Few areas of corporate spend see a more complex mix of spending strategy than in business travel and expense management. Whether it’s an employee booking a flight using a company card or spending their own money for reimbursement later, corporate travel spend typically consists of a mesh of payment technologies, and visibility into overall spend can get buried along the way.
John Rizzo, president and COO of Deem, a corporate travel booking platform, recently told PYMNTS that changing payment behavior — on both the employee and employer end — are forcing businesses to access multiple T&E solutions at once. API technology, he explained, offers a way for companies to integrate all of these solutions together to gain spend visibility back.
“API technology allows all of us — Deem and other providers in the business — to aggressively develop without having to be tied to solutions where, if we change something on our side or if they change something on their side, the interface becomes broken,” Rizzo said. “The API is a really elegant way of creating openness between two platforms with stability — that’s a massive trend in the travel and expense management business.”
Deem recently deployed API technology to launch Deem Open Expense, which allows its business clients to integrate the travel booking platform of Deem with its other T&E platforms like Chrome River or Expensify.
Current market conditions demand such a solution, Rizzo said; according to the executive, about five years ago, there was a surge in “single-vendor integrated travel and expense technology.” Businesses would choose a single provider for all of their needs and link that single platform to their back-end finance and accounting systems. Recently, though, there has been a new trend of “independent best-of-breed” solutions, he said, where these platforms specialize in a particular aspect of the corporate T&E process.
“There’s no reason companies have to make a decision — customers can choose their travel platform and then pick an expense tool of choice,” he said. “They’re able to have a choice on their T&E tools regardless of whether they come from a single vendor.”
But adoption of multiple platforms for corporate travel and expensing needs effectively creates silos within the enterprise when it comes to understanding business spend on this front. Making matters more complicated, explained Rizzo, is that as consumer payment habits evolve, so do employee payment habits.
“When it comes to virtual payments, there is a new set of workers emerging — younger employees — who use things like Venmo and other payment platforms that aren’t even credit card-based, and they don’t have a corporate card,” he said. “That’s how they run their lives, personally. There is a wave of employees who manage personal finances in one way that’s quite different from the way they might have been managing before with corporate cards.”
He offered one example of an employee who uses Uber while on a business trip. That Uber ride might be linked to a PayPal or Apple Pay account, not a credit card at all, creating yet another source of payment data that a company will need to capture in order to expense and reimburse properly — and analyze employee spending trends.
“Having those payment methods accounted for and connected into these systems is another point of friction,” said Rizzo. “The more dollars spent off-platform, the harder it is for companies to have visibility into the spend.”
That’s on top of the already complicated payment practices in which employers may use a mix of their own personal cards, virtual corporate cards, cash, Venmo or other payment platforms to file an expense report later on.
API technology that facilitates integration and data sharing across platforms is integral to sorting out the picture of employee and corporate spend, Rizzo explained. And it’s not just about having data flowing from the booking platform into the expense management portal, either — data flow, Rizzo added, must be bidirectional.
“The reason that having data going back from the expense system into the travel system that’s interesting is that we can’t capture 100 percent of the expenses of a trip,” he explained. “For example, if an employee decides to take an Uber from one place to another, takes customers out to dinner or goes to a copy shop to print copies of a presentation, all of those expenses are not in the platform — they’re on the employee’s credit card. To have data come back from the expense system means we can present interesting things to employees while they’re booking their flights.”
Having access to all of that data from other expense management platforms can allow an employee, for example, to gain insight into how much they have already spent that month on business travel before they book another trip — allowing them to spend company funds more wisely and remain within company requirements.
Ultimately, though, today’s corporate travel space demands businesses and their employees have choice — both in how employees spend company money and how businesses track that spending. APIs that enable data sharing across a range of platforms make spend tracking easier, Rizzo said.
“This is a trend you’ll see over and over again — customers, whether or not they’re travelers or travel management companies or corporate travel managers, need choice in picking the best-of-breed technologies to solve their problems,” he stated. “Choice is generally good — and APIs create choice.”