Q&A: Amex – Payment technology

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Hotel billbacks are an inefficient method of payment – not only is it a tedious and cumbersome process, it lacks transparency, creates an environment which could allow for fraud risk and inhibits the reconciliation process.  This is the view of Tshipi Alexander, Head: American Express Corporate Issuing & Merchant Sales. He took some time to give us his views on other aspects of card space.

Q: What’s currently the number one talking point in the card space, as it relates to business travel, and what’s the Amex view on it?

A: The current talking point is around accommodation billbacks and how the payment of this is achieved via a card payment. AMEX believes a payment solution that takes into account how a hotel merchant processes the payment in a secure manner is important.

Q: Why are hotel billbacks an outdated payment method?

A: There is a lack of technology that allows for the supply of timely invoices to the TMC. This results in the clients being charged a reconciliation fees by their TMC, as well as delayed payments to accommodation vendors.

Q: What’s the most recent piece of technology that Nedbank/Amex Card has developed to make the life of business travellers/corporates easier?

A: BTA Powerlink with automatic invoice matching makes management and reconciliation of business travel simple and easy for all users.

Q: How does the African traveller compare with those of other markets, in terms of his or her attitude towards technology?

A: In many African countries, technology use is behind other markets and card payments are not as widely accepted, resulting in cash being the fall back. In terms of the traveller, access to cash – via ATMs – would then be important, and the ability to keep track of cash withdrawals for expense management purposes. However Africa is catching up with technology development and this may result in leapfrogging certain technology stages and becoming more advanced than other countries.

Q: How long, in your opinion, will it be before African countries such as Nigeria move away from a reliance on cash, and what will it take to achieve this?

A: This is very difficult to ascertain. Generally cash is a preferred method of payment for various reasons, but mostly because there is a lack of card acceptance. Many factors would need to be in place to reduce the reliance on cash. There would need to be a drive towards greater credit card issuance and utilisation, and customers would need to have bank accounts allowing them to transact via card or EFT. Furthermore, merchants would need to accept non-cash methods of payment. The actual technology and infrastructure would need to be in place and be robust enough to support this.

Q: Do you see mobile payment methods such as M-Pesa becoming more prevalent in some of Africa’s more advanced economies, such as South Africa?

A: Mobile payment solutions are definitely the future for many African countries. However, successful implementation will depend heavily on the local conditions in these markets and how these conditions will impact on acceptance of these solutions.

Q: What’s the Nedbank/Amex Card view on mobile and how is it integrating this device into its offering?

A: Mobile applications are becoming the standard mechanism on which to conduct business, and Nedbank is leading the way in bringing mobile expense management solutions, such as Concur and Visa IntelliLink, to a traveller’s pocket.

Q: What do you think the business traveller now expects of its travel service provider, in terms of technological offering?

A: Business travellers are becoming more demanding, as they are expecting all travel information to be easily accessible. The use of travel applications is dominating the market, as they are a key tool being used to deliver things like online check-in, virtual itineraries, reporting of missing luggage, travel insurance claims and emergency contacts.

Q: Are there any international technology trends/talking points that you have picked up on that interest you and could be transplanted to the SA business travel space?

A: There is an international trend towards simplifying payment processes by using a card-based payment solution, and this is one area where Africa is still in the early adoption phase. In addition, full end-to-end expense management on card programmes is something we believe will add a great amount of value.

Q: What are your thoughts on virtual cards as a travel solution?

A: Virtual cards are very topical, given their ability to curb some of the fraud risk. However, we have seen that issuing virtual cards will not necessarily address all of the other issues found in the billback process namely inefficiencies, transparency, reconciliation and timely payments. We are currently working on a revolutionary system which will allow for all these issues – as well as fraud – to be addressed and rectified.