University and a Master of Business Administration from Auburn University.