Virtual, digital and mobile are future for T&E payments, but corporate cards still remain popular

15 December, 2021

As business travel starts to bounces back, so has the relative importance of travel and expense spend management, according to a recent survey of over 100 travel buyers responsible for T&E spend around the globe. The Oct-2021 research from travel management company BCD Travel also highlights process simplification and traveller satisfaction as top payment and expense priorities for the post-pandemic marketplace.  

On the list of programme priorities, three in four (76%) travel buyers consider payment and expense very to extremely important, an increase of eight points compared to the 68% who recorded the same response in a previous survey in Apr-2021. The top three priorities for payment and expense are process simplification (91%), traveller satisfaction (88%) and travel data insights (80%).

When it comes to forms of payment used to settle travel costs, corporate cards are the most popular (used by 94%), followed by central billed accounts (56%), invoices (41%) and virtual cards (37%). Travellers on the road mainly use corporate cards (90%).

The use of personal cash (32%), cash advance (24%) and consumer cards (22%) is nowhere near as prevalent. When asked about data quality, corporate cards are ranked first, followed by central billed accounts and invoices.

Virtual cards popular among those tan use them

Interestingly, virtual cards aren’t high on the list when it comes to the data quality of payment methods. However, travel buyers who use virtual cards (37% of sample) think differently and rank virtual cards second according to data quality.

Meanwhile, travel buyers say the biggest pain points experienced around payment setup and administration are managing payment needs of non-employees, managing payment methods in multiple countries and emerging markets and suppliers not accepting certain payment methods or charging extra fees.

Virtual, digital and mobile payments becoming more prominent

Respondents also shared their views on what trends they think will be shaping payment and expense with a clear leaning towards virtual, digital and mobile payments becoming more prominent in the future of B2B T&E payments and spend management. These will also help overcome some of the expresses pain points by making it easier to centrally pay for hotel or car booking for employees, recruits, interns and consultants alike.

The research shows that right now contactless payment (55%), paperless expense solutions (52%) and higher transparency and control over expenses (47%) are already proving popular options. Expected to gain traction in one to three years are mobile payment (41%), wide adoption of expense management apps (35%) and biometric authentication (35%) Meanwhile, looking ahead five years from now, a majority (52%) expect to be using virtual cards more frequently, while the use of cash and invoices will go down.

Contactless payments, paperless expense solutions and higher expense transparency are currently shaping payment and expense in travel. Mobile payments are expected to become more popular shortly, while crypto payments may take off later, according to the research.

Virtual, digital and mobile payments 'are the future'

“Virtual, digital and mobile payments are the future of B2B T&E payments and spend management,” according to Ajay Singh, vice president of digital payment and expense products at BCD Travel. On the merits of virtual cards, he says: “By automatically generating a new virtual card number for each transaction, the risk of fraud is greatly reduced. When it’s time to reconcile, all charges on the virtual card account are automatically matched to bookings, saving time and resources.”