How Payment Platforms Simplify Travel Payments’ Complexity

No more plastic. And no more relying solely on virtual cards. Companies need transparency when it comes to booking and paying for road warriors’ trips. Hyperwallet MD Bill Crowley weighs in on how corporate travel is well beyond the purview of OTAs in the age of the gig economy. Complexity reigns, but payment platforms can help the flow of transactions across currencies and borders.

There are many ways to travel for the corporate road warrior — and many ways to pay. As with any evolution of an industry, competition means entrenched players and upstarts coexist, jostling for hearts, minds and, of course, a share of wallets.

So it is with travel, and for corporate travel and payments related to those trips. Complexity reigns when payments are sent across currencies and borders. Bill Crowley, Hyperwallet‘s managing director for Europe, noted that the growth of online marketplaces brings with it new options for travelers, but also new challenges of tracking payments across the expanding and changing corporate travel landscape.

Crowley told PYMNTS that there are multiple conduits to booking travel, spanning traditional online travel agencies (OTAs), direct access to content providers and fare aggregators such as Kayak  and now, even Google is getting into the act. Shared economy platforms, such as HomeAway and Airbnb, offer alternatives to hotels. These platform offerings, he said, denote a sea change of sorts — one aided by the emergence of payment platforms.

“This is sort of the nontraditional” offering enlisted by corporates, he told PYMNTS, defining it as “the connecting with individual suppliers and the travelers. And I think what is interesting is that the big OTAs and the aggregators are pulling in the content from these new platforms. So, when you are going onto Expedia, you are not just seeing large chain hotels — you are actually seeing an individual’s home. All of this is converging together to provide consumers with different ways of accessing what’s available.”

And what’s available to the individual is, of course, available to the corporate traveler.

“There are so many different payment flows and use cases, payments, refunds, partial refunds … and the more suppliers that you put into this ecosystem … the complexity associated with payments goes way up.”

Complexity Evolves Amid Travels Far And Wide

Tracking those bookings and paying out to those various endpoints is complicated, especially along cross-border and multi-currency corridors. And, as Crowley noted, payout usually comes at some point in the future, which can further muddy cash flow visibility (more on that in a minute).

We’ve come a bit of a way from the early days of corporate travel payments, Crowley explained. In the early days, road warriors would brandish a corporate credit card. Simple enough for booking, not so much for activities behind the scenes. Consider how that reconciliation had to take place across both sides of the transaction at the back office, and consider the relatively high opportunity for fraud.

What emerged, eventually (and used currently), to keep fraud (and spending) under control were single-use virtual credit cards, where a new virtual card could be spun off for the exact booking amount. The burden came, then, as Crowley noted, on the backs of suppliers, and higher processing fees materialized even as efficiencies gained and fraud reduced.

Suppliers, Pushing Back

Now: “What’s happened is that these suppliers are starting to push back,” said Crowley. “They are saying they are already paying booking fees, they are already paying commissions to the OTAs and the aggregators, and now they have to pay to get paid.” Seems only fitting, then, that these suppliers would look eagerly toward exploring alternative ways to get paid, and the global bank deposit is a more effective way to wind up with money in the corporate till.

Thus, the door is opened for platforms to offer the travel industry more automated services  offering those services through APIs and doing it all more effectively.

Against that backdrop, stated Crowley, transparency is a key issue in cross-border payments activity. And Hyperwallet has found value in its tracking tool, which helps solve the typical concerns of clients who call into customer contact centers — where the number-one worry is that they have yet to receive their payments.

By dint of the platform, Hyperwallet is connected directly with banking partners and financial network partners, and is able to “know exactly where the payment is — whether it’s in the Hyperwallet system, going through a sanction screen or some sort of risk check … when we submit to a partner bank, [we] know what their cutoff lines are,” he said.

With global reach, Hyperwallet is able to, for example, know when banking holidays are, and the impact that may have on when payments should be completed. Such back-end logistics and transparency speak to one overarching theme, Crowley said: “Travel firms want to be in the travel business and not in the payments business.”