Mobile innovations for corporate customers have been slow and perhaps for good reason: The demand is largely not there yet.

“It’s a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg scenario,” said Christine Barry, a senior analyst with Aite Group. “When banks are offering [mobile services] corporates are not adopting it in large numbers, which makes the investment hard to justify.”

Barry estimates that only about 10% of corporate treasurers are banking on a mobile device.

But she does see some green shoots. The world is also becoming more mobile — it is now common for employees at many companies to do work entirely on laptops or mobile devices and not desktops anymore. Also, corporates are using mobile in areas that take advantage of the native capabilities of smartphones, such as using the camera to make it easier to upload receipts, for instance.

Despite the limited reach today compared with mobile banking for consumers, banks are very much focused on building out mobile products for their corporate clients.

Wells Fargo, for example, last week announced that receipt imaging would be available for its commercial card customers who use the bank’s Commercial Card Expense Reporting product, a service that allows them to upload and manage receipts directly on their mobile devices. The new imaging capability enables customers to snap a photo of a receipt with their mobile phone and allocate each individual expense to a particular transaction. This is designed to make the process of reconciling, reimbursing, and billing for expenses quicker and easier, said Mary Mazzochi, senior vice president, commercial card product management at Wells Fargo.

Although expense management providers such as Concur enable imaged receipts for travel expenses to be uploaded its system, Mazzochi said Wells’ new service applies to all business expenses.

The service “streamlines the expense management and approval process by allowing cardholders to attach photos of their receipts to specific transactions and cash expenses,” she said. “Users can automatically match uploaded receipts to transactions."

They do so using Optical Character Recognition, a technology that enables users to convert different types of documents, such as scanned paper documents, PDF files or images captured by a digital camera into editable and searchable data.

Mary Mazzochi, senior vice president, commercial card product management at Wells Fargo.
Testing, testing
"It yielded some important feedback that resulted in modifications to the original design in order to make the tool more intuitive and as user-friendly as possible,” says Mary Mazzochi, senior vice president, commercial card product management at Wells Fargo, about recent testing the company did on an expense tracking feature.

Mazzochi said the bank created the product in part as a response to customer feedback and asking what corporate clients want when it comes to mobile technology. She said before launching the product, Wells conducted three rounds of user experience sessions during the project with a select group of commercial customers. This proved critical in the final design, said Mazzochi.

“It yielded some important feedback that resulted in modifications to the original design in order to make the tool more intuitive and as user-friendly as possible,” she said.

Wells’ new service is part of an industrywide trend on banks’ part to step up their game when it comes to mobile offerings for business customers. And Wells is hardly the only bank innovating in this area. Earlier this year, Citigroup announced plans to simplify its mobile login services for treasury management and trade clients. The bank launched a new app that provides clients digital tokens on their own smartphones to generate temporary passcodes to log into corporate payments systems. Traditionally, users were required to carry a small physical token to generate the login passcodes necessary to access their accounts and transactions.

Citi has managed to more than triple the amount of transactions flowing through its corporate mobile channels last year, said Mayank Mishra, global head of digital channel services for Citi Treasury and Trade Solutions. Mishra said the company had $1.84 trillion in transactions flowing through smartphones and tablets in 2016, compared with $552 billion in 2015.

He attributed the company’s growth in transactions carried out over mobile to a few sources, including: customers’ trust in the security of mobile has increased; corporate policies that have become more welcoming of mobile devices; and the introduction of new features has attracted users.

If banks want to improve their corporate clients' use of mobile, they’ll need to invest in the channel, Mishra said.

“I think the crux is that a lot of banks invested three or four years ago and then sat back," he said. "But the expectations of mobile change on a yearly basis, so it becomes a Catch-22. If you’re not investing in it, you’re not going to get the flows.”

Another bank looking to improve the mobile experience for its commercial clients is U.S. Bank. In March it added Android, Samsung and Apple Pay options for some of its corporate customers. It has done a limited rollout so far and plans a full launch for all its corporate customers later this year.

The payments are made using tokenization, which protects sensitive credit card information and reduces opportunities for fraud because actual card numbers are not stored on the device or at the retailer, said Jeff Rankin, global bankcard general manager for U.S. Bank corporate payment systems.

“They can check into a hotel, buy a client dinner or buy gas quickly and seamlessly, all without having to pull out a card,” he said. “It’s easier and more convenient than pulling a card in and out of your wallet.”

Rankin said the Minneapolis-based bank is also exploring the possibility of enabling its corporate clients to make mobile purchases beyond just travel expenses and for larger-scale items such as those usually made on a purchase card. In today’s always-on world, the way clients conduct business has changed, he said.

“That’s the next step under development,” Rankin said. Business clients "want to be able to do things on the go. They may in an airport waiting for a flight or somewhere where they can’t pull out a laptop and log into a system and make a payment. They want to be able to do it quickly in an application.”

In the future, Rankin sees this trend being intertwined with the connected devices and the internet of things to enable business purchases without ever having to touch a physical payment device.

“Think of a smart car that communicates with a [connected] gas pump as the traveler is pulling up to it,” he said. “It verifies the information and you pull up, get gas and move on. We have the potential to move to seamless payments without needing human intervention.”

Corporate clients’ low adoption of mobile may initially have had to do with limited capabilities of mobile devices when they first came on the scene, Rankin said. But slowly, corporate clients are using them for a wider variety of tasks.

“We’ve already had good feedback about the mobile payments,” Rankin said. “That’s something that’s convenient and easier" than using a card. "It makes sense to start with business travel, but the next step is to enable larger purchasing transactions. People are more mobile than ever before," and corporate clients "want to be able to do things on the go.”

While additional features and upgrades could juice usage, Barry said the real linchpin for mobile corporate use is in tablets.

“The smartphone is a little limiting with a small screen, but banks haven’t even begun to tap the potential of tablets,” she said. “Most banks have same capabilities on a smartphone as a tablet, but that will begin to change as they roll out tablet-specific services.”

Robert Barba contributed to this article.

Bryan Yurcan

Bryan Yurcan

Bryan Yurcan is a senior writer with American Banker, with a focus on financial technology.