Fueled by a strong global economy, business travel spending is expected to grow by a healthy 6.8% in 2018, according to the Global Business Travel Association. The costs of airfare and hotels are also expected to rise by 3.5% and 3.7%, respectively.
What I have learned is that, with more business travelers on the road and in the skies, travel and expense (T&E) program leaders are looking for ways to reduce costs and risks without slashing valuable business trips. Fortunately, a few back-office trends will help on both fronts.
Trend #1: Spreadsheets R.I.P.
More T&E programs are finally putting legacy expense reports—aka spreadsheets—to rest, permanently. Manual expense reporting processes are becoming obsolete, replaced by expense reporting technologies that automate the process for travelers and T&E managers.
According to Certify’s 2017 expense management survey, 56% of finance professionals at large enterprises reported that their companies use a web-based expense management solution, up from 46% in the prior year. In contrast, only 20% of enterprises still use manual systems such as paper-based and spreadsheet-based T&E reporting.
From on-the-go receipt submission to machine learning to spot spend patterns, the future of expense reporting looks more like Instagram or Snapchat than a spreadsheet.
Trend #2: Alternative payment methods gain ground
Traditional payment methods—cards and cash—reign supreme but alternative payments are gaining ground as business travelers demand the speed and efficiency that they enjoy in their personal lives. Research by the DCC Forum shows 51% of business travelers believe that all payments will be made via mobile in the next decade. From virtual cards to mobile wallets, we’ll see more payment methods making their way into corporate spend data streams, making expenses easier to reconcile and providing more clues into patterns of spending behavior.
Trend #3: Sharing economy hits mainstream
Toward the end of 2017, Carson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) announced a preferred partnership with Lyft, marking the first major travel management company to partner with the ridesharing service. We’ll see more partnership announcements like this in 2018 as the sharing economy moves into the mainstream of business travel. If you haven’t already, it’s high time to add ride-hailing and home rental services to your travel policies.
Trend #4: Visibility into risk moves beyond an expense report
Most importantly, organizations need to shift from a single expense report view to focus on detecting and mitigating risk. By using artificial intelligence solutions for evidential reasoning, organizations will gain full visibility into risk patterns and trends. They will be able to uncover hidden fraud, waste, and misuse in T&E spending, and focus on changing underlying employee behavior and improving compliance.
Corporate travel is constantly changing, and 2018 will be no exception. Organizations will need to adapt to meet traveler expectations and manage risks.