The bank has its eyes on snatching business from other corporate travel agencies with new partner Spotnana. But first the wider financial sector may need to stabilize following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank before it gains confidence from new customers.
Financial services company Brex is relaunching its travel booking platform after swapping agency partners.
Brex Travel, a new full-service travel management offering, is being plugged into its spend management platform Empower, which launched in 2022.
Technology startup Spotnana will power the bank’s new venture, after recently revealing it is backing new agency Travel Solutions. As a result, Brex is ending a previous partnership with TravelBank, which was recently acquired by U.S. Bancorp.
“For the last few years, we’ve enjoyed providing Brex an innovative travel platform to help their corporate customers book flights and hotels,” said Duke Chung, co-founder and CEO of TravelBank. “After being acquired by U.S. Bancorp — with its robust corporate card program and our work together delivering all-in-one travel, expense management, and payment solutions — it made sense for both companies to evolve their respective business models.”
Brex is already notifying its customers of the transition.
Fintech Trends Roll Into 2023
Banks are increasingly bolting on travel services as an extra means of keeping customers happy. Citi has just relaunched its own travel platform with Booking.com, while Capital One continues to grow its partnership with Hopper. New entrants Ramp and Pleo are also making inroads into combining travel management with digital banking.
For further context, read our 2022 Megatrends The Financialization of Travel and Corporate Travel Is Now in the Firm Grip of the CFOs.
California-headquartered Brex now aims to convert its corporate banking customers into travel customers as well. Its Empower platform already lets clients manage cards and expenses, so thinks it’s a perfect fit.
“A lot of customers wanted a centralized booking tool so you could enforce policy at the time of the search, provide duty of care and a lot of other features,” said Henrique Dubugras, co-founder and co-CEO of Brex. “So we decided to build Brex Travel, and integrated with Brex, so with the same app you can do your corporate cards, your expenses and your travel in one single place.”
It claims it has two main advantages over traditional travel agencies: better visibility over all the travel costs, and more freedom to manage policies. However, many agencies would argue they’re already offering that.
Navan (formerly TripActions), for example started offering cards in 2020 for this very reason, including automated receipt collection and pre-approvals, removing the need for employees to manually fill out expense reports.
But Dubugras said Brex was also standing out because of Spotnana’s range of content. “TripActions and Concur are the number one and two places we’re taking customers from,” he said. “The main thing we hear has to do with the inventory. It’s unbiased inventory. We don’t take any commissions, there’s no incentive for us to not show you the best inventory all the time.”
According to a Brex FAQ document detailing the changeover, users will need to pay a service fee for using Spotnana to book travel. “A $10 service fee will be charged per trip and a single trip may include any combination of flights, hotels, and rental car bookings,” it said.
It’s also not quite certain how much control over travel booking will be available through the Brex portal. For example, in the FAQ it says: “Can I book for multiple travelers at a time?” The answer is: “Spotnana only allows for individual bookings. If an admin wants to book for multiple travelers, they can book one at a time by changing the applicable profile on the Spotnana home page.”
Make it Easy
Brex Empower, which counts DoorDash, Coinbase and recruitment website Indeed as customers, wants to give greater freedom to companies to decentralize their travel policy.
“One customer said: look, if I give someone a budget, I don’t care if they fly premium economy, or business, or economy, or by train or whatever it is. If it’s in the budget, they make their own choices,” Dubugras said. “We’re even seeing customers change policy based on the capabilities that we have.”
It claims department heads can track a travel budget in real time. That then keeps them accountable, and they can then make better choices for which trips have a higher return on investment.
For Spotnana, this latest partnership is validation of its vision of offering so-called “microservices” and an extensible data infrastructure.
“We’ve been talking about travel as a service, and I guess this is the best way to prove this, having customers adopt this and build solutions that create value for everyone in the ecosystem,” said Sarosh Waghmar, founder and CEO of Spotnana. “Here, Brex is an example of a channel partner that’s creating value.”
Dubugras now seems to have caught the travel bug, having recently joined the board of Expedia. “I’ve been getting pretty knee-deep into travel. Everyday I spend more time with Spotnana and their technology, I’m even more impressed,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that will change in travel after this, when we roll this out successfully, and this partnership gets to real scale.”
Brex may also see a boost in travel customers following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. It reportedly gained billions of dollars deposited in the past weeks. In the meantime the bank is migrating its current customers to Empower.
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Photo credit: Brex Travel aims to offer a wide range of content. Jonas Leupe / Unsplash