B2B Payments

Expense Management Digs Deeper Into Corporate Ground Transit

When it comes to corporate travel, ride-hailing and on-demand services like Uber and Lyft are dominating the conversation. It’s for a good reason, considering business spend on services like these has spiked in recent years.

The latest stats from travel and expense company Certify revealed that Uber secured 56 percent of ground transportation expenses for Certify customers in 2017, up from 52 percent in 2016. The ridesharing industry overall landed 68 percent of 2017 ground travel spend, towering over car rentals, which secured 25 percent of last year’s spend in this category, as well as traditional taxis, which landed just 7 percent of Certify clients’ ground transit spend.

But these popular apps, which started as consumer-facing tools but have each made recent steps to embrace business travelers, don’t paint the entire picture of ground transportation for the corporate world, said Tobi Mac, founder and CEO of FlitWays Technology, and complexity in this space can make spend management increasingly difficult.

Businesses need options when it comes to ground travel, Mac recently told PYMNTS. That means an in-the-moment booking, or plans to secure a ride in a luxury vehicle by a professional driver, or ground transportation for hundreds of employees at a company party.

“The thing about Uber and Lyft is they have a more consumer-facing application that they are trying to introduce for corporate travelers,” said Mac. FlitWays is instead looking to curate the fragmented ground travel market in order to meet the various needs of business travelers while giving them more of a business-like experience.

Yes, that sometimes means a quick ride on the fly. But it can also mean booking rides a year in advance, “which is something businesses love in terms of planning, budgeting and expense management,” the CEO noted.

The B2B ground transportation segment also has to cater to the differing corporate cultures around the world. FlitWays announced last month its rollout in several European cities after its 2017 launch in the U.S. According to Mac, there are dramatic differences between these two jurisdictions.

“Europe tends to be more demanding in terms of requirements and expectations,” he said. “Of course, language and currency can be a struggle. Every country has its own regulations, and the EU has its own complex regulations.”

Mac acknowledged a “learning curve” when entering into such an ecosystem of differing rules, language barriers and foreign exchange demands — the latter of which can also significantly complicate the expense management process.

With data coming in from multiple jurisdictions in multiple currencies, another area of corporate ground travel that adds to this information deluge is the fact that travelers aren’t always using the same card for their trips.

Despite the rise of digital solutions like Uber and Lyft, and despite efforts by these ground transportation firms to support businesses’ expense management needs, corporates continue to struggle with spend visibility. According to recent analysis by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Foundation, cash and personal cards continue to present a problem for travel managers in tracking trip spend.

GBTA Foundation Director of Research Monica Sanchez said last November that the analysis suggests this can “pose problems, including reduced spend visibility, making it difficult to both track and enforce policy compliance and to perform back-office functions, such as reconciliation and reimbursement, as well.”

More recent data from Barclaycard highlighted the “consumerization” of business travel payments, meaning travelers often pay for company travel the same way they pay for business trips. Survey respondents also reported an increase in both physical and virtual card payments in their business travel spend.

Solutions that can support traveler choice are key, said Mac, especially for larger enterprises with different employees traveling in different ways. FlitWays enables individual users to toggle between three different cards on the app, including commercial or personal cards, while it can also facilitate invoicing directly to accounting teams, the executive said.

In addition to focusing on international expansion, FlitWays is also looking to launch its enterprise suite as it continues to explore the varying needs and demands from the business traveler market.

This suite, Mac said, “allows companies to assign different employees with different levels of work — entry level, executives, junior staff and senior staff — to have price and service level control over an employee, how they can book, when they can book and how much they can spend.”

Regardless of employee, mode of transportation, purpose of a trip, payment method, location, currency and all the other factors that surround a single ride, financial data must be consolidated and reported. With $1.15 trillion spent on business travel in 2016, the opportunity for enhanced spend management on ground transit is vast — with more than just Uber and Lyft vying for their piece of the market.

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