For many of us collating and recording our expenses can be a pain, but thanks to travel and expense management app, Sweep, those headaches will soon be a thing of the past. Utilising Open Banking they have developed a solution that eradicatesthe need for clunky systems and overly complicated processes. We interviewed Sweep CEO, Billel Ridelle to find out more.
Please can you give us an overview of Sweep? And, what was the market problem it set out to address?
Sweep is a travel and expense management app built for small and medium size businesses.
Currently more than half (65%) of small and medium size businesses manage their business trips and daily expenses manually, which translates into a 20% mark-up on business trips booked and an average of 40mins per day travelled spent sorting through receipts and filling out expense reports.
Traditional expense management solutions tend to rely on old fashioned and outdated methods such as receipt scanning, a technology that is both inaccurate and still requires a lot of manual input. Sweep has created the first expense management app built on Open Banking, helping customers automate the entire process from data capturing to report generation, saving them more than 80% of their time spent on managing expenses.
The Sweep suite of products – “Sweep Expenses”, “Sweep Travel” and “Sweep Dashboard” – provide an all-in-one travel and expenses solution that is easy to implement, using a simple mobile app, and costs a fraction of what is currently available.
What’s your own background? And, how did you come to form Sweep?
My background was predominantly in marketing (agency side) where I worked with major international brands such as PlayStation, Coca-Cola and Shell and leading campaigns in the UK and Europe.
Working in this sector you tend to go to a lot of client meetings, lunches and events and at the time our employer didn’t have an expense management tool in place. I remember Friday afternoons being spent sorting through piles of receipts and filling expense reports on Excel. Travel management was similarly done manually and was always a big mess. I was sure these tasks could be done in a more efficient way.
At the time, GDPR was being introduced in Europe and a little later I read about Open Banking and how it was already disrupting many areas of financial services. At this point the idea just clicked and I realised there was a business opportunity to use this in other areas, specifically expense management. Our business model helps the small and medium sized businesses move to a much more efficient process – helping their employees be more productive and focus on what their jobs rather than time-consuming, menial administration tasks. We help those businesses that are currently reliant on outdated receipt scanning technology, which is both often prone to errors and also does not capture essential pieces of data such as bank fees, exact currency conversions or purchase category.
We’ve spent the best part of last year building and growing Sweep Expenses, which launched in late 2019.
What have been the key challenges you’ve faced in Sweep’s journey to date, and how have you sought to overcome them?
As a young start-up companies need to achieve a lot in a short space of time and with limited resources. I met my head of technology very early in the project. At that time he was (and still is) based in Madrid and, although the initial plan was for him to move to London and setup our tech team here, we quickly realised that location wasn’t an issue. We’re now very proud of the talent we have spread across the globe.
We have setup a Spanish branch to Sweep, something you would normally do at a much later stage in the growth of a company. Our tech team are now predominantly based in Madrid instead of London. This has taught us to always have a European outlook in what we do. I think this is partly why we are already out in other European markets today selling our solutions to businesses there.
There is always a huge gap between how you think an app should work and how it does in practice. This is even more true with building a brand and a new technology with no similar product comparisons in existence.
Open Banking is fairly new and only came into full force at the end of last year, that means that the technologies built on it are still very fresh. In the space that we are in we were the first ones to release an expense management tool built on Open Banking, this definitely came with its set of challenges during development and taught our team to be fast, flexible, think creatively and to pivot quickly from one idea to another. It’s definitely exciting to be in that space right now.
As a travel and expense management tool, we rely on employees being in and out of the office, having meetings and taking business trips. COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown has meant that we lost some of the momentum that was building since our initial launch in 2019.
As far as challenges go this has definitely been the biggest one! It has meant we’ve had to deeply rethink the way we work, our future plans and how to come out of this alive. Thankfully, we have been very agile in the past and are always finding new ways to build resilience.
We took this time to further improve on our product and keep on building our travel platform, simultaneously we didn’t wait for the lockdown to be over in the UK and started reaching out to businesses across western Europe. This helped us gain interest again much sooner and also understand the new needs and projections of the businesses out there.
Who are your target customers? And how willing are they to embrace solutions that utilise Open Banking? Has there been any resistance, or scepticism around the data elements associated?
Our product is specifically targeted at SME’s – that is any business from sole trader all the way up to a company with a few hundred employees.
We have found that there is a need for education on the topic of Open Banking. A lot of people have heard of the term but don’t really know what it is, which can lead to doubts over how secure it is. Open Banking is an extension of GDPR into the financial sector and the API’s that we use to integrate with the banks are built by the banks themselves, with just as much security as regular bank accounts.
We are seeing that as soon as we demonstrate the benefits of our tool to our prospects they are very quick to adopt. They love how easy it is to setup and they can link as many bank accounts as they want. The notification system pings them in real-time, every time they make a new payment.
I think that the market is slowly warming up to Open Banking based products. We’ve already seen the massive wave of personal finance, mortgage and insurance products coming in the market over the last few years and I think the next one will be around business finance.
What’s next for Sweep? What are your growth plans?
We are launching our business travel booking platform in Q3 this year. This is a platform that will work seamlessly with Sweep Expenses but can also be used as a standalone product. We’re starting to see companies returning to travel and planning future business trips. However, we have also refocused our platform to include European rail bookings given the future of international business travel still remains blurry and, in the meantime, domestic (rail based) trips are on the rise.
We will also continue to expand across Europe, reaching out to businesses across the other major markets. The great thing about SaaS and digital products in general is that you don’t need to have a physical presence in the country in order to sell your product there. We want to get as much exposure in Europe as we can as this will be the key to our future growth.