TravelBank uses machine learning to save businesses money on travel

A new mobile app brings a Snapchat-like interface to expensing

Figuring out how much a business trip will cost can be a hassle. Employees are often put in the position of figuring out how to get somewhere, and once they get there, they don't have an incentive to keep their spending to a minimum.

A new startup called TravelBank is aiming to help by providing a predictive budget for a trip, based on when someone is traveling and where they're going. After that, it helps them document their spending and file an expense report that shows how much money they've spent against their budget.

More than just helping employees capture expenses, TravelBank is focused on helping to change their behavior so they spend less money. Companies that adopt TravelBank for expense reporting can elect to give employees who spend less than the predicted budget half of what they saved.

Using TravelBank without any incentives will reduce a company's travel expenses by around 10 percent, based on the experience of early testers, company founder Duke Chung said in an interview. Paying employees for their savings leads to a 20 to 30 percent savings, including the money paid out for staying under budget. Either way, users are less likely to blow out their budgets and over spend.

TravelBank's budgets are based on a combination of machine learning-driven predictive expense models. Companies can set restrictions on what sort of travel employees are allowed to book, and TravelBank will spit out a budget based on the restrictions.

The service's ground transportation estimate is based on an economy rental car, and its per diem for meals is based on suggestions from the U.S. General Services Administration.

It's possible for anyone to start using TravelBank by downloading the company's app from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store. In addition to the travel expensing feature, TravelBank also supports project budgets, so groups of people can work together to track the expenses for a particular event like a product launch.

TravelBank is free at the moment -- Chung said that the company hasn't yet settled on a model for making money off its service. Right now, the company is focused on helping smaller and medium-sized companies that don't have dedicated employees focusing on managing expenses and setting policies about what's acceptable.

Expense reporting is already a tough business, with companies like Concur offering similar services aimed at larger businesses. It'll be interesting to see if TravelBank can break in.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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