Amex tackles part-time T&E

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The evolution of the workforce away from traditional 40-hour per week full-time staff is making it harder to handle corporate travel expenses.

"There's an evolving workforce with contractors and freelancers," said Gint Balodis, vice president of global product management for American Express Global Commercial Payments. "There's a study from Deloitte that says up to 40% of workers may be part time or contract workers."

That Deloitte study examined not just the growth of contract workers, but the impact of what it calls a "contingent workforce" on payroll, expenses and other elements of workforce management.

Amex has just released an enhanced version of its existing Business Travel Account, which is designed to provide more visibility into business travel expense. The product adds virtual account numbers, which allow more types of business travel spending to flow through a single account. It works with existing booking practices of travel management companies through collaboration between Amex and Conferma, a virtual service provider that aids the booking of hotels and airlines.

The enhanced version adds preauthorized spending limits at the time of booking to reduce fraud, features for large groups of employees that don't have travel cards, and reconciliation that captures reference fields defined by the company, such as employee numbers. This is designed to improve visibility for billed and unbilled content.

The business travel account is aimed at all corporate travel, though Balodis evisions use cases for irregular expenses, such as temporary staff that has to travel because of a project.

"Virtual account numbers can help define special elements that are tied to travel, such as booking or purchases while on the road," Balodis said.

There's also a competitive impetus for Amex's corporate payments business. Serving the growth of contractors has become a favored investment category for venture capital. Mastercard and Visa have both collaborated with Stripe to enable contractors to access funds faster. Bank of America has collaborated with ModoPayments to serve contractor needs, and merchant acquirer Payline Data offers open technology tools to develop solutions for the gig economy.

"The BTA account has been around for a long time, it allows travel agencies to book company travel onto a centralized company account without having to bill to individual employee cards. It simplifies billing and payments and enables the company to receive a single, centralized bill," said Rick Oglesby, president of AZ Payments, adding it's been difficult to bill certain expenses to these accounts because some airlines don't work with travel agencies, and hotels normally require an account on file for expenses incurred during the visit.

"The new addition of dynamic virtual account numbers solves that problem, so BTA users can consolidate more of their travel expenses onto their BTA account," he said. "Because the virtual account numbers expire, they can reduce fraud."

Amex's Balodis said the trends will contribute to a greater centralizing of T&E expense to simplify management. "I believe the industry will swing more from individual corporate cards to more of these centrally built systems that add an additional level of control," Balodis said.

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