A June poll of members of the Global Business Travel Association revealed that half of respondents felt domestic business trips would restart in the next three months.
We’re already seeing signs of this happening and with countries gradually lifting restrictions, cross-border travel is set to increase. It may not be via a plane for a long while but particularly in Europe, visiting clients in other countries is becoming a very real possibility once again.
Travel by cars, trains and other forms of public transport will mean employees start to incur expenses again. Hotel stays may even be necessary and with this, your people will once again start having to pay out for their travel and subsistence. At a time of global financial stress, it’s only fair to repay them fully and promptly – no employee should be out of pocket for expenditure incurred doing the job you’ve given them.
With this, claims, approvals, payments, policy enforcement, auditing and budgeting for employee expenses will once again take up large amounts of time for finance teams.
Simplified expense processes can save your organisation time, reduce processing and admin costs and make sure employees are reimbursed promptly. But at the same time, you need to maintain compliance, checking that claims are correct and within policy and that reimbursements are accurate.
We’ve worked with lots of companies to help them simplify expense processing while improving financial control and visibility. Here are some key tools and approaches they’ve used successfully to improve efficiency, manage costs and deliver a better experience for employees.
1. Automate submission and approval processes
A system that automates expense entry (via OCR scanning) and allows employees to submit expenses as they incur them rather than on a monthly or quarterly basis, makes it much less labour-intensive. It’s more efficient for your people – and reduces the amount of error-handling your finance team has to do as a result of manual mistakes.
Modern expense management systems also allow your employees to connect their personal credit or debit cards to further ease expense management. Transactions on the employee’s own card can be quickly imported as a claim saving time and increasing accuracy.
2. Use AI to manage all spending
With companies scrutinising spend more than ever, leveraging your expenses system to understand what spending is absolutely necessary could give your business the competitive edge it needs.
Intelligent expense management solutions that are underpinned with AI technology, automatically associate expenses to a business purpose, for example, a sales opportunity, a customer account or even a marketing campaign. As a result, businesses get instant insight into the ROI of all expense spend.
When expenses are associated with a business purpose, it’s also possible to forecast and budget better. When you know the likely costs for closing an opportunity by analysing current and historical data, you can set policies to prioritise critical expenditure and understand and predict variation in spending throughout the year.
3. Set up automatic reimbursements
Integrating your expense management system with accounting systems, such as FinancialForce and Quickbooks, so that payment feeds are automated, cuts a step out of the finance process and reduces wait time for employees. Taking a line-by-line approach to expense submission, rather the monthly frequency mentioned earlier, means your people are reimbursed as soon as the claim is approved.
The impact of slow expenses management on employee financial wellness is significant, and so this means there’s no waiting for a fixed monthly deadline or worse still, having to chase for payment. For your business, the expense approvals are spread out through the month, rather than spiking around the time of a single expenses report submission deadline.
4. Make sure company credit cards are a help, not a hindrance
There’s no doubt that corporate card programmes save time for both your team and your employees. At first glance, they seem a good solution for CFOs when it comes to managing business expenses. You don’t need to reimburse directly to employee bank accounts and your people won’t be out of pocket. Companies may also benefit from additional incentives along with visibility of credit card balances and what expenses have been incurred, but only after the fact.
Many corporate card providers also offer integrated spending data that you can channel directly into your expense management system. This avoids rekeying or time-consuming manual data imports.
However, corporate card programmes vary in terms of effort, adoption and quality of spending data. Some may charge extra for a feed of the data, or not provide it at all. Getting employees to keep a track of their receipts can be a nightmare let alone making sure they use the card – some people just prefer to use personal payment methods because of the many loyalty point systems on offer. And ultimately, they just don’t offer the level of real-time visibility required for company spending and fraud detection.
The company card does have advantages but they’re not suitable for dynamic companies or rapidly growing SMBs. You need intelligent expenses management that offers a real-time view of spending, enables immediate intervention if necessary and demonstrates the ROI of spend before it’s even been incurred.
5. Make your expenses system user-friendly
An employee-friendly front-end simplifies expense claim processes. Modern systems allow receipts to be scanned and added to claims via a mobile app – no more lost receipts or forgotten claims that only come to light months later. If it’s easy to record and claim, staff are more likely to do it promptly, completely and accurately. That means fewer time-consuming queries and exceptions.
Often, managers can only approve expenses when they’re in the office at their desktop, on the company network. A cloud, mobile-enabled expenses management system means they can do it remotely, wherever they are working or travelling. It gives direct access to the complete system through a secure app from their phone, tablet or laptop.
AI-driven, cloud expenses system that ties expense spend to revenue
Ultimately, modernising processes and harnessing the latest technology to simplify expenses will save time and money for your team and your employees. The upfront investment is less than you think because cloud systems work on a per-user subscription basis – you only pay for what you need. And because expenses are tied seamlessly to business outcomes, there’s never a question of why the travel or expense is necessary.
So although we won’t travel as much as we used to whilst the industry recovers and traveller confidence resumes, cross-border business (and there will still be plenty) requires the, well, crossing of borders. As this Financial Times article states: “yes, the business travellers will be back.” Now’s the time to prepare for it and ensure it drives your bottom line, instead of draining it.