Where we need to be

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The travel industry’s corporate card space is a competitive one, with American Express one of the main players, globally. Nedbank is the licence partner in South Africa, and editor Dylan Rogers visited the Johannesburg office and sat down with two of the bank’s senior executives in the corporate card space – Pamela White and Privesan Naidoo – to better understand the offering and this sector of the travel industry.

Nedbank and American Express have been in a licence agreement partnership for over 40 years, so the two parties have pretty much seen it all, particularly as it relates to the South African and broader African corporate travel industry.

As things stand today, it’s fair to say that the single biggest issue in the corporate card space is effective and efficient reconciliation – get that right and you have a product that every corporate travel department and travel management company will want.

“It is the biggest issue in this space,” says Naidoo, “as everyone has this massive administrative function to deal with. They book for the corporate, they get the invoices, they have to make certain it was the right acquisition form etc.”

American Express believes it has the right product to streamline this process, in its BTAPowerlink offering. It’s a complementary feature of the American Express Business Travel Account (BTA) and is an online solution that allows more effective communication with all parties involved in the process, while streamlining existing processes.

“The key feature is that we take the travel requisition data and the card financial data, and we match these two data points,” says Naidoo. “It actually automatically reconciles. What we are doing now in the first quarter is enabling TMCs to upload their invoices on to the tool. So, the corporate can now see the entire information stream – so, who has travelled and all the physical invoices.”

Going further than that, the product offers ‘level three’ data, drilling down to what airline you’ve booked, what flight, seat number, travel class etc. This obviously allows the corporate to apply its travel policy and monitor wasteful expenditure.

Amex also offers a ‘card-in-wallet solution’, as some markets prefer the physical plastic. No surprise, though, that in South Africa there is more reluctance to letting employees loose with the company card – hence why the BTAPowerlink lodge card product has gone down well.

Even so, there must be something that keeps White and Naidoo awake at night?

“The biggest challenge is keeping up with technology and the enhancements,” says Naidoo. “Also, the way consumer behaviour is changing, the individual is looking for technology, apps etc to be part of his or her lifestyle. In the same way, we are looking at ways of integrating into that technology from a corporate perspective.”

That means that Nedbank and Amex have their hands full, trying to stay ahead of the technology.

“We are looking at an app that meets the traveller’s requirements,” says Naidoo. “Also, how do we move towards the virtual environment in a secure manner?”

And what about acceptance?

The stick that Amex’s competitors like to beat them with is that the card is not widely accepted.

“Acceptance is always a challenge,” says Naidoo. “We are not a hundred percent accepted everywhere, but when you look at the travel industry, the acceptance is very well received, particularly by the large global merchants. If you’re looking at the small restaurant next door, there might not be that acceptance.”

In the rest of Africa, card acceptance, generally, remains a problem, and according to White, Amex is working hard at this.

“Amex has formed partnerships in a number of additional countries and they are enhancing the penetration into others,” she says. “For example, about three years ago they did a technical on-boarding of about 13 countries and now they are focusing on East Africa.”

Specifically, though, Amex wants to be where their corporates are and where their travellers go, whilst acknowledging that sometimes those parties will be in areas where Amex does not have a presence.

What then?

“We have no aspiration to be everywhere,” says White, “but we want to be where our card holders are. So, if we have a corporate who goes to remote areas, we will put a project team together, work with them on the merchants side, and go and sign up that area.”