[UPDATE: Oct. 13, 2016: According to Business Travel News, Concur in early 2017 will include expense receipts and credit card transactions to augment traveler tracking within the Concur Messaging system.]
During a crisis, business travelers don’t always check in with their companies when requested to do so. That may result from complacency or ignorance to corporate policies. Perhaps their phones are lost or not working. Travelers might have booked outside designated channels and their employers don’t know where they are — or even where they should be. Or maybe they really are in trouble. To help close the loop, American Express Global Business Travel is putting an old idea into action: examining very recent credit card transaction data.
The concept of card swipe data as a travel risk management tool dates back a ways, at least to the aftermath of 9/11. Amex GBT in 2014 was the first to announce a formal program, and in November 2015 said the feature is part of an expanded relationship with TRM firm iJet. It’s made possible by an ongoing relationship with American Express corporate cards.
How good is the data?
Amex GBT vice president of digital traveler Evan Konwiser acknowledged that some such data points are more effective than others. A swipe at a Starbucks in the destination airport is a pretty good indication that a traveler physically arrived around a certain time. But other swipes may not include a geolocation.
Working with a different, undisclosed card issuer, International SOS also experimented with swipe info. EVP Tim Daniel in November pointed to challenges related to timeliness and nailing down merchant locations. Addresses may not be accurate.
“In the test we ran we were getting about a 70 percent successful conversion to a lat/long,” Daniel said. “It’s coming. The technology will sort itself out. The challenges will be around regulation, privacy and access. The technology will get to the point where it is enterprise-grade, so 90-plus percent. Then it’s valuable and worth doing. If it’s just 60 percent or so, then it’s just noise.”
TRM expert Charles Brossman likes the concept as a supplement to traditional traveler tracking info or the sole data source for bookings outside designated channels. But he, too, highlighted some considerations. “From the data that I have seen on programs that want to incorporate card data for traveler tracking, the only data that is timely and useful enough is pre-authorization data, as the details provided in the settlement data could introduce a data delivery latency, making the data not as useful,” he said.
Brossman said more work is needed to determine the amount, types and criteria of data captured in the swipe process.
A “handful” of clients have inquired about a card swipe data program, according to Anvil Group managing director Matthew Judge. He said the U.K.-based TRM firm on request could integrate that kind of data — perhaps to “plug holes” for organizations with neither centralized travel data nor robust travel policies. “However, the better strategy,” Judge said, “is to fix the root causes and not patch over them.”
To minimize traveler unease about perceived privacy intrusion, Brossman said, “there most definitely needs to be a careful approach to ongoing disclosure about the utilization of such a program.” There may be legal considerations, he added, depending on where cards are issued and where cardholders are located.
At Amex GBT, Konwiser said card activity would be accessible only through “emergency activation.” In those scenarios, when a traveler does not respond to requests to check-in, “the more info the better,” he said. “The idea is not to comb through millions of card swipes. The idea is we have identified through our normal channels where everyone is and is OK, but there may be one, two or three people where you are not getting the data you need and can dig into card swipe as a precaution. In the cases where that provides a difference, that means all the world.”
Networks MasterCard and Visa, and corporate card issuers Bank of America, Citi, Chase and US Bank, declined to comment. When Amex GBT first announced the feature last summer, an executive said there were no plans to work similarly with other payment systems.
On the flip side, will Amex Co. extend the functionality to card clients using another TMC and/or another TRM firm? An Amex official wouldn’t comment.
Additional info: IJet and Amex GBT have worked together in a referral deal since 2007. Now, Amex clients using the TMC’s Expert Care platform can customize their TRM program with iJet services. Expert Care enables travel and account managers to locate and message travelers. “Soon to be available in our own mobile app, you will be able to ping them to their geolocation and they can respond back to you and be recorded on a map,” Konwiser said.
The card swipe feature comes as part of Expert Care, pricing for which is based on “air/rail volume and risk tolerance,” according to an Amex GBT official.
Meanwhile, the TMC’s expanded relationship with iJet has “no implications” for its other partners. Risk intelligence firm Riskline “will continue to be offered as an option for our clients.” Amex also will continue working with Charter Solutions International “in the development and maintenance of the technical solution to visualize and communicate with travelers.”