The pandemic may have irrevocably changed the worldwide business climate, but some companies have managed to turn adversity into opportunities, by making agile changes that drive innovation.
That’s exactly what happened at TripActions, the leading international corporate travel and spend management platform, said Robin Gandhi, the company’s VP of Product and Payments. Since the onset of the pandemic, a series of strategic expansions has transformed TripActions from a travel management company into an end-to-end travel and spend solution—and a respected trailblazer in the fintech space. “While it’s been a difficult time for us in the travel industry,” he explains, “we’ve been able to really innovate and prepare for our customers to get back to normal.”
Here’s how TripActions has positioned the company for the future.
As disruptive as the pandemic has been, it’s the manner in which companies have spent this period that will define how well they perform moving forward. TripActions has used the time to create innovative new functionality, improve existing functionality, and plan for what comes next. On the travel side of the business, this includes releasing enhanced notifications for health restrictions, finding more seamless ways to repurpose unused travel credits, and building functionality to easily enable group and event travel so remote teams can meet more easily.
That shift to a more remote workforce also hastened change on the payments and expense side of the business, says Gandhi. “We recognized the acceleration of digital payments and the need to capture both travel and non-travel spend in real time.”
After all, a distributed and remote workforce requires employees to shift their spend to spot purchasing transactions (for things like office supplies and digital subscriptions) and make more business spend decisions on their own. CFOs and controllers want to give their employees the ability to make these decisions without losing control and visibility over where and why employees are spending.
This remote workforce will also expand travel spend scenarios for trips like headquarter visits or team meetings. “You have employees like engineers who almost never traveled pre-pandemic, who are now going to be flying three to four times in a year,” says Gandhi, “and they will need to book flights, stay in hotels, take Lyfts, buy food, drinks, and go out on team outings. That's a big shift that finance teams need to think about.”
The Launch of TripActions Liquid
These were just some of the goals for TripActions LiquidTM—a fintech solution purpose-built for enabling spending to happen digitally, seamlessly, and without putting the company at risk.
The larger goals of TripActions Liquid have been focused on two areas that are especially important to finance teams right now: saving time and saving money. Digital payments can reduce the time it takes for finance teams to review and reconcile spend manually, says Gandhi, so they can focus on strategies to drive the business forward.
TripActions Liquid is also an essential tool for tracking where spend is happening. CFOs and controllers are hyper-focused on ensuring that there is clear visibility on every penny, says Gandhi, and they need the detailed level of information—in real time—that tech-forward solutions can provide. “Knowing the exact state of the business in real time can allow companies to make better financial decisions,” he says.
With the digitisation of payments and people located all over the world, a lot of small spending (that’s not T&E and not procurement) can happen with a virtual card. TripActions Liquid allows a company to generate a virtual card for a single vendor that the company can refill with a certain amount of money every month, quarter, or year.
Gandhi explains, “As an example, I can get a single purchase card for my NetSuite membership that renews every year for $5,000 and only works with that vendor. Tracking spending with that kind of visibility and control is pretty powerful—not only for me as a user, but also for my finance team.”
Another money-saving benefit of tech-forward solutions: a reduction in fraud. With so many businesses relying on remote workers and online commerce solutions during the pandemic, the opportunities for hacks and breaches have skyrocketed. Gandhi believes that context-driven data, coupled with artificial intelligence (AI), is the most efficient way to monitor transactions, secure data, and avoid attacks.
That’s why the company built TripActions Liquid with AI functionality. “We can notice trends that could indicate fraudulent behavior more quickly, so companies can stop bad actors and keep company funds safe,“ he points out.
AI can also use receipt and merchant data to better categorise spend and improve how transactions are classified, making it more seamless for employees and finance teams to reconcile without manual intervention.
A focus on the user lies at the heart of many business strategies these days, especially in fintech. For TripActions, customer centricity is not just essential to its strategy, but a core component of the company mission. Gandhi believes this philosophy has been a game changer for the company.
He explains, “One of the key reasons for TripActions’ success on the travel side has been our laser focus on user experience. From the beginning, we always believed that we needed to create delightful experiences for the end customer.”
TripActions Liquid grew from the same philosophy. “Whether the user is the employee submitting the expense, the manager reviewing the expense, or the finance team approving and reconciling the expense,” says Gandhi, “we want to ensure that we’re providing the best possible experience for everyone.”
Employees have also traditionally disliked doing expenses because the process was more focused on getting the expenses into the ERP rather than improving the overall experience. “That experience is what we’re changing, by completely eliminating the idea of expense reports, and it’s why we’re seeing such high interest in our offering.”
Such developments would not be possible without the close collaboration of strong partners, and TripActions has strategically constructed its network using a multi-pronged approach. The first step involved building an infrastructure that could support a seamless, user-friendly experience to handle the complex processes involved in spend management.
Most of these solutions didn’t exist five years ago. But recently, a number of great fintech infrastructure companies like Stripe, Plaid, and Modern Treasury have changed how we think about issuing, acquiring, and bank integrations. “It’s helpful to have access to these offerings as we reinvent the idea of expense management as we know it,” Gandhi says.
TripActions partnered with Stripe for the issue processor, a key component of the system. Having a modern issue processor allows decision making to occur at the moment an employee swipes a card. “We can immediately check on a few things,” says Gandhi, “such as where the employee is located, based on their travel booking and the location of the merchant; who the employee is with, based on their calendar; and what that employee is allowed to spend, based on their policy.” With Stripe, these checks happen in milliseconds as transactions occur, allowing the TripActions system to make approval decisions dynamically, instead of setting controls beforehand.
Having a global card network also helped TripActions reach customers and secure transactions. The company uses the Visa network, offering full coverage wherever TripActions customers are located and allowing instant provisioning of cards to mobile devices.
Gandhi explains that the final piece is the bank connectors, for which TripActions uses Plaid and Modern Treasury. “They enable us to connect directly into employee bank accounts, to pay them back instantly for reimbursements in policy, and to pull personal card transactions for reimbursements,” he says.
Over the next five to 10 years, Gandhi predicts that more companies will leverage a similar multiplayer approach to convert a non-financial service business into a fintech product, with the goal of making a richer overall customer experience. “Every tech-forward company now has an opportunity to be a part of the fintech ecosystem, by leveraging the tools being built by these infrastructure companies,” Gandi says.
The problem-solving solutions that fintechs offer are also making companies more efficient, as processes and transactions are much better tracked. “At the core, digital payments infrastructure through fintech enables companies to better monitor where and when money is being spent in real time—and for what purpose.”
But at the heart of any successful enterprise today, he emphasises, is a great user experience built on top of best-of-breed fintech infrastructure. “In our case, we built a killer user experience on top of our own proprietary travel inventory infrastructure.”
It has proved to be a winning combination. While other travel companies are struggling, TripActions has diversified into offerings that simplify processes for the customer and provide swift solutions. “When you take what we can do with travel bookings and combine it with what we’re building around payments and expenses, the result allows us to bring end-to-end, real-time spend visibility to a company at a level that very few others can provide.”
He continues, “Combining all of these technologies across a single product vision means we can eliminate the very concept of expenses, from submission to approval to reconciliation.”
All of these changes add up to limitless opportunity, says Gandhi. The travel side of the business will be essential, because hybrid and remote work will result in more employees traveling more often for company and team meetings.
And the spend management side of the business will be just as important: With employees coming to the office less often, TripActions Liquid offers them ways to make business decisions on their own—without putting the company at risk.
“Between our travel and payments business, we’re thinking of all of these things,” says Gandhi, “and we’re excited about the new normal.