Especially in today’s dynamic economy, businesses need to have crystal-clear visibility into their cash flow and employee spend. Yet, a lot of businesses struggle to control and manage their complete spend. Many of the tools on the market are specific to managing one type of expense such as travel and expense or office suppliers or subscriptions – and no one is bringing it all together from sourcing to reconciliation. Further, other solutions can be expensive and complex to implement.
We aim to change that with a spend management platform called Amex GBT Neo1 (Neo1™). The tool, now being offered for free to businesses in the United Kingdom and United States, was built specifically for businesses to help owners and finance departments easily manage all employee spend in one place.
Today, Fiona Hastings, vice president and general manager of Neo1, shares more about how the tool can help businesses gain greater oversight of their cash flow. It enables employees to purchase, within company limits, the items they need to do their jobs.
Q. Where did the idea for Neo1 come from?
Technical innovation starts with an idea. The best ideas are the ones that solve a problem – nothing new to anyone. I’ve always been surrounded by people who own businesses, and I’ve seen too many struggle and fail because of cash flow problems. There are so many businesses founded by passionate hard-working people who want to do something about their “great idea.” People work very hard to make their ideas a reality, and many are profitable, but inefficient tools and practices to manage the timing of money going out is a common problem. It’s not the idea that isn’t good it’s the management of liquidity that’s the downfall of so many good businesses, and this shouldn’t be the case. And it’s not the big expenses that trigger failure. It’s the sum of all the little expenses that add up and cause an issue. Some businesses don’t see them until it’s too late.
So, I had an opportunity to head up an innovation team at KDS (which Amex GBT acquired in 2016) to build an end-to-end strategy in one simple platform to help businesses manage not only travel, but all the types of expenses employees incur. KDS has award-winning technology best suited to large companies, so I was in a good place – but knew the bigger platforms that cater to larger companies were too complex and expensive for some businesses. They require dedicated people to manage them and are simply too challenging since businesses’ needs are different.
For the first 12 months, I worked with some brilliant engineers based in France to create the vision of Neo1, a platform that can help businesses with their cash flow and the end-to-end process of managing all their employee spend in one place.
Q. What kind of businesses would benefit from using a tool like Neo1?
We’re finding quite a broad industry application for Neo1. Construction, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, high-tech and startups love it. Also, real estate, distribution companies, manufacturing, fintech, business services – sort of anyone that has employees and needs to be able to manage their spend. We have an active Not For Profit (NFP) program and are pleased by the many charities we are currently helping give back to the world in so many valuable ways.
If you have under 10 employees, you probably don’t need Neo1. Once you have 20, 30, 40 – up to about 300 employees – that’s really when the volume of spend happens and you need to watch cash flow and have transparency over it. Those are the businesses that would benefit from using Neo1. Add the shift to a largely nomadic younger working generation and Work From Home positions with the need to provide goods and services to where employees are located. This needed to be done with a controlled distribution method, which was missing. Surprisingly we solve it very easily in Neo1.
Q. What kind of challenges do emerging businesses have with cash flow and employee spend?
When building Neo1, I conducted interviews with approximately 150 businesses on how they manage their expenditures. The more I interviewed these businesses, the more I realized how they handled it was a mess. There was no consistency whatsoever. It was all trust-based, which isn’t a bad thing, but when you can’t see the financial impact it can surprise your bottom line – which isn’t good. The alternative involved old-fashioned, manual, time-consuming processes or multiple systems that didn’t talk to each other, and only one manager had access to.
I realized the biggest issue was visibility. It’s not the big-expense items like rent or payroll that were problematic. It’s the cumulative effect of all those little employee expenses that they don’t see until the end of the month. You know your big-ticket items, but it’s the smaller expenses – the subscription payments, the seven employees who have LinkedIn Premium, the uniforms, the mileage claims – that add up to create problems.
The second biggest issue was wasted time and effort. We found that employees were frustrated with the procurement process. Whenever they needed something, they were expected to “just email Doris,” and maybe they’d get a response. When they finally got what they asked for, it was never quite what they needed. They ended up buying their own item, and when they tried to put a claim in, they got rejected. The process was inefficient and rarely delivered to the employee or the business what was required.
Q. How does Neo1 solve this problem?
Neo1 simplifies everything by bringing together budgets, expense management, purchasing, and travel booking all in one place – so you don’t need different procedures and systems to manage employee spend. With Neo1, your employees can get the right things at the right time to maintain their productivity without your business losing control over the costs.
Q. What is so unique about Neo1?
There are lots of travel and expense management systems out there that connect travel booking with expense, but most focus on the travel expense report process. They aren’t doing the same thing for procuring other items – like T-shirts, uniforms, laptops, or mobile phones. Furthermore, they aren’t helping individuals and teams take accountability for spending decisions by setting budgets.
With Neo1 we’ve brought those two worlds together: travel and expense, and general procurement and budgeting. Neo1 manages the end-to-end process of “tail-end spend.”
Q. What is tail-end spend?
It’s all those smaller individual purchases typically done with a broader range of vendors. It can end up being a large percentage of total spend and can be hard to track. It includes travel, but also a lot more.
Historically, an employee would buy an item and ask to be reimbursed, or use the boss’ credit card, or just walk down the street to a local vendor who’d invoice the company.
With Neo1, we pick up all that spend and put it into one place, so you have full visibility over it.
QHow does Neo1 capture tail-end spend?
We achieved this by integrating Amazon Business into Neo1 as well as the Amex GBT travel booking tool. Between these two compelling marketplaces, we cover most of the tail-end spending needs for employees.
An employee can access Amazon Business directly through Neo1. They can search for items from millions of suppliers and buy whatever they need to do their jobs — like stationery, office supplies, a laptop, etc. Also, any individual in a business can automatically receive a virtual card if they require a payment method to pay for goods and services they need – but this doesn’t trigger individuals having to be issued a corporate credit card or using their own money within Neo1. If they need money to go to New York City for example, then the employer can automatically issue a payment method with the approved funding to do this – all integrated into the budgeting module.
Most general goods and services an employee needs to do their job can be fulfilled in Neo1, either with Amazon Business or with Amex GBT on the business travel side.
Q. How does an employee book travel?
They just click a button and are taken to our travel booking tool, where they can search for and book flights, hotels, trains, and cars. They can compare trip costs and details simply online.
Q. How does Neo1 help prevent overspending and fraud?
Just by bringing total employee spend to one dashboard, a business can see where it all is. Suddenly, fraud goes down because spend is not stuck in a claim, emailed in an Excel spreadsheet, or hidden in someone’s email. There are several ways we prevent overspending and fraud:
New feature for Neo1: A virtual card is issued with a preapproved spend limit for the employee to order an item from Amazon or book travel. Neo1 allows employers to safely issue virtual accounts to employees who need to spend money to get the job done. This eliminates the need to share card details around or have inefficient centralized people processes manage purchasing activities for others when they don’t quite know the reason or need.
Also, we have policies and exception reports built into Neo1 to help identify and track misuse of business funds.
We give our businesses best practice policies, which are built into the system, that trigger a “review” of exceptionally high expenses too.
We also have reports that analyze the data for “low-value duplicate spend” and out-of-policy activities.
If you have one place for all employees to manage their spend and everyone is using it, you gain transparency. In Neo1, we’ve given each user the same view, but some users will have access to more information, depending on who they are in the company (i.e., the boss, a team manager, or an employee). Creating a simple, consistent user interface and experience, no matter what role you have, was an important part of our design. We wanted the same views that just presented more data to certain people to simplify user adoption. The easier it is to use the faster employees start to use it and the more quickly you can manage spend.
Q. What kind of feedback have you gotten from clients?
Businesses are navigating a lot just when we thought our jobs would get a bit easier as the constraints and challenges of the pandemic eased – but we’re now all facing economic and cost pressures on all aspects of the distribution chain. So based on the needs and priorities of our customers a lot are using parts of Neo1 that help them right now, like purchasing office supplies for a remote employee base, but they haven’t yet taken advantage of the travel capabilities. Those that are traveling love the fact that employees can book a trip themselves and if they need help, they can call Amex GBT. They also love the ability to book guest travel in the tool for contractors, consultants, advisors, or potential candidates, and this has also helped easily facilitate travel activity.
Q. Where’s Neo1 available at this point?
Right now, it’s available in the US and in the UK.
Q. What’s the process for implementing Neo1?
It’s easy. There are only three things a client needs to do:
First, they register for the platform online, which takes less than five minutes.
Secondly, the client connects their accounting system. Neo1 has integrations with many common business accounting platforms. Just click on a button, enter your company ID, and then the two systems start talking to each other automatically.
The third step is to decide which employees should be given access and getting them set up. The process is very easy as you can either load a list of employees or create them on the fly.
To activate Amazon Business, which is optional, takes two minutes. Most of our clients are ready to go within two to three days.
Q. What is the cost of Neo1?
Presently it’s free to use the platform. There are no subscription fees, and you don’t need to load a credit card to gain access to the platform.