Amex begins a deeper dive into corporate travel data

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Merchants increasingly sing the praises of analyzing customer payment data to learn more about spending habits and deliver customized offers through mobile devices. American Express is kicking off a project to do the same with corporate travel data.

American Express is working with SunTec Business Solutions to build a digital, standardized and automated platform in 25 countries to deliver billing statements and updates to corporate clients. By becoming a SunTec technology client this week, American Express Global Business Travel has kicked off plans to move from its individual legacy networks to an integrated platform by this time next year.

The result for corporate clients will be the ability to more clearly view employee business travel expenses and the potential to customize options for those travelers based on that data, while also positioning themselves for better deals from Amex.

"The core value proposition of corporate business travel cards is to provide a clear view for companies to better manage their expenses and as a means to getting discounts out of merchants if they participate and share data," said Eric Grover, payments industry consultant at Minden, Nev.-based Intrepid Ventures. "The biggest constraint has always been capturing meaningful detail on the data so as to analyze it."

Amex will benefit if SunTec provides an easier and more manageable platform to cut up this data for Amex clients, Grover said.

"But Amex has always presented to its clients that they would get a high-level and granular view of employee spend to help them better manage it," he added.

SunTec says it has the chops to make that process even better, delivering itemized billing through its Xelerate platform. The company initially entered the industry more than two decades ago in servicing telecommunication companies. Eventually, some of those companies became digital media providers, specializing in bundled services and pricing, which became a data management forte for SunTec's platform and mirrors the various aspects of employee business travel expenses and payments.

"Amex offers travel services to its corporate clients, but currently is using different pricing and billing systems," said Amit Dua, president and global head of the client facing group for SunTec Business Solutions.

Even though American Express Global Business Travel serves 37 of the 100 largest corporate travel spenders in the U.S., the company needed technological help to make its billing and payment data management systems the same for all of these clients.

It becomes complicated when employees from corporate customers go onto the travel portal and request flights, hotels and rental cars because those common requests essentially become three distinct transactions on the Amex legacy systems, Dua said. And Amex has a different process for each of its markets.

"We are harmonizing all of that with our technology in bringing all of these individual billing systems of Amex worldwide into a single SunTec system," Dua added. "Amex can now use one single system to do a lot of data analysis for its clients and bill the corporations in the same manner."

Amex and SunTec will initially roll out the service in 25 countries, with the largest being the U.S., but also including Australia, Canada, the U.K., Mexico and others. SunTec has global offices in India, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S.

The added visibility from this project allows companies to offer relevant travel deals and more options to employees. It helps the companies save money and provides employees with the type of seamless business travel arrangements they use when planning personal trips.

Even though integration can be a time-consuming process, the upsides are plentiful, Dua added, because the single data analysis and billing system will allow Amex to become more flexible in what it offers corporate clients through price-centric models, while also delivering complete transparency on employee expense payments.

"It minimizes disputes and it's all done in real time, so it is far easier to monitor the charging and billing," he added.

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