Skift Take

What do you do when your customers stop traveling? Diversify into procurement and expense management, of course.

Forget about travel management, because expense management is all the rage — and TripActions is the latest technology platform to join the party.

The company revealed Tuesday a new automated expense tool for its virtual card payments product, TripActions Liquid, at its Traverse 20 event. It also marks the first time it has broken ranks from its core travel product, but that’s hardly surprising considering the global standstill imposed by the pandemic.

TripActions has entered the world of expense management, a world that’s dominated by the likes of SAP Concur and Emburse, which includes Certify and Chrome River. However, TripActions claims this new tool is the first to eliminate the need for expense reports, and as a result reconciliation.

The company launched TripActions Liquid in February, securing a $500 million debt facility led by Silicon Valley Bank. This allowed corporates to issue physical Visa credit cards to their employees, but only to book travel on the TripActions platform and for spending while on the road.

With this latest expense enhancement, it’s giving users the ability to pay not only for travel expenses but any item — from office equipment to software subscriptions — in recognition of the fact most staff are stuck working from home. As Skift reported earlier, desks, donuts and food deliveries are where the dollars are being directed.

TripActions also claims there’s no need to submit the dreaded end-of-month expense report, filling out online forms and taking photos of receipts, hoping everything will be signed off by a manager.

“This is a complete replacement to your expense platform that you’d be using today,” Michael Sindicich, general manager of TripActions Liquid, told Skift. “We’re attacking it from a different angle, through the payment mechanism and leveraging a lot more of the modern technology that we have today to automate the entire thing. This creates the slogan we’re going out with: the end of expense management as you know it.”

Sindicich also claimed the system can reimburse employees the next day, while there’s less pressure on managers to sign off claims, because expense categories and limits are pre-approved, while finance chiefs won’t need to deal with reconciliation.

“We built it from the ground up, so you could have a policy of up to $500 a day on hotel spend, but $75 on food, and $50 for Uber or Lyft,” he added. “We’re used to these great tools, like DoorDash to order catering, or signing an agreement with DocuSign with the click of a button. For some reason with finance tools, it hasn’t really been enhanced by much.”

The employee’s personal card can also be connected to the platform.

Please form an orderly queue

As Skift reported in January, combined travel and expense technology companies are having a moment right now, noting “one should also watch which travel management companies begin to further flesh out their own integrated expense solutions.”

TravelBank on September 22 announced a partnership with U.S. Bank, and a new “Instant Card” to provide a “modern and seamless all-in-one solution for corporate expense management”. Back then it claimed the integration is the “first and only solution that will allow program administrators to issue Instant Cards directly from their expense management platform.”

Again, it comes with pre-approved budgets, expense limits and other analytics. TravelBank also recently widened purchases away from travel, telling Skift its customers wanted policy advice and dedicated marketplaces to save money when bulk buying.

Earlier this year, Concur’s founder Steve Singh, along with his son Naveen and nephew Nikhil, also jumped back into the expense sector with a startup platform called Center.

Meanwhile, American Express Global Business Travel updated travel and expense management features in its KDS Neo booking tool last year.

Sindicich dismisses rivals’ expense solutions as bandage solutions with no tight on/off controls. “Companies tend to piece together procurement platforms, processes, expense tools, different modes of payments — they’re stitching together all these things which makes visibility impossible. There’s also the problem of employees having to front money, it can be discriminatory,” he said.

“I’m sure everyone’s got a certain payment solution in the travel industry. A couple of the tech startups aren’t there yet, but I’m sure they will be soon.”

Why Buying Coffee Can Be ‘Weird’

There’s clearly appetite for the market, but what problem are these travel management companies trying to fix exactly?

Sindicich said that according to TripActions research, 70 percent of expenses happen during travel, and there’s often a reliance on storing receipts to submit at a later date in a time-consuming process.

He takes umbrage at buying a coffee, too. “We go from digital, when I swipe my card, then a printer prints out a bit of paper, only for me to take a photo of it to put it back digitally. It’s a really weird workaround that doesn’t make much sense. There’s no need to have a receipt,” he said.

There’s more to it than claiming for cups of coffee though. Last month, TripActions officially launched an “Enterprise Edition” to cater for larger, more global companies. And now comes this expense bolt-on. Is this a strategy to prise away those larger organizations that are already using the likes of SAP Concur for both their expenses and travel?

“It’s really about the product, it will organically just grow,” Sindicich said. “When people have issues with their travel platform, what they really talk about is the issue with expense. When you talk about taking market share from Concur, that one for me is: build a better product and people will come.”

And what about the fact this is TripActions’ first foray outside of travel? “We’ve always brought technology into travel, introducing chat, or changing flights or hotels yourself online. This is the first time I can have something from TripActions without the travel part,” Sindicich said. “But what we’ve found is, similar to the way that Concur and other expense platforms, really expense is their way in and they add on the travel piece as well. We happen to have an amazing travel platform. So when we sell expense, companies buy on to travel as well.”

The Liquid product suite is targeted at clients with more than 100 employees, and to date it has 100 customers using the new expense platform, including Zoom, Lyft, SoundCloud, Celonis and Amplitude. Sindicich said TripActions is adding more than 20 new customers a month, and he expects to scale to the thousands by the end of January next year.

Is there room for another expense company, considering the dominance of SAP Concur with nearly 50,000 customers, and Certify and Chrome River a combined  11,000 global customers?

“What we love is it’s a massive market,” Meagen Eisenberg, chief marketing officer of TripActions, told Skift. “Part of that is building solutions, and we’ve focused a lot on enterprise. We’re driving awareness, being part of RFPs that are out there, working with consulting firms that are running the RFPs and working with impartial analysts.

“For buyers and procurement, there are two things they really care about, and that’s cost control and traveler safely, and the adoption of it. This is end-to-end visibility, and with visibility you get control.”

Like that last-minute rush to submit expense claims before the deadline, expect to see yet more corporate travel players rush in for a piece of the procurement and purchasing market.


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: american express global business travel, concur, expense management, kds, payments, travelbank, tripactions

Photo credit: TripActions claims its new expense feature can eliminate the need to scan receipts. Dan Burton / Unsplash

Up Next

Loading next stories