Adoption of new robust digital travel expense and compliance models goes a long way, not only for the rising modern business traveller but also your business
A study commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board- ‘Capturing the Asian Millennial Traveller’- revealed that in the next five years, Singaporean millennial travellers (born between 1981 and 1995) will enter their peak earning and spending years. Their maturation, attributed to their entry and rise as professionals, is expected to drive the next wave of travel growth.
With Singaporeans ranked as some of the most well-travelled people in the world according to Google’s Asia-Pacific Travel Dashboard, travel suppliers cannot ignore the habits and preferences of millennials. On average, these digital natives spend over 12 hours on their digital devices daily and are active across platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp. When these young Singaporeans travel for business, they want to be able to plan and book travel the same way that they do when they travel for leisure.
With travel demand at an all-time high among Singaporeans, the onset of new travel technologies and an increasingly younger workforce, companies in Singapore need to consider the needs and preferences of their employees, both when they book travel and during the time they are away. Having the right digital travel expense and compliance solution in place is key to keep employees safe when they are abroad and to retain young talent who want flexibility.
It’s also critical for managing costs, and for increasing productivity. In 2017, a poll by Unit4 found that office workers in Singapore are the least productive of 11 countries polled, spending almost 50 days a year on administrative tasks like expense management. Simple systems designed for easy transmission of expenses and itineraries free employees’ time up to focus on their primary work duties.
An APP-etite for technology
According to a 2016 mobility report by Ericsson, Singapore’s smartphone penetration exceeded 100%, ahead of the average ASEAN penetration levels of 40%. Singapore also claimed second spot in the APAC region for app revenue in 2016, and is expected to double by 2020.
Technology presents many opportunities for businesses to empower their employees with mobile tools and solutions that enhance productivity and drive the top line. However, the key is to implement technology-based solutions that end users and traveling employees will find easy to adopt. Booking tools and functions must be fast, intuitive and accessible via mobile devices, and offer a variety of options for transport and accommodation. Utilised effectively, data can be easily captured, allowing for smooth processing of expenses and locating employees with ease who are traveling in the event of an emergency or incident.
Autonomy vs Economy and The Digital Native
Business travellers – and even more so for millennials – prefer autonomy over how they travel. Direct bookings offer employees convenience, choice, cost-savings and customised experiences. Loyalty programmes, such as frequent flyer and hotel points programmes, also have an impact on choices. Business travellers’ highly consumerised behaviour mean they often book with suppliers and platforms they prefer directly, resulting in non-compliance with their employer’s travel policy.
This leads to confusion about what is and isn’t covered by the employer, causing potential disputes later and lost productivity sorting out expenses. Without an up-to-date travel policy, businesses miss out on the negotiated rates derived from managed travel programmes, and not delivering savings to the bottom line.
By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce and APAC will be home to 60% of them by 2020. There are 1.2 million millennials in Singapore today, almost a quarter of the resident population. They are also the largest generation in the Singapore workforce, and are already the most frequent business travellers.
These connected ‘Digital Natives’ thrive on a sense of purpose in their work. They crave autonomy, experiences, flexibility and empowerment. As their numbers grow, the culture they create will permeate every business.
This desire for ‘experience over expenditure’ is leading to the rise of ‘bleisure’ (a combination of business and leisure). Bleisure is most associated with younger business travellers who want work-life balance, and want to extend trips, bringing along family and friends. According to McKinsey, Asian business travellers are in fact almost twice as likely to make a booking that includes a weekend (12%) compared with their European peers (7%).
Younger business travellers increasingly taking plans into their own hands prevent employers from properly fulfilling their duty of care. If there is no record of a hotel or flight change, or of an Airbnb stay over a weekend, the employer has no visibility and is unable to reach out to ensure employee safety if and when an incident takes place (natural disaster, act of terrorism, etc.).
Benefits to improving corporate travel through the incorporation of digital models
In August 2016, two senior executives of local shipbuilder ST Marine made the headlines for cheating on entertainment expense claims. They claimed more than $5 million over 10 years, to fund bribes paid to customers. A third colleague was also on trial for another $1.6 million worth of bogus claims.
Earlier, there were also media reports of an event organiser inflating expenses for an annual festive light-up in Geylang Serai. He had cheated government statutory boards of almost S$200,000.
Both cases highlight the extent of fraud – or corporate expense non-compliance – that many companies face. It is a financial problem that is becoming more prevalent in Singapore.
Automating corporate travel, expense and invoice processes gives financial controllers visibility into what employees are spending. Businesses of all sizes need to have clear guidelines and communications in place for all kinds of employee travel – air and ground, short and long-haul. A robust digital travel expense and compliance model can:
• Attract the best talent by embracing technology and mobile applications that ease the inconveniences of travel;
• Improve efficiencies and increase productivity by implementing simple processes to request travel budget, report plans, submit expenses and share itineraries; and
• Ensure employees safety by leveraging on technology and data insights to track employee whereabouts.
To continue to stay ahead of the game, businesses in Singapore need to work towards meeting the expectations of the modern workforce. Travel providers here should also rise to the challenge of staying relevant to the modern business traveller.
The fast growth of the APAC markets, coupled with the digital consumption habits of Singaporean millennial travellers, highlight a critical need for businesses here to modernise their travel, expense and compliance models and update their technology.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Nick serves as Senior Vice President and General Manager, for Concur across Asia Pacific. Responsible for revenue and margin growth, he leads the sales and operations team in delivering innovative software technology solutions to meet customers’ needs. Since joining Concur in 2014, Nick played an instrumental role in architecting and expanding Concur’s business presence within APAC.
Prior to Concur, Nick was Regional Vice President, Asia responsible for applications performance management, with Compuware. Earlier in his career, Nick held various senior executive roles at Oracle, Fujitsu, and KPMG.
Concur, a SAP company, is the global leader in travel and expense management. By connecting data, applications and people, Concur delivers an effortless experience for organizations providing total transparency into discretionary spend.