Picture this – Every once in a month, in three months or even six, you and I probably take time out of important work matters to sift through hundreds of physical receipts, to log and process our expenses, manually into a system. This is a necessary and time-consuming evil that we painstakingly undertake for ourselves and our companies. Now, if time is money, and money drives business, wouldn’t it be cost-effective and time-effective for our companies if they adopted fully automated digital expense management as a practice?


A survey in the 2015 Travel and Expense Management Report revealed that almost 80% of the 200 businesses surveyed were unaware of the average time it took to process an expense report. It is possible then that, without realization, companies may be ending up in situations where the processing cost of an invoice may be higher than the actual expense incurred.


In 2018, the same report states that businesses are improving their expense reporting processes and increasingly recognizing the importance of automated technologies for enhancing visibility and efficiency across the bottom line. About 42% companies are reportedly using automated expense management solutions. Apart from the low-value nature of manual reporting, this trend sees a rise also, due to growing business travel undertaken by companies, and the express needs to streamline a large number of travel bookings and processing of expense reports.


While expense management technologies provide a sure-shot way of getting down costs and delivering a greater return on investment, the finance departments of many companies still work with physical receipts and inefficient ways of processing expenses. These traditional methods of functioning are costly both in terms of time and money, placing an unnecessary burden on employees who have to devote attention to low-value tasks and ensure the utmost accuracy. This also, in turn, leads to erroneous reporting, non-compliance of company policies and fraudulent spends by employees.


As for the finance departments, their problems begin with a lack of transparency and visibility into expenses, without them having been reviewed, approved and analyzed, when they use inept expense management methods. This ultimately impacts proper forecasting, effective budgeting and spotting of anomalies timely by these departments that affect the company’s bottom line.   


In our digitally-driven world of today, technological innovations are leading to advanced technologies resulting in a smooth and convenient consumer experience across industries. No surprise then that you and I - consumers enjoying seamless customer experiences through the use of advanced digital technologies in our daily lives - would expect a more automated and user-friendly experience within the business environs of our companies.


Companies across industries should adopt effectiveness and convenience and take the pain and paper out of the expense reporting process. Today, a horde of automated expense management solutions such as SAP Concur, are available that integrate well into a company’s existing invoice systems, automate expenses in one place, and allow the company to track and reconcile expenses accurately.


These solutions have,

  • Mobile-first platforms – native mobile applications and mobile-friendly web apps - through which employees submit expenses on the move, by photographing receipts for instant approval and processing.
  • Real-time capabilities that save precious time, reduce the propensity for errors and give a company greater visibility and control over expenses.
  • Offline expense reporting – in offline modes, expense reports are created and automatically submitted when the employee has online access.
  • Mobile receipt capture functionality comes with OCR scanning that extracts data from receipts and automatically matches it to the values in the expense report. Users then, verify the extracted information and submit for approval.
  • Mobile apps also cater to IRS compliant electronic receipts, receipt forwarding, and mileage calculators.
  • Solutions are compatible across multiple devices –users can begin expense reports on a tablet or a smartphone and close them on a desktop computer seamlessly.
  • Mobile apps use GPS functionality on mobile devices – this consists of GPS mileage tracking, and intelligent, geo-location-based expense creation features.


Some advanced features of expense reporting also include direct import of commercial and personal card transactions, global capabilities for languages, currencies and tax regulations, automatic expense categorization based on company policies, and integration of corporate card programs.


An important aspect of expense reporting is the approval workflow. Automated expense management helps in speeding up managers’ approvals and employees’ reimbursements. This works through features like configurable routing and customizable policy triggers that ensure proper report routing. Also, there are automatic escalation features that help in the timely approval of requests. Managers can also manage expense approvals via various mobile devices on the go. There are administrative features that provide speedy support for bulk actions, with comment fields and company card transaction reconciliations.


Thus, higher employee morale and productivity is achieved with quick clearance of employee reimbursements, which positively impact a company’s product delivery, business success, and competitive advantage. Companies identify prominent expense management improvement areas through improved spend visibility. Better spend visibility also helps nip inefficient purchase strategies, contracts and fraudulent employee activities in the bud, thereby achieving increased enforcement of company policies. With reduced processing costs, a company frees up future investment resources and improves upon its financial state.


Each organization has its own goals as far as expense management is concerned. However, ultimately it all comes down to controlling costs, reducing low-value manual work, ensuring compliance, improving visibility, and maintaining high employee morale and productivity. In order that organizations achieve such goals, they need to look at improving expense management in a holistic manner. A comprehensive automated expense management program based on advanced technology that caters to all-expense pain points basis an organization’s business needs is the key to an effective, long-term solution.


It’s time then, for our companies to make money work for them by implementing the new rule for money – a robust expense management solution.  To stay ahead in this digital age, our companies need to get ahead of the curve and adopt technologies that help them grow successfully in the future.


Author: Andy Watson, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Asia Pacific Japan and Greater China, SAP Concur

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