The corporate travel and expense management space has seen its fair share of M&A activity in recent years, in part because the innovation is becoming an innovation hub, attracting technology experts to launch their own solutions. It’s also because corporates today demand automation of at least the most basic of T&E tasks.
One of the largest acts of industry consolidation so far was announced earlier this month, when K1 Investment Management revealed a $125 million investment to merge the Nexonia, ExpenseWatch and Tallie brands all under Certify. But this consolidation was actually kickstarted in late 2016, when Tallie and Nexonia themselves merged.
At the time, Tallie CEO Chris Farrell told PYMNTS that industry consolidation was critical to keeping the T&E services industry competitive, agile and innovative. Now, with Certify bringing these brands and their 7,500 customers together under one roof, Certify Founder and CEO Bob Neveu said in a statement that the combined entity is “in a much stronger position to develop products and serve customers” across the globe and will be able to more adequately compete with industry leader SAP Concur.
In a recent discussion with PYMNTS, Neveu, who will retain his role as CEO of the combined entity, explained how Certify will not only be focusing on product development, but will also be able to respond to disruption in the T&E space that forces industry players to assess how they position themselves in front of their corporate customers.
Part of that self-assessment must occur because client expectations are on the rise, as T&E solutions become more prominent in the enterprise.
“When you look at expense management, everyone has to have this minimum-standard product,” Neveu told PYMNTS. “You have to have mobile receipt capture, you need to capture credit card data, you need to create an expense report and adhere to corporate policy, put it through routing and approvals. Everyone has that basic functionality now.”
T&E players today need to work out how they can differentiate themselves from the competition, he said.
“There are a lot of distinctions in the small business marketplace, where companies with less than 50 employees have a strong need for self-service and integration with, for instance, QuickBooks Online, or Xero, those self-service accounting platforms,” he explained. “Then when you look at a multinational organization, you have a much different set of needs. Multinationals have currency issues and tax issues, and you probably need to support a language or two, or ten.”
Combining perspective specialities can also make it easier to deploy new technologies and features to business clients. According to Neveu, smaller corporate clients are a bit more willing to test out innovative offerings. Larger companies, on the other hand, need tried-and-true solutions. It’s all about return on investment, the executive explained, which he said was “critical” for a business of any size to adopt some type of T&E technology.
Making the space even more difficult to service is the fact that T&E policy — and adherence to that policy — differs from company to company. One business may not have any policy in place at all, while another may be more lenient with, for example, spending limits and yet a third company may strictly enforce its rules, no ifs, ands or buts.
“That component makes a big difference to the adoption of a new travel expense technology,” Neveu explained.
Certify, he continued, can now address these varying demands across customer segments because each of the four brands has little overlap in their market speciality. Nexonia, for example, has enhanced time-tracking capabilities that Certify didn’t have until now. But it will also be able to position itself in front of key financial figures within its enterprise customers, an ability that is crucial in today’s market, the executive said.
“The space has expanded,” he noted. “The user is the sales manager, the representative, the professional. But the owner of the T&E product is the accounting team, the accountants, the CFOs, the controllers, the VPs of finance. And they have a lot of inefficiencies.”
That means as expense management solutions begin to innovate with a focus on the end-user experience, they must also explore how to service other areas of the enterprise and examine how expense management fits into a company’s overall financial strategy.
“If you look at a company that is still issuing paper checks or doesn’t have an automated procurement system or they’re billing on paper, there are a number of opportunities to service the accounting space,” Neveu continued. “Really, I think what’s happening is expense management reporting is the basic category, but it’s expanding as a category into spend management.”
That means T&E has its role in other focuses, like accounts payable, procurement, approvals and the like. As a newly merged force, Certify will be going after these spaces, Neveu noted.
“This gives us an expanded opportunity to build more functionality, to reach new partners, and allows us to go to our customer and say, ‘I know historically we solved your T&E needs, but we’d like to solve your entire accounting challenges,’” he said. “That opens a huge amount of opportunity for new innovation.”