The worldwide meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) industry is growing at an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5 percent between 2017 and 2023, and expected to reach $1.245 billion in value. Addressing the industry’s payment problems will only become more important as the space expands.
With that growth as a backdrop, higher education institutions are taking a new look at how they procure goods and services for events like research conferences, concerts, alumni dinners and more. Event planners must pay for a variety of needs — such as catering, audio/video services and other odds and ends like writing materials — to ensure these events run smoothly, and purchasing goods has been difficult for them for far too long.
An event planner might find the perfect vendor, but they don't always have an easy way to pay. In fact, vendors that have to face lengthy waits before getting their compensation might use the process as leverage to negotiate higher prices, one university noted.
Other planners may be forced to front some or all of the event costs out of their personal accounts, then wait for reimbursement. That can impose a financial burden and include a sacrifice of their valuable time while filing expense claim paperwork.
Event planners and vendors aren’t alone in finding the current system frustrating. Managing procurement payments and reimbursements is a headache for universities, too, and the inability to get a clear, simple picture of spending opens opportunities for both accidental errors and deliberate fraud.
Meetings and events are “a high-risk category of spend with big opportunities for fraud,” according to a recent statement from Yma Sherry, VP of meetings and events, North America, for Amex Global Business Travel.
Many vendors may be involved, which complicates expense tracking, and it’s not unusual for five or more payment forms to be used, presenting further opportunities for fraud. Even well-intentioned employees can file inaccurate expense claims, accidentally mistyping a number or logging the same purchase twice.
Cards Come Calling
With these challenges looming, what are universities and their event planners to do? The answer seems to be two words: corporate cards.
Issued by businesses, corporate cards enable employees to draw on company funds and skip having to dip into their own pockets when purchasing from vendors. This method is not only a speedier or more desirable way for vendors to get paid, but can also protect universities from fraud.
Organizations commonly take advantage of corporate card features that limit usage to certain merchants or expense categories, or cap employee spending entirely. The University of California Berkeley equips its event planners with procurement cards, which include daily and per-cycle dollar-amount spending limits, for example.
Corporate card benefits aren’t limited to fund access and spending controls. Their spend capture features help reduce the administrative burdens involved in tracking and approving expenses, providing universities and other organizations with an alternative to paper-based filing processes.
Some players in the space like Cvent, an event management software provider and proponent of virtual corporate cards paired with digital platforms for improved spend tracking, believe the digital aspect should be furthered to enable more efficient tracking. Virtual payments can enable real-time spending visibility, according to Cvent SVP and CMO Patrick Smith, which is especially critical for event planners who must make purchases before and during the events, as last-minute needs emerge.
Whether those needs entail renting extra chairs for unexpected guests at an alumni dinner or replacing a speaker that breaks at a concert, it’s clear that higher education institutions need better ways to track and control spending while quickly enabling goods to be purchased. Colleges and universities are re-examining their expense management practices as providers roll out new payment solutions, and they’re exploring plenty of plastic and virtual corporate card-based solutions in the process.
As they take up new funding offerings, these institutions may find that their event hosting processes become a whole lot smoother — and smarter, too.