All About Spend

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Nedbank Card owns the American Express franchise, so it issues Amex cards in the South African market, hence the reason why Tshipi Alexander wears two hats and has such a long title! Regardless, he has a good understanding of where these two big entities sit in the corporate travel space, and the impact they’d like to have on the market. Editor Dylan Rogers sat down with Alexander at Nedbank’s offices in Sandton, Johannesburg.  

Efficient and accurate reconciliation of travel spend remains one of the hottest topics in corporate travel, and Nedbank and American Express have recognised this, rolling out their BTAPowerlink product and recently expanding its footprint across the travel industry.

“Reconciliation is of extreme importance,” says Alexander. “A lot of our large corporates may not necessarily require finance to travel, but what’s important to them is the data.”

‘Big Data’ is a bit of a catch phrase at the moment, with more and more travel technology companies, banks and card companies investing time and money in research and products that they hope will give them more information to inform areas such as procurement, and ultimately give them the edge over their rivals.

“These corporates are looking for intelligent data, third level data that tells them not only that you travelled to a particular country or stayed at a particularly hotel, but also your cost per trip or how much you spent on food, drink or entertainment,” says Alexander. “They may want to then control that spend or push it in a particular direction, such as entertainment, if this is where their sales are coming from.”

In all of this, I’m interested in the relationship between corporate and travel management company – a key factor in the success of this process?

“Data is key,” says Alexander. “From a TMC perspective, reconciliation is key. If you look at the corporates, they want to know what happened yesterday – almost real time and by category. The TMCs in South Africa are quite large and quite significant, so they are still responsible for a large amount of reconciliation. So, we looked at how we could match our competition and outdo them, from a spend reconciliation point of view.”

That’s where BTAPowerlink comes in. It’s a free online travel management solution that is available to new and existing American Express BTA lodge card clients who book their travel spend through a BTAPowerlink-enabled TMC.

At the end of each month, travel management consultants are required to match their travel invoices with the transactions on the BTA card account, and traditionally, all of this work was done manually – making it difficult and time-consuming to consolidate or benchmark the accounts. The thinking behind BTAPowerlink is that it should save companies time and money, as it will significantly reduce time spent on administrative work for TMCs. With access to consolidated management information, companies will be able to report directly from the BTAPowerlink portal to address their data needs.

“What the tool essentially does is at the back end at the TMC, there’s card data coming in, through our systems and there’s TMC-related data that they are entering,” says Alexander. ”There are up to eight different fields that it checks and matches against. The whole challenge was trying to eliminate a need for huge amounts of manual work and paper invoices. It brings great value to the TMC, but it also brings great value to the corporate, in that you have a lot more time, if you want to do your own internal reconciliations, and you can sign things off much quicker.”

Alexander believes the possibilities are endless.

“It could be used for tax purposes, claiming back VAT through data that would have been missed,” he says. “If you have a daily feed that’s coming in, that is tailor-made to your requirements, you can now drive that spend, eliminate wasteful spend, and also move it into a different area.”

And Nedbank and American Express Card aren’t done, just yet, according to Alexander.

“We’ve got plans to increase the amount of data, improve the matching capabilities and eventually give the corporate the ability to see in almost real time, not only how much they’ve spent, but also to drill down item by item and pull out specifics.”

That might be worth waiting for.

Dylan Rogers