FinTech’s Role in the Future of Business Travel
Business travel was brought almost entirely to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic. For many of those who have to travel for work on a regular basis, this may have come as something of a relief. As necessary as they often are, business trips are rarely glamorous and often mean spending time apart from home and families. They also come at a cost both for the company and the individual.
The relief will be short-lived, however, as business travel is coming back. According to Deloitte research published in August 2021, “competition and growth imperatives will necessitate a resumption of business travel“. In the same month, the UK’s Department for Transport stated that more than a quarter (27%) expect to make more trips than they did before the pandemic. We need, then, to consider how we can create a new ‘normal’ for business travel if we don’t want to simply return to the old, inefficient, and stressful way of doing things.
FinTech can solve expenses headaches
Post-pandemic, we have a chance to set a higher standard for business travel. We might not be able to entirely eliminate the tedious waits in departure lounges, traffic jams and nights spent in drab hotel rooms, but there is an opportunity to take a great deal of the pain out of the whole process. Flexible FinTech-enabled solutions can have a positive impact on the future of business travel, as well as how many organisations currently deal with expenses.
Chances are if you work for a large corporation and you need to travel regularly you will have a company credit card. But for many people who don’t work for companies of that size, the process can be rather different, relying on the individual to pay for flights, car hire, accommodation and so on themselves, filing an expense claim when they ultimately get back to the office. Alternatively, there may be a single card tied to a business account in the name of a senior staff member being handed around between employees as and when they need to use it.
Both of these scenarios are problematic. In the first case, the employee has to use their own money, while the company has no idea how much and where money has been spent until the expenses claim is made. In the second case, there are massive security implications and vendors may very well fail payments if they realise the person using the card is not the registered cardholder.
Addressing the needs of the SME sector
What’s required, then, are solutions that help SMEs to better process travel expenses. They need to provide flexibility for the employee, who may very well be incurring additional costs when travelling for work. For example, some countries require PCR test certification for entry — which comes at a cost — while private methods of transport such as a car hire are safer than public transport such as aeroplanes and trains, but will also come at a premium. Organisations, too, need to have better visibility on what employees are spending and where they are spending it, as well as any fees they incur for things like FX exchange if payments are made overseas.
The COVID-19 pandemic also brought the way SMEs deal with expenses into sharp focus for other reasons. All of a sudden, people needed to work from home and many of them didn’t have the correct equipment — laptops, monitors, keyboards, desks, chairs and so on — so they had to stump up their own cash and claim the money back. The alternative was days or weeks of inactivity; something that no business can afford, no matter its size. The situation was far from ideal but many smaller organisations had little choice but to do it this way.
It’s true to say that the SME sector is one of the most neglected segments when it comes to financial services — for many banks, it’s seen as an unprofitable area, and they’d rather focus on the large corporate clients where there is much more money to be made. SMEs are also not usually the target of the cutting-edge, user-friendly financial products that proliferate in the consumer market.
Massive market opportunity
However, SMEs are typically digital-savvy, lean organisations that welcome innovative solutions. It’s a shame, then, that when it comes to banking they often have to use services that are expensive and designed for much larger organisations. While we’re starting to see FinTech companies targeting SMEs in markets like Spain and Germany, these tend to be focused on providing access to finance. There is still a big opportunity for new entrants to the market who can address the very specific needs of companies of this size when it comes to making tricky — but very necessary — processes more efficient. For example, FinTechs that make corporate debit cards an accessible solution for SMEs enable them to better manage employee spending.
Business travel is coming back, and there is enormous potential for positive change. Obviously, there should be a reassessment of whether many of the journeys are actually necessary in the first place. But many companies also need access to the same kind of banking services that their larger competitors do in order to drive efficiency and take the strain away from their employees.
How well organisations adapt to the future of business travel will depend on the availability of flexible financial solutions. There is a significant gap in the market for FinTech players to address the needs of small- and mid-sized businesses — not just when it comes to business travel, but expenses in general.