American Express, Microsoft to Drive Innovation in Business Travel

American Express (NYSE: AXP) is expanding its relationship with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) to develop a suite of solutions built on Microsoft Cloud and AI technologies “focused on reducing business travel friction for employees and businesses.”

The first solution developed through this collaboration will “enhance the expense management process by addressing some of the pain points business travelers and expense processors face.”

Using AI and machine learning capabilities, the solution “will bolster clients’ existing processes and tools by simplifying and automating manual expense reporting and approvals, enhancing audit efficacy, and streamlining reconciliation and reimbursements for accounting teams.”

Microsoft will “pilot the solution with its employees, by integrating it into the company’s internal expense system later this year.”

The solution will be “made available to other American Express Corporate clients over time, with the ability to integrate into other expense management tools.”

This is how the solution will work: When a business traveler swipes their American Express Corporate Card, they’ll be “prompted to upload a picture of their receipt.”

An AI-powered decision engine then “categorizes the transaction and assigns a risk score based on transaction details, 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) depending on 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 and help managers and auditors in their decision making.”

Through machine learning the solution “will get smarter over time, adapting its algorithms based on patterns and gradually increasing its ability to maximize expense auto-approval with lower error rates and escalations.”

Gunther Bright, Executive Vice President, Global Commercial Services at American Express, said:

“Expense reports are a necessity, but we all hate doing them. At the same time, every company has an increased need for control and compliance with expenses. Now imagine a future where the majority of your expenses are simply ‘auto-submitted’ and ‘auto-approved,’ requiring no manual intervention and adhering to your companies’ policies and spend limits. By combining our customer insights and data, purposeful technology innovation, and a collaboration with an industry leader like Microsoft, we are creating a solution that addresses these needs with a seamless experience for the employee.”

Bill Borden, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Financial Services at Microsoft, said:

“Advanced technologies like Microsoft Azure AI and machine learning provide powerful, new opportunities to reimagine pervasive, time-consuming manual processes. We look forward to collaborating with American Express to simplify expense management and deliver intelligent digital capabilities to improve the lives of business travelers and employees.”

According to a new American Express Expense Management Trendex survey¹, which polled business travelers and travel expense processors, “the expense management process is a major pain point today that needs to be updated.”

Four-in-ten business travelers say “they would rather have a performance review (41%), weekly meetings on Monday at 8 a.m. (40%), their flight delayed by an hour (40%), or a full day of virtual meetings (40%) than have to complete their expense reports.”

Additionally, 59% of travel expense processors, “who don’t currently have a completely autonomous expense report management system, say the greatest benefit to having a more automated expense report management system would be saving time, and 94% of all travel expense processors agree there needs to be more innovation, signaling the need for more automated solutions.”

The new solution is “part of American Express’ ongoing work to redefine the end-to-end payments experience globally, both for travelers and companies.”

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