Ex­pense man­age­ment

Au­tomat­ing ex­penses is just the first step to­wards the seam­less cap­ture and re­im­burse­ment of travel spend, says Cather­ine Chetwynd

The Business Travel Magazine - - Arrivals Contents -

Vis­i­bil­ity is the busi­ness travel buzz­word and is preva­lent in ex­pense man­age­ment to the point that some might feel they hear too much of it. Think again, how­ever. The Na­tional Fraud Author­ity es­ti­mates that £100mil­lion per year is lost in the UK to fraud­u­lent busi­ness ex­penses such as il­le­git­i­mate and ex­ag­ger­ated claims. And The As­so­ci­a­tion of Cer­ti­fied Fraud put the cost of ex­pense fraud at some £30,000 per UK com­pany per year – one in five em­ploy­ees think it is OK to ex­ag­ger­ate claims, it turns out. Vis­i­bil­ity is a com­mer­cial im­per­a­tive. Au­to­ma­tion over­comes the prob­lem by chan­nelling users into com­pany pol­icy. It im­proves ef­fi­ciency, al­lows faster and more ac­cu­rate sub­mis­sion of ex­pense claims – with at­ten­dant faster pay­ment – and makes it eas­ier for travel man­agers to see trends and ne­go­ti­ate dis­counts on the back of them. There is ever greater de­mand for on­line in­te­gra­tion of ex­pense man­age­ment and book­ing tools, ac­cord­ing to Bar­clay­card, which also keeps trav­ellers within pol­icy. More­over, apps en­able em­ploy­ees to change and man­age their itin­er­ary and rec­on­cile ex­penses while on the move.

This may sound seam­less but it does not re­move some of the chal­lenges or­gan­i­sa­tions face when at­tempt­ing to man­age ex­penses. As­ton­ish­ingly, around 40% of busi­nesses still use re­ceipts and spread­sheets, slow­ing down sub­mis­sion, ap­proval and re­im­burse­ment with a cum­ber­some and costly process that un­der­mines con­trol and re­duces vis­i­bil­ity.

Even with an ex­pense man­age­ment sys­tem it is not plain sail­ing. “If your com­pany has com­plex rules for ex­pense ap­provals, al­lo­ca­tions and re­im­burse­ments – law firms are a good ex­am­ple – does your so­lu­tion

have the flex­i­bil­ity to han­dle th­ese or do you end up chang­ing your busi­ness pro­cesses to ac­count for the so­lu­tion’s short­com­ings?” asks Gen­eral Man­ager EMEA for Chrome River, Nick Lud­low.

“Is the user in­ter­face avail­able in the na­tive lan­guage of all of users and can the sys­tem han­dle the tax reg­u­la­tions in every mar­ket where you do busi­ness?” Fur­ther, does your cho­sen sys­tem work well on mo­bile de­vices, par­tic­u­larly where BYOD policies bring nu­mer­ous plat­forms into the mix?

Spend anal­y­sis

Amer­i­can Ex­press is see­ing grow­ing call for spend anal­y­sis tools to en­able cus­tomers to bet­ter mon­i­tor and man­age pol­icy com­pli­ance, but data alone is not enough.

“Com­pa­nies are look­ing to their cor­po­rate card providers for con­sul­tancy, so they can best lever­age the data to drive com­pli­ance and con­trol,” says Gen­eral Man­ager Global Client Group In­ter­na­tional, Fa­bi­enne Cauli.

“The fact that we are see­ing in­creas­ing card ac­cep­tance in ar­eas such as taxis means that more and more as­pects of travel can be booked, and mon­i­tored, as part of an ex­pense man­age­ment pro­gramme.”

How­ever, errant be­hav­iour can de­rail com­pli­ance. “Frag­men­ta­tion of spend across mul­ti­ple providers is get­ting more acute as busi­ness trav­ellers opt for sup­pli­ers in the shar­ing econ­omy,” says Di­rec­tor of Bar­clay­card Com­mer­cial Pay­ments, Maria Par­pou.

Re­cent re­search from Bar­clay­card high­lighted fur­ther frus­tra­tions for travel man­agers, which in­clude trav­ellers us­ing their per­sonal cards for busi­ness travel ex­penses and book­ing trips via mo­bile apps, re­sult­ing in their em­ploy­ers get­ting data only when they sub­mit ex­penses.

Dif­fi­cult first steps

Change man­age­ment is an­other prob­lem for or­gan­i­sa­tions when they in­tro­duce an on­line ex­pense man­age­ment sys­tem. “There is a dis­tinct lack of readi­ness for the change re­quired to au­to­mate the process and that will af­fect fi­nance lead­ers as well as em­ploy­ees, who have to learn how to use a dif­fer­ent tool,” says Se­nior Di­rec­tor Ac­count Man­age­ment for Con­cur, Natalie Gwilt. “That is of­ten the hard­est part be­cause peo­ple who are used to sta­pling re­ceipts to a piece of pa­per don’t want to change. It is eas­ier for them but does not meet the needs of the busi­ness. And when au­tomat­ing pro­cesses, or­gan­i­sa­tions of­ten miss the op­por­tu­nity to im­ple­ment best prac­tice but in­stead try to shoe­horn ex­ist­ing pro­cesses into the tool.”

Keep­ing it sim­ple

De­spite th­ese prob­lems, ex­pense man­age­ment sys­tems do sim­plify the process. Con­cur re­cently launched Con­cur Travel and Triplink to the SME sec­tor. Even with­out a TMC or self-book­ing tool, they can track spend through sign­ing into Triplink and from there all costs au­to­mat­i­cally pop­u­late an ex­pense re­port in Con­cur.

Xpen­di­ture started life as an ex­pense man­age­ment app and, last year, along­side book­ing tool ial­ba­tros, was ac­quired by Sodexo. The two have been com­bined to pro­vide an in­te­grated ser­vice, al­low­ing users to gen­er­ate an ex­pense re­port and ex­port it to for­mats rang­ing from PDF to ac­count­ing soft­ware such as Sage.

Amer­i­can Ex­press’s pay­ment prod­uct, Busi­ness Travel Ac­count, en­ables cus­tomers to man­age travel ex­penses through a cen­tralised ac­count, put­ting every­thing in one place, while a re­port­ing tool pro­vides se­cure ac­cess to cor­po­rate card data.

Bar­clay­card clients also have ac­cess to an on­line plat­form where they can in­ter­pret data from their card pro­gramme, all in one place. “There are wide­spread ef­forts to in­te­grate pay­ment data into ex­pense man­age­ment tools so it flows from card ac­counts into the plat­form and pre-pop­u­lates ex­pense re­ports,” says Maria Par­pou. “Re­quests for this have sky­rock­eted in re­cent years.”

Vir­tu­ally there

Walk­ing plas­tic re­mains pop­u­lar but vir­tual cards con­tinue to grow in pop­u­lar­ity. “I be­lieve that com­bin­ing vir­tual cards

When au­tomat­ing ex­penses pro­cesses, or­gan­i­sa­tions of­ten miss the op­por­tu­nity to im­ple­ment best prac­tice”

with dig­i­tal wal­lets – an­other  im­por­tant devel­op­ment – will be ex­tremely pow­er­ful in help­ing com­pa­nies ef­fec­tively man­age ex­penses in the fu­ture,” says Par­pou. Ac­cord­ing to re­search un­der­taken by HRS through anal­y­sis of 30,000 cor­po­rate ho­tel book­ings, half be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of vir­tual cards and half after­wards, sav­ings come not only from time ef­fi­cien­cies and re­duced fraud, but trav­ellers also book more wisely when us­ing vir­tual cards, pos­si­bly be­cause the in­creased trans­parency of the tool makes them feel ex­posed.

As a re­sult, book­ings in re­gional chains and lo­cal ho­tels (less ex­pen­sive than ma­jor brands) grew from 30% to 40%, and trav­ellers booked 8.5 days in ad­vance of travel rather than the aver­age 11 days, con­tribut­ing to lower rates, and the 'no show' rate dropped by 15%. The aver­age cost of a room af­ter im­ple­ment­ing vir­tual pay­ment dropped by 12% to €98.60 from €112.30.

Chrome River’s Nick Lud­low high­lights the back-end ca­pa­bil­ity of ex­pense man­age­ment: “Some ex­am­ples of this are the abil­ity to en­able pre-ap­provals for travel book­ings, per diem in­te­gra­tion, real-time an­a­lyt­ics and so­phis­ti­cated busi­ness rules ca­pa­bil­i­ties for ap­provals and pol­icy en­force­ment,” he says.

On the hori­zon

Sup­pli­ers con­tinue to pur­sue the ultimate goal in digi­tis­ing data and Air­plus is tri­alling with some TMCS the au­to­mated col­lec­tion of ho­tel in­for­ma­tion from Air­plus prod­ucts and merg­ing it with trans­ac­tion data.

Also new is Air­plus Con­nect, which sends trans­ac­tion de­tails live to the trav­eller’s mo­bile phone, com­plete with a bleep alert, al­low­ing the user to pho­to­graph the re­ceipt and swipe it, send­ing the lot to their ex­pense man­age­ment sys­tem.

Air­plus is also in­te­grated into restau­rant tech­nol­ogy to cre­ate dine+go, which recog­nises cus­tomers on ar­rival. They can or­der on the app or ver­bally and can leave with­out wait­ing for the bill. Tri­als are cooking in Ger­many, with France next.

Con­cur launched Bud­get Insight in Fe­bru­ary this year, high­light­ing to cus­tomers not just what they have spent but mea­sur­ing the de­part­men­tal bud­get against which they are spend­ing. “It al­lows them to make in­formed de­ci­sions about busi­ness spend,” says Natalie Gwilt. This was fol­lowed by Drive, an app that lets driv­ers track their jour­ney and the results are en­tered au­to­mat­i­cally into an ex­pense re­port, re­mov­ing any like­li­hood of round­ing up mileage.

And Chrome River re­cently in­au­gu­rated phase one of PROS­PER, which in­te­grates with com­pa­nies’ CRM sys­tems to jux­ta­pose T&E with sales spend, so they can al­lo­cate ex­penses to sales op­por­tu­ni­ties and see how var­i­ous types of spend con­trib­ute to rev­enue.

Trav­el­doo has launched a mo­bile app to al­low trav­ellers to cre­ate and man­age ex­pense re­ports while on the go. Fea­tures in­clude multi-cur­rency, geocod­ing and voice recog­ni­tion, and pho­tos can be used to record ex­penses and re­ceipts. Once sub­mit­ted, re­ports can be tracked and in­te­grated with ERP, HR and ac­count­ing sys­tems.

“We sur­veyed more than half our cus­tomer base. Up to 70% in­di­cated a re­quire­ment for a mo­bile app spe­cial­is­ing in ex­pense pro­cess­ing and more than half th­ese re­spon­dents wanted to com­plete their ex­penses while on the go,” says CPO for Trav­el­doo, Dan Fitzger­ald. “We have used th­ese find­ings to pro­vide con­sumer-in­spired func­tion­al­ity in a sim­pler and more en­gag­ing for­mat for the busi­ness trav­eller.”

The fi­nal anal­y­sis

As au­to­ma­tion becomes in­creas­ingly wide­spread and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and bots hover on the hori­zon, it becomes ap­par­ent that this is not just about con­ve­nience but also data col­lec­tion and anal­y­sis. Th­ese are the bedrocks of vis­i­bil­ity and con­trol and make a fun­da­men­tal con­tri­bu­tion to travel pol­icy and com­pli­ance. Ex­pense man­age­ment is once again un­der­go­ing a trans­for­ma­tion as tech­nol­ogy and cre­ativ­ity com­bine to en­sure providers stay ahead of the vir­tual game.

Au­to­ma­tion is not just about con­ve­nience but also data col­lec­tion and anal­y­sis. They are the bedrocks of vis­i­bil­ity and con­trol”

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