Skift Take

Travel and expense companies are rushing to roll out new artificial intelligence tools and features, but it's hard to tell how much this is about game-changing tech compared to cashing in on the ChatGPT bandwagon.

Microsoft’s artificial intelligence technology, recently supercharged by ChatGPT, is applied to a range of fields, from scientific research to product design.

It’s also being applied to one of the most tedious jobs on the planet, expense filing, as American Express and Navan (formerly TripActions) begin adopting the technology to enhance payments.

American Express on Thursday revealed it is partnering with Microsoft to develop a new solution to “simplify expense reporting for employees and businesses, using artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.”

It will feature a “decision engine” that categorizes transactions and assigns risk scores based on transaction details, the company’s travel and expense policy, and the traveler’s purchase and payment history on their American Express card.

“Imagine a future where the majority of your expenses are simply auto-submitted and auto-approved, requiring no manual intervention,” said said Gunther Bright, executive vice president, global commercial services at American Express.

Unlike most expense platforms, this new iteration can sit on top of other expense systems. American Express will first pilot it on Microsoft’s employees by integrating it into the tech company’s internal expense system. Then it wants to offer it to its other corporate clients, allowing them to overlay it on their existing expense management tools.

American Express is also part-owner of American Express Global Business Travel, which offers the neo and neo1 spend management platforms. The spokesperson said there was no impact on Amex GBT’s own offerings.

The push to make expenses easier and more accurate by automating them makes sense. Companies process an average of 51,000 expense reports each year, and on average spend half a million dollars and 3,000 hours correcting errors annually, according to the Global Business Travel Association.

And one in five business travelers would rather pour lemon juice on a cut than file an expense report, a survey from software company Banyan recently found. A third are willing to pay someone $50 to do an expense report for them.

As a result, travel agencies are continually looking to evolve.

ChatGPT, Again

While American Express is working with Microsoft, which has invested in OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT, a spokesperson told Skift it is open and equipped to adopt any technology that will add value to the tool, but it has not specifically explored OpenAI so far.

However travel and expense management company Navan this week said it has integrated the so-called generative artificial intelligence as part of its rebrand. It claims it is the first travel company to do so.

“When a traveler leaves a hotel, they no longer need to wait at the desk for an itemized folio,” said a spokeperson. Leveraging artificial intelligence, its app can automatically retrieve the hotel folio, read line items, categorize them, and then check against company policy, before submitting the receipt.

It also launched a virtual assistant called Ava, which can order corporate cards or suggest restaurant recommendations.

“In just two years, the leading players in travel and expense will be either established companies that have already embraced ChatGPT or new startups that bring innovative experiences and capabilities to the market,” said Ilan Twig, co-founder and chief technology officer.

Travel management company BCD Travel on Thursday also announced its own expense revamp by offering a new “data set” to customers. It combines trip information with the financial details of the ticket transaction, fare and tax breakdown. The idea is that it can help pre-populate expense reports with trip and invoice data to save travelers time, increasing accuracy and creating reliable spend insights for finance teams.

“Our invoice collection is an example of a targeted data set that, in this case, helps us collectively mitigate some of the challenges of travel and expense spend management for customers,” said Yannis Karmis, senior vice president of product planning and development at BCD Travel.

Reading Between the Lines

But as ChatGPT continues to make headlines, is there a risk travel companies are simply cashing in on the buzz? How can clients know whether it’s actually effective, or just marketing spin?

“The challenge with generative AI is that it’s only as smart as the average omniscient human: sure it might know everything, but that’s quickly becoming the easy part. Doing something for you is the hard part,” said David Barrett, CEO of Expensify.

He said his platform’s concierge AI has been doing expenses, scanning receipts, booking travel, and managing accounting for years. “It’s true we don’t write poetry on demand, but we think that businesses have more important functions, and we’re the only ones who do those,” he added. “ChatGPT is clearly amazing in many respects and we’re tracking it closely.”

SAP Concur, probably the most widely used expense platform, has also long used artificial intelligence to streamline spend processes for businesses and employees. Its Verify audit service is one example within Concur Expense, as it automatically checks expense reports to identify potential misuse.

“Verify is built on an analysis of more than a trillion dollars in spend and tens of millions of expenses and receipts within the SAP Concur platform. It uses artificial intelligence  and machine learning to tap decades of expense data and experience tracking to identify hard-to-detect spend issues and anomalies,” said Charlie Sultan, president of Concur Travel.

A spokesperson for Navan said the company has also leveraged artificial intelligence since its inception in 2015 to optimize efficiencies, both internally and for its customers. “Integrating ChatGPT was a natural next step,” they said.

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Tags: american express, american express global business travel, artificial intelligence, business travel, corporate travel, expenses, navan, tripactions

Photo credit: American Express is partnering with Microsoft to develop a new solution to simplify expense reporting. CardMapr nl / Unsplash

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