Commercial Payments Gets Its Own Version Of Amazon Alexa


When Tradeshift wanted to enter the mid-market level, it needed to create a business payments and expense management solution with a few characteristics. It needed to be intuitive, knowing that mid-market firms don’t always have the resources at hand to handle complex systems the same way major corporations do. It also needed to integrate a virtual card feature as mid-market firms increase their demand for the tool. And it needed to be digital, of course.

What Tradeshift came up with may surprise the B2B services market. Yesterday (June 23), the company released Tradeshift Go, a virtual assistant that helps business travelers book travel plans, make payments, manage expenses and more. In its announcement of the solution, the firm likened Tradeshift Go to Amazon’s Alexa — itself a solution that was only released to the market in 2014.

According to the company, it’s the B2B industry’s first virtual assistant.

Could it be that B2B financial services are no longer lagging behind their B2C peers? Tradeshift Senior Vice President and General Manager Sarika Garg certainly believes the answer is yes, because employees at these mid-market companies are ready to adopt these kinds of solutions.

“The beauty of virtual assistants is that, to the customer, this doesn’t seem high-tech,” Garg told PYMNTS, adding that Tradeshift Go operates as a chat-based system. “Everybody knows chat. They don’t feel afraid to take something like this on.”

After having focused on large corporations, Tradeshift explored ways to meet the procurement and expense management needs of the mid-market; Garg said the firm uncovered a few key demands from this market.

First thing’s first. “It needs to be simple for the employee,” she said. “What you’re almost trying to do is give every employee a business assistant so they can get their job done and do what they need to do — to buy their items and get back to work.”

Tradeshift Go’s rollout sees the app and browser extension first targeting the friction found in corporate travel, a spend category that Garg said is one of the largest, and least visible, for the mid-market.

“These companies typically do most of their spending using credit cards,” she said. “And it’s hard, because it’s a subscription economy; everything is subscription-based. And guess what: When you’re spending on something monthly, you’re like to pay by credit card.”

These companies, she continued, are less comfortable with the traditional purchase order and invoicing process that larger corporations go through when procuring goods. “The traditional P2P concept is almost not natural to these businesses,” Garg continued.

But the use of the credit card has drawbacks. Garg said that mid-market companies often risk fraudulent activity on their card solutions because multiple employees are using a corporate card, and each of those professionals then hands that card info to another few dozen suppliers.

Developing a solution for this space needed to include support for subscription payments and a more secure way to use cards.

“When we spoke to CFOs and controllers, they said their biggest problem is they just don’t know what their employees are doing,” the executive stated. “Who was spending what. And even if they found out, it was too late to do anything about it.”

Traveling employees present some of the biggest challenges for tracking and managing spend, so Tradeshift had to develop a solution to tackle this issue. Its strategy with Tradeshift Go, Garg explained, was to enable virtual card spending through the virtual assistant.

A user can send in a request to make a purchase on the virtual assistant; once approval is received, the assistant facilitates the creation of a virtual card for the exact amount of the transaction. V-cards provide real-time approvals, faster payments and deeper visibility and control into what an employee is spending corporate funds on, Garg said. (Tradeshift doesn’t issue these virtual cards themselves, rather it partners with other payments companies to enable this feature.)

“We’re seeing a lot of demand [for virtual cards],” she explained. “CFOs understand what virtual cards do for them, and they get very excited about it.”

Virtual cards provide the spend protection and transparency the firms need and still enable companies to build up points and rewards.

Simplicity, support for virtual cards and greater spend visibility are all key for supporting mid-market payment practices, but Garg highlighted one last challenge these kinds of companies face: Sometimes, when things get hectic, you just need someone there to help you out. Mid-market firms, however, rarely have the resources and expertise to provide a business assistant, certainly not to every employee.

But the technology out there today, she said, that combines artificial intelligence and virtual assistant capabilities, means mid-market companies can access the help they need, whether it’s to receive approval for a purchase or handle the crisis of a canceled flight.

Perhaps B2B FinTech isn’t so behind-the-times as its reputation suggests.

“That’s the leap into the future that we’re taking,” Garg said.