How American Express and Microsoft’s new AI-powered solution facilitates business travel payments
- Expense reports are a critical component of any business -- however, business travelers and expense processors often face challenges in keeping track of their expenses while on the go, leading to missing receipts, lost records, and missed reimbursements.
- In a move to evolve the way business travel payments are processed, American Express and Microsoft have partnered to develop a portfolio of solutions built on Microsoft Cloud and AI technologies – aimed to minimize the stumbling blocks in business travel for employees and businesses.
Sometimes, enterprises are so caught up in making things easier for their customers that they can overlook what their own employees might be struggling with.
Business travel expenses and reimbursements are one of the many to-dos before closing the financial year, and many employees find them cumbersome.
More than half (52%) of business travelers and over one-third (35%) of travel expense processors provide negative feedback when describing their employer’s current expense management process. 60% of business travelers feel filing their expenses is the most arduous aspect of business travel, according to a new American Express survey.
Expense reports: Necessary but annoying
However, expense reports are a critical component of any business. They’re needed to ensure that expenses are accurately recorded, tracked, and reimbursed, and provide a clear picture of the organization's financial health.
From a regulatory standpoint, these reports help to corroborate that all expenses are in compliance with company policies and procedures, as well as local, state, and federal regulations.
In a move to evolve the way business travel payments are processed, American Express and Microsoft have partnered to develop a portfolio of solutions built on Microsoft Cloud and AI technologies – aimed to minimize the stumbling blocks in business travel for employees and businesses.
Business travelers and expense processors often face challenges in keeping track of their expenses while on the go, leading to missing receipts, lost records, and missed reimbursements.
Additionally, entering data manually can be slow and error-prone, and may result in duplication of effort for expense processors if expense management systems are not fully integrated with other systems, such as travel booking systems and accounting software.
Adding categories via AI
The new solution targets these common pain points related to expense management. The solution works when a business traveler swipes their American Express Corporate Card, next they’ll be prompted to upload a picture of their receipt. The transaction is then categorized by an AI-powered decision engine that assigns a risk score based on transaction details, including the company’s travel and expense (T&E) policy, and the traveler’s purchase and payment history on their American Express Corporate Card.
The risk score is coded as green (recommended for auto-approval), yellow (needs another look), or red (not recommended for approval) subject to factors like company expense policy, consistency with existing spend patterns, indications of fraud, and more. The information is then passed to an expense management system, along with receipt details to auto-generate reports to assist managers and auditors in their decision-making.
The new solution basically aims to simplify two areas:
- Clients’ existing processes by automating manual expense reporting and approvals
- Improving compliance for auditors and streamlining reconciliation and reimbursements for accounting teams
American Express and Microsoft have a decades-long strategic relationship which includes Microsoft being an Amex-accepting merchant and using Amex corporate cards. However, the expense management tool is the first solution developed through this relationship.
“We’ll help dramatically reduce the time spent on expense reporting for everyone involved in the process, from the traveler to the auditor, as the process shifts from manual to more automated,” said Gunther Bright, executive vice president, of global commercial services at American Express.
By combining Microsoft’s cloud technology with Amex’s closed-loop data network capabilities, the latter intends to evolve the end-to-end payments experience globally for Amex Corporate clients, according to Bright.
Microsoft's AI interest in financial services
Microsoft is working to align its developments in AI through Azure to make organizations more productive. Microsoft will be the first one to implement the solution and integrate it into its own internal expense system later this year.
“Machine learning and AI technologies available in Microsoft Azure AI provide powerful, new opportunities to reimagine pervasive, time-consuming manual processes for business travelers and companies,” Bill Borden, corporate vice president of worldwide financial services at Microsoft, told Tearsheet.
Although AI and machine learning solutions are advancing rapidly and are likely to play a significant role in the future by changing the business landscape, they require extensive training in order to produce an algorithm that is highly optimized to perform a single task.
There also exists the issue of machine learning or AI bias. Algorithms trained on data sets that omit certain races and people of color can lead to inaccurate models that can malfunction or become discriminatory. As a result, if an enterprise’s operations are determined by biased models it can run into regulatory and reputational inconveniences.
“We train our solutions on diverse datasets, test and validate the output across various scenarios, gate check the output before it is surfaced to end users, and have failback mechanisms in place,” said Borden.
ChatGPT and the financial industry
Advancing AI solutions have gained considerable momentum lately fueled by the popularity of OpenAI's ChatGPT since its advent in November 2022. ChatGPT's impact on the finance industry is an emerging topic of interest for industry leaders.
While many are eyeing its future use cases in the financial industry that may not be far off, some experts have raised concerns that ChatGPT may have negative implications by disrupting traditional financial services, which include trust and advisory services to customers.
Elon Musk recently tweeted about ChatGPT being a “dangerously strong AI”, which indicates that the more advanced the service, the bigger the scale of (cybersecurity) risks involved.
However, some experts cite that ChatGPT won't likely replace the need for all-human financial advice as users will always want personalized counsel but it has the potential to push humans up the chain.
“We believe that AI will help transform many categories and inspire curiosity and creativity to explore new applications, but we don’t have anything to share related to that area (ChatGPT in financial services) at this time,” added Borden.