After modernising the corporate booking experience, fast-growing travel tech startup TripActions is pivoting into travel payments with Liquid, adding a new product to its portfolio which issues Visa cards to employees for use on business trips.

Combined with a mobile app for spend tracking and granular spending controls for managers, the startup wants to end the days of employees fronting their own bills on personal credit cards and filing bundles of receipts when they return.

© TripActions
© TripActions

Founded in Silicon Valley in 2015 by Ariel Cohen and Ilan Twig, TripActions has built a modern travel-booking portal for the enterprise, allowing employees to book their own flights and hotels using a Kayak/Expedia-style interface, within spending thresholds set by managers.

Now it is looking to become the go-to application for business trip spending, issuing physical and virtual corporate cards with the same level of granular controls, along with plenty of digital bells and whistles to bring the experience into the modern era.

Based in Palo Alto, TripActions already has offices across the US, as well as in Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, London and Sydney, and has raised $480 million in funding including from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz (Ben Horowitz sits on the board). Most recently, the startup was provided with a $500 million debt facility led by Silicon Valley Bank with participation from Goldman Sachs and Comerica Bank, so that it can provide a credit facility to its customers.

Cohen told Techworld last week that Goldman Sachs and Visa brought plenty of strategic help to the table, noting that "they want to see innovation in this space and they like our vision".

How it works

Using Liquid, employees are issued with a physical corporate credit card and a virtual version, together with an app which allows for spend tracking.

There is, of course, an implicit trade-off here for privacy. Under TripActions, the days of sending in a non-itemised receipt to hide the extra glass of wine you had with dinner are gone, as travel managers can set granular controls down to the dollar.

"When finance teams create policies it is communicated to the mobile app, for example they could set a $75 per day limit for spend at restaurants and decline liquor stores," explained Michael Sindicich, general manager of TripActions Liquid. Sinsicich added that this level of insight also helps TripActions fine tune its anti-fraud protections.

Liquid also seeks to automate back-office tasks like receipt reconciliation, pulling in the employee's invoices automatically or nudging them at the time of purchase to take a picture using the app to immediately attach to the charge.

One beta customer of Liquid is, somewhat ironically, the video conferencing specialist Zoom. “Everyone who touches accounting knows that travel payment reconciliation is an issue, but it was always one of those ‘necessary evils’ you had to deal with,” said Vik Shah, corporate controller at Zoom, in a press release.

“I wasn’t surprised when TripActions came to me with a solution. What impressed me though, was how effective it is. TripActions Liquid is a major time saver – we’ve been able to reduce travel payment reconciliation time from weeks to minutes each month."

Liquid comes as an added service to the core TripActions platform and is charged on a yearly basis according to company size.

Sustainability concerns

TripActions is all about enabling in-person meetings around the world and its George-Clooney-in-Up In The Air vision for business travel is at risk of looking outdated in the age of improved video conferencing and Greta Thunberg-induced climate guilt.

"We think about sustainability a lot," Cohen said, pointing towards the company's carbon offsetting programme as one way it is addressing those concerns. Of course the efficacy of carbon offsetting programmes are still up for debate.

Undeterred by talk of reduced business travel in the future, Cohen believes there are still plenty of areas of business travel his company can look to improve.

"There are many more pain points for us and we are at the beginning of figuring that out for all parties involved," he added.