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AirPlus International will launch its first pan-European corporate
card, starting in France in September 2018 and rolling out to 19 countries in
total by the end of 2019. Managing director Spencer Hanlon claimed the
pan-European card, issued on Mastercard, will make AirPlus' plastic offering "dramatically
more homogenized" with a single contract to sign and one line of credit.
Another important benefit will be a single European portal for
handling tasks like adjusting cardholder spending limits. At present, there are
different portals for cardholders in each country.
Until now, AirPlus has self-issued in Germany and the U.K. and has
issued in Belgium through BCC Corporate, the corporate card market leader it
acquired in May 2017. In all other countries, AirPlus issued in partnership
with local banks. The new card will be issued in euros and eight other
currencies, including the British pound. Existing cardholders in Germany and
the U.K. will retain their current cards.
A pan-European card is the most significant public manifestation of the
transformation and digitization of AirPlus' technology. Unlike other card
companies, AirPlus had, since inception in 1989, "predominantly built our
own solutions," said Hanlon. "But at a certain point, as you become
larger, you become constrained by being the only people who can change, update
and maintain your own systems."
The company is implementing primarily SAP and Microsoft systems but also
is introducing TSYS, the processor used by the overwhelming majority of
corporate card providers. Hanlon said AirPlus will use TSYS for "vanilla"
functions but retain in-house technology for "secret sauce" components.
That includes enhanced data like descriptive billing information—for example,
cost centers, project codes and employee numbers.
The digitized AirPlus technology platform also offers the potential
to transact through blockchain, as well as conventional card "rails,"
although Hanlon said there are no plans to adopt blockchain.
Hanlon unveiled record financial results for AirPlus for 2017.
Issuing volume climbed 9 percent from 14 billion euros to 15.3 billion euros, 500
million euros of which owed to BCC. Stripping out one-off gains in 2016,
underlying revenue rose from 291 million euros to 304 million euros, of which 9
million euros was contributed by BCC. Underlying earnings before interest and
tax climbed from 39.4 million euros to 43.5 million euros and would have been 500,000
euros higher had it not been for a loss at BCC.
Broken down by product type, spend through the AirPlus Company
Account lodge card, which accounts for 85 percent of issuing volume, rose 6 percent
year over year. Corporate card volume increased 20 percent, and A.I.D.A. Virtual
Payment was once again the star performer, as spend through that channel rose
29 percent. AirPlus in 2017 added Hong Kong to countries offering A.I.D.A., and
Ireland will join the list on June 1.
Hanlon attributed overall volume growth to new clients, existing
clients diverting more of their spend through AirPlus and more travel,
especially in continental Europe. Higher volume did not result from higher
spending per trip; the average airfare bought through the Company Account rose
only 1 euro to 495 euros in 2017.
Meanwhile, AirPlus has launched a tool called DBI
Intelligence. At present, 94 percent of transactions through the Company
Account have accurate descriptive billing information attached to them. For the
3.4 million annual transactions where this information is missing, DBI Intelligence
machine learning fills in the blanks by adding data from previous similar bookings.
"We flag those entries to alert clients that we presume this is the
correct data we have provided," said U.K. managing director Paul Spelman.
According to AirPlus, DBI Intelligence has boosted data integrity to 99.5 percent.