April 20, 2021 at 01:00PM

There are plenty of opportunities to optimize and innovate within the corporate travel and expense management space, largely because there are so many strategies that businesses can deploy to facilitate employee travel and spend.

Companies of all sizes and types have a wide array of choice in how they use funds to allow business trips. For some, having an employee front the cost and investing in technology that can streamline the expense report and reimbursement process is the best path forward. But for many others, a more efficient strategy is to arm employees with company cash — a tactic that comes with its own array of challenges, including how to track and control that spend.

Technologies that offer the greatest amount of flexibility may ultimately win out in the market. Kathy Bishop, vice president of product at CLC Lodging, a FLEETCOR company, told PYMNTS that the virtual card may just be one of those technologies, but it’s vital to remember there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all solution.

The Virtual Card Appeal

For businesses that decide to go an alternative route to employee reimbursements, having the ability to empower an employee with a corporate card is a must. But not every business can do so, especially in today’s work-from-home environment.

Further, noted Bishop, not every corporate card product has the ability to offer key features like spending limits and transaction visibility.

The virtual card, on the other hand, can facilitate the ability for a manager to issue a card to an employee remotely, while at the same time retaining control over how that worker uses the card. It’s these benefits that led CLC Lodging to launch its own virtual card offering, the CLC Trip Card, announced earlier this month. As Bishop noted, today’s ecosystem presented an opportune moment to connect business travelers to the spending tool.

“Contactless payment adoption in the U.S., specifically, was just not there, but with COVID, now we’re seeing that acceptance among consumers and merchants really picked up,” she said.

Business travelers want to make payments the same way they make payments in their personal lives, she added. In addition to support for mobile and contactless payments, virtual card technology can support the type of sophisticated tools that managers and employers need in order to secure employee spend.

An Ecosystem Of Choice

Flexibility of virtual card technology has proven critical to an industry in which one-size-fits-all is a rarity. As Bishop emphasized, it’s important for the travel and expense (T&E) management technology industry to recognize that corporates and their traveling employees will continue to need a range of solutions that fit their unique needs.

She pointed to the industry trend of contactless check-in. While many travelers might enjoy this feature offered by a hotel, it also requires the employee to have a smartphone and an internet plan. In short, this feature may not fit the needs of all travelers.

Corporate travel spend solutions are much the same. As the industry evolves, Bishop said she does not expect a single expense management strategy to win out over all of the others.

“It’s always going to be a mix because our customers are so different in the way they do their business and the types of travelers that they’re working with,” she said. “I don’t think you’re going see a one-size-fits-all solution.”

What is certain, she said, is that technology will be key to meeting everybody’s needs.

She looked back at the industry’s history of addressing client requirements. For instance, a business traveler might be traveling with a truck, and any hotel they are booked to stay at must have a parking facility to accommodate the vehicle. Traditionally, booking agents were forced to find that client in stacks of binders and paper to identify their needs and which hotels could support them. Today, electronic databases and automation have greatly improved the process.

A similar transformation can occur with travel payments and expense management, too.

“That’s just one example of how fast technology can transform a business,” she said. “We’re going to see that same thing going forward.”

Corporate T&E Gives One-Size-Fits-All The Boot …

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