BTN's annual answer book for business travel managers.
Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel - March 21, 2019
etc.venues: Fenchurch Street - March 28, 2019
Hilton San Francisco Union Square - April 2, 2019
Certify's Bob Neveu talks:
When Certify announced the opening of its London office
recently, CEO Bob Neveu characterized the move as an "escalation and an
evolution," a way to enhance its existing business serving U.K.-based
companies while also providing a springboard to launch future expansion in the
region. The same description aptly could be applied to Certify's growth since
securing a $125 million majority-stake investment from K1 Investment Management
in June 2017. That deal merged three other expense management providers under
the Certify brand. Armed with that financing, the company wasted little time
building out offerings and enhancing its footprint. In September 2017, Certify
acquired NuTravel's corporate online booking tool and has integrated it into
the Certify expense management platform. The company also since has nabbed
expense providers Abacus and Spain-based Captio, inked a global payments deal
with Western Union and expanded its physical presence to the U.K. with the
London office. Neveu spoke with BTN payment and expense editor Adam Perrotta.
BTN: Certify has made a
lot of acquisitions and service expansions lately. How do those moves fit into
an overarching growth strategy?
Neveu: We have a very intentional plan for organic growth via
product enhancement and inorganic growth via acquisitions. Last year's
investment from K1 was a big pivot in our direction. Prior to that, we'd had a
couple rounds of investment but we didn't have the capability to do major
acquisitions because we didn't have the capital or the organizational capacity.
For our first nine years [after launching in 2008], we were growing via adding
functions and features, which was viable but slower. Now, we have the capital
to make acquisitions and the management team to integrate a new platform
post-closing. And you need that because it's much larger than just buying up a
competitor. You have to be able to put it all together.
BTN: Speaking of
integration, you added NuTravel's booking tool to Certify's platform, making
you one of the few providers to offer both booking and expense. How does
offering both help you compete?
Neveu: It's a big piece for us. Concur has been the leader in that
space, and for a long time, they were the only provider that had travel and
expense under one roof. Now, the online booking tool gives us the ability to
compete with them because the benefits of having both travel and expense
together are many. If you have a separate system for each, you have two
different contracts, implementations, data feeds. And users have two different
login processes. Bringing those two things together under a single system and a
single contract allows a client to have a more streamlined system. And it helps
us be more aggressive in selling integrated solutions because once we're
working with a company, we can ask them, "What else can we do to help?"
Everybody understands the bundle concept, and it's really a natural fit between
booking and expense.
BTN: Another major theme
has been expansion in Europe, with the Captio acquisition, the Western Union
deal and now the London office. What makes Europe an attractive market?
Neveu: There's so much green field for expansion there. In the
U.S., among companies with less than 1,000 employees, around 51 percent use
Excel or some other legacy system to do expense reports. In Europe and the
U.K., that figure is around 70 percent, so it's an even bigger opportunity.
Now, some percentage of small companies will never adopt an electronic system,
but you have to assume that in a more paperless world, more and more will
embrace the technology. The other piece of it is: We've always had a global
product, but we had some limitations on service. For instance, we didn't have
global payments; we only had domestic [Automated Clearing House]. So the
partnership with Western Union allows us to pay in multiple countries and
currencies. And with the new London office, we're making an investment to put
people on the ground because many companies do feel more comfortable working
with a vendor with a local presence and the ability to work with them at their
BTN: On the topic of
technology, an intriguing topic is automation of expenses. There's debate
between the convenience of automating approvals and the control of a more
hands-on approach. What are your thoughts?
Neveu: There will be a blend of both approaches. There are systems
now where you can approve and pay automatically based on certain rules, but we
find a lot of companies, especially small companies, don't want to do that. But
for larger companies, there can be value in efficiency [from automation]. For instance,
if you have 100 expense reports, there may be 30 that need to be reviewed more
closely based on certain criteria like who the user is if that person has had
reporting issues in the past. So if the system flags those automatically and
enables you to only have to review those 30 instead of all 100, that makes the
process more efficient but still leaves a manager in control. That's the
solution that will win in the market.
BTN: Certify's recent
SpendSmart report found that Uber was the most frequently expensed brand in the
third quarter, and Lyft was among the top 10. How have you tailored your
offerings to account for the growth of those services?
Neveu: The biggest part for the user is receipt
integration. You're going to use their app to hail a ride but ultimately, you've
got to get the receipt into the expense system, so we've created ways to
efficiently capture receipts into Certify. And on the flip side, we can
aggregate that user data for travel managers so they can understand the
utilization rates and satisfaction levels of those providers.
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