Virtual cards aren't anything new in corporate travel, despite limited adoption. But stronger integration with travel booking apps like TripActions could help mainstream the technology, which benefits both travelers and administrators.
As the global battle for the lower end of the corporate travel management market rages on, top players are beginning to move beyond travel itself into solving problems above just booking and servicing.
TripActions has been steadily growing its travel management platform and now boasts a global workforce of more than 1,000 as it moves into markets around the world. Its new product looks beyond travel to help both travelers and administrators handle one of the most annoying parts of corporate travel: payments.
The company launched a virtual card payments product under the name TripActions Liquid today, secured by a $500 million debt facility led by Silicon Valley Bank. Companies can now issue a physical Visa credit card to their travelers for use booking travel on TripActions and for spending on the road, easing the burden on travelers’ own finances while giving travel managers real-time information on what their travelers are doing.
A virtual credit card is a unique 16-digit computer generated number used for a single transaction. On any given trip, that number will change numerous times ahead of the next transaction. You can usually set a maximum charge amount for the virtual number and the date on which it expires. For vendors, the virtual card looks the same as any other credit card.
The card will be activated and deactivated based on the user’s travel schedule. The new credit card numbers pushed to the card help prevent fraud. The integration also solves a problem common to booking tools; you can now bring the corporate card you used to book a hotel room to the hotel itself to check in.
The idea is also that issuing the card to travelers will enforce corporate travel policy priorities more effectively. The new product will be available to TripActions clients regardless of their size and travel spend for an additional annual fee. TripActions Liquid will also be usable as a payment method through the Apple Pay and Google Pay digital payment platforms.
“Most employees are actually very responsible and they want to do the right thing for the company,” said Michael Sindicich, general manager of TripActions Liquid. “The problem is that they don’t necessarily know what they what the policy is, right. It’s now very visible in the platform, what you can do and how much you can spend. There is a Liquid mobile app and inside the app right there is a policy tab.”
While many companies issue traditional corporate cards, most haven’t taken the leap to implement more advanced solutions like virtual cards. A virtual card product can help reduce the impact of credit card-related fraud, too, with fraud and data breaches on the rise.
A team of about 20 engineers developed the TripActions Liquid product, which has been used in beta by several TripActions clients over the last few months.
TripActions recently announced numerous integrations with various expense software services, including Divvy and Chrome River, and the company believes offering a bevy of choices to users remains the right strategy. Since this product is designed for travel, the reality is that most companies will still need to use another expense software service to handle everyday expenses.
Travel managers using the service have access to a dashboard automatically reconciles transactions and presents a wide view of travel expenses. This can be a big time saver for finance teams that are used to reconciling transactions by hand each month.
“TripActions was always about choice, so if you look at the travel platform we connect to hotels directly sometimes, we have our own hotels program, we connect to a corporate’s program, and then we connect to OTAs like Expedia, Priceline,” said TripActions CEO Ariel Cohen. “It’s all about choice and I can tell you that we’re not getting the same commission from all of them. It was never about giving you the one that gives us most of the commission.
“It’s the same when it comes to credit card usage, you will be able to use any credit card in any virtual solution that is out there, you can connect it to any expense system that you have. You can check in a year from now, two years from now, five years from now; we don’t have any aspiration on actually adding another expense management system to the world.”
Now TripActions has a financial technology product to go with its travel management platform. Its investors must be happy, after dropping more than $450 million in venture dollars into the company. Whether the company can really help mainstream virtual cards in corporate travel is another challenge altogether.
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Photo credit: An example of the new TripActions credit card in use at a coffee shop. TripActions