The world of Spend Management is home to a great deal of investment and innovation today. Unicorns are being minted and the stakes are being laid for a real battle over who governs business payments, business travel, and expense management.
A recent article in Techcrunch outlines this very nicely.
Mentioned in the article is Silicon-Valley start-up Zact. Zact is a platform for payment apps focused on banks and brands. Zact joins stalwarts like Brex, Emburse, Divvy, and others in a scramble for this multi-trillion dollar space.
Take a look at the analysis by Mary Ann Azevedo at TechCrunch.
If it feels like we’ve been over-indexing on expense/spend management news, it’s because there has just been so darn much of it.
Last week, I covered Brex’s big push into software, which means that its revenue generation will be more diversified as it will now be making money off of interchange fees and recurring revenue from subscriptions to its software. It also said it is placing greater emphasis on moving upmarket to serve larger customers.
As evidence of that, Brex revealed that DoorDash — a $36 billion in market cap company — was one of the first customers who’d taken a bet on its new spend management software product, Empower.
Coincidentally, the same day, Emburse — a nearly $200 million-in-ARR expense software company — announced it was doing the exact opposite. That company said it is making a big push into the SMB space and going head-to-head with fast-growing startups like Brex and Ramp.
The number of players in this space just keeps expanding, and one founder I spoke with — Zact CEO John Thomas — considers the sheer size of the B2B payments space to be the driving factor. The market is $25 trillion in the U.S. alone, with corporate cards making up 4%, or $1 trillion, of that total.
He shared with me where his startup is positioned in the Wild Wild West of expense management. Zact says it is focused squarely on the requirements of mid-market companies: bank-grade fraud protection, budget controls, approval workflow and accounting integration with “flexible payment type and funding support.” Airbase is another player in the space focused on mid-market companies.
Lending, however, is an area in which Thomas says Zact “refuses to play.” “We rely on the banks to do the lending, and we integrate with whatever funding solution they provide,” he told TechCrunch. “In the rush to grab market share, many fintechs are issuing credit to companies with dubious creditworthiness. We’re already seeing aggressive lending biting many of the credit card and BNPL providers.”
Thomas adds that expense management is only part of a company’s non-payroll spend management.
“We’ve built an API ecosystem that goes beyond card interfaces to include expense management, controls, accounting integration and more,” he said. “So everything you need as a customer — we have APIs for.”
Zact’s choice of card issuing processor, Fiserv, also fits in with its bank-grade strategy. “Running on a legacy processor like Fiserv gives us stability, reliability and fraud protection,” Thomas said. Controlling the transaction from the issuer to the card network through its processing partner further enables Zact to capture all of the interchange and share more of it with its partners and customers, he added.
Huh. Interesting. Like Emburse, Zact seems more keen on partnering with financial institutions, rather than compete with them — another example of divergent strategies in the space. It also claims to be able to keep all interchange, and not just some. Historically, some of these companies relied primarily on interchange fees for revenue (Ramp and Brex), some relied on software subscriptions (Airbase and Emburse) and now an increasing number are betting on both (Ramp, Brex, Emburse and Zact).
At first, Brex and Ramp were focused on startups — now they’re both moving upmarket to serve larger customers. Airbase and Zact are focused on the mid-market while Emburse claims to be able to serve them all, with separate products. It’s enough to make one’s head spin. But wait, there’s more.
Meanwhile, a relatively new player in the space, TripActions, shared with me some stats around its recent growth. It’s “new” in the sense that when the pandemic hit in March of 2020, and corporate travel essentially came to a halt, the company pivoted to its general expense management product, TripActions Liquid. It tells me that “in response to demand,” it just launched the ability for SMBs and growth-stage companies to self-sign up — and has had “more than a thousand companies sign up in less than a month.” Examples of new customers include Notion, Skydio and Patreon. And, a number of companies that were customers of its travel expense product have also signed on to TripActions Liquid. Those include Carta, Amplitude, Loom, Lattice and Canva.
So now, TripActions — which was once more focused on enterprises — is also going after SMBs and growth-stage companies. Like Emburse.
The company reports that business travel bouncing back contributed to a 220% increase in travel spend from January to March 2022 — up 1,650% year-over-year. Overall, it added, transaction volume processed via TripActions Liquid more than doubled (by 107%) from January 2022 through March 2022, up 1,231% year-over-year. In a statement to me, TripActions Liquid EVP/GM Michael Sindicich said: “It’s clear that other entrants to the space are starting to realize that in a post-COVID world, you cannot only offer expense. Fintech enablers really accelerated during the pandemic, when business travel was on pause, and they made it so easy to build a corporate card company however, now that business travel has returned, if those companies want to scale and provide true value, they’ll need to have travel — it’s why you now see new entrants playing catch up and offering pseudo-travel products. Considering 70% of expenses happen in some way shape or form around travel, offering a card with basic spend limits just isn’t enough.”
His statement is an obvious slam against some of its competitors that have expanded — or plan to expand — into travel and an implication that since that’s what TripActions started out doing, it must be able to do it better.
While most of the players I talk to claim this is not a winner-takes-all space, it sure does feel like there is a lot of mud-slinging going on.
Meanwhile, London.-based Capital on Tap — a company that describes itself as a competitor to Ramp — told me that it has closed on a $200 million funding facility so that it can continue to fund SMBs. It has opened a new office in Atlanta to fuel its “explosive” U.S. growth. Capital on Tap says it has provided access to more than $5 billion of funding for more than 125,000 small and medium businesses across the U.S. and U.K.
So, let’s add one more to the list. Or shall I say, ring.