Each year, companies spend millions of dollars on travel expenditures across a number of payment methods. While corporate cards, Central Travel Accounts (CTAs) and an employee’s personal card are currently the most popular payment methods, alternatives, like virtual payments, for corporate travel are making their way onto the scene as options with less upfront control and visibility, like cash advances, are falling by the wayside.
A new Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) Foundation study, Single-Use Virtual Accounts: State of the Industry, conducted in partnership with U.S. Bank, identifies some reasons why travel buyers and suppliers like single-use virtual accounts and explains what’s standing in the way of wider adoption.
How do single-use virtual accounts work?
Single-use virtual payments are unique account numbers that are generated for a specific supplier, transaction amount and/or time period. In most cases, once the transaction is processed, the account number is no longer active. They combine the convenience, acceptance and familiarity of traditional credit cards with enhanced security and control features.
Why use single-use virtual accounts?
Travel buyers identified several key advantages of using virtual payments. First, fraud risk is diminished thanks to the 1:1 match of account number to payment. Second, single-use virtual payments enhance control over the travel expenses of personnel from outside the organization, like interview candidates, contractors or consultants.
Additionally, companies can choose to set spending limits or to restrict use to approved vendors. This opens a number of doors when it comes to controlling business travel spending and improving compliance with company travel policy.
Another key benefit for travel buyers comes when reconciling expenses. The purchase and the payment are reconciled electronically, eliminating the time-consuming and error-ridden task of manually pairing expenses to payment methods after the purchase is processed. A small group of buyers surveyed report spending just one hour per week reconciling expenses made using single-use virtual accounts. This compares to two-and-a-half hours spent reconciling expenses using a CTA and two hours for corporate cards.
Travel suppliers also see a bright side to using single-use virtual accounts – most notably, faster receipt of payment and improved payment data. This is possibly why many more suppliers are currently accepting virtual payments than there are buyers using them.
What stands in the way of wide-spread adoption for these accounts?
The top pain point reported by buyers is confusion at the point of sale at specific travel suppliers, such as hotels. Buyers also report suppliers having trouble processing payments and say single-use virtual accounts are not flexible enough to accommodate incidental charges. However, this may be less of a payment method limitation and more of a knowledge gap as account limits can be set to accommodate for ancillary purchases based on the corporate policy.
There is clearly an education gap when it comes to single-use virtual accounts use in corporate travel. With one-half of buyers citing sheer lack of knowledge regarding the benefits, it is likely that product education would be the most effective way to increase use.
There is also a bit of a chicken and the egg situation when it comes to these types of payment. Suppliers cite lack of buyer demand as a main reason why they do not accept single-use virtual accounts. Buyers cite lack of supplier acceptance as a reason why they do not pursue this option. If use is to increase, both buyers and suppliers must be proactive.
Finally, consistency is key. Both buyers and suppliers mention confusion and challenges at point of sale as barriers to use, particularly with travel suppliers whose charges are variable, like hotels. This likely stems from another pain point — no single application or process across all suppliers. Without a unified and equally-applied practice, confusion will persist among those attempting to use single-use virtual accounts.
Learn more at GBTA Convention
On Tuesday, July 19, U.S. Bank is sponsoring an education session in GBTA’s Academy Hall at the Colorado Convention Center that will focus on the benefits and barriers of single-use virtual payments. Based on results from this research, the session will bring buyers and hoteliers together to discuss current practices and work to identify ways to minimize the barriers to acceptance and use. Attend this session to learn if adding this payment solution to your company’s offerings is right for you.