New technology solutions are emerging to remove the pain points of travel expense management but for many, including Bev Fearis, it’s still a chore
My name is Bev and I am a finance department’s worst nightmare. As I write, an envelope sits on my desk stuffed full of train tickets and taxi receipts, some dating back to December 2021. No doubt there are more crumpled receipts in the corners of various handbags, or lost forever to the recycling bin. Despite my best intentions, and access to a fairly intuitive expense claim app, I am months behind and seriously out of pocket.
Researching this article has been a kind of therapy, making me appreciate what a headache my backlog must cause for our accounts department (sorry John!) and also confirming that I am not alone.
“Let’s face it, nobody likes expenses,” says the marketing video for TripActions’ new T&E solution Liquid.
Although we’ve moved on from the dark ages of filling in paper expense forms, stapling the receipts to the corners and taking them upstairs to the accounts department, the process for many is still time-consuming and tedious, and even more so for the poor finance teams who have to manually check and reconcile the claims and the travel departments struggling to get a grip on T&E spend.
“The majority of the work world just isn’t there yet,” says Michael Sindicich General Manager Liquid. “Expense reports aren’t just relics, they’re costing companies unnecessary time and money and employees find them exhausting and slow. Plus, the manual process is wide open to inaccuracies and fraud.”
Changing the game
So, finance teams all over Europe must have rejoiced last December when TripActions launched Liquid in the region, promising “game-changing” technology that could reduce reporting hours by up to 66%.
Liquid policies are pre-set so that companies can impose spend controls upfront to prevent out-of-policy spend before it happens, with controls based on a traveller’s role, expense category, business context or other criteria.
“With TripActions Liquid, employees can stop manually filling out and submitting expense reports because TripActions can instantly apply company policy and reconcile transactions the moment a purchase is made,” says Sindicich.
“That means expense reports are eliminated and, at the same time, finance departments no longer need to slog through the busy work of manual reconciliation, cutting time spent by up to 95% and empowering businesses to close their books four days faster.”
“Expense reports aren’t just relics, they’re costing companies unnecessary time and money and employees find them exhausting and slow”
In March, TripActions enhanced the tool further, claiming it would revolutionise what has historically been a “frustrating, 10-step manual process” and saving companies “countless” hours.
Using AI, foreign language translation and fuzzy matching, each line item is categorised and assigned to a specific policy with more than 90% accuracy. Thanks to the use of machine learning, TripActions claims this accuracy will increase over time.
As business travel returns, the need for automation is even more vital, says Sindicich. “Businesses simply can’t afford to hold on to traditional processes any more. At a time when companies are on the hook to cut costs and find efficiencies, modern solutions offer a path to get there.”
Rodolphe Ardant, CEO and founder of spend management specialist Spendesk, agrees. “What is most important for companies now is to have visibility and keep a close eye on their expenses and manage their spending efficiently,” he explains.
“This is precisely what spend management software offers: saving money and time, providing an efficient and automated process for finance teams and employees and driving full visibility on spending.”
The emergence of virtual cards with pre-set spending limits and mobile apps where you simply take a photo of your receipt and ping it across to the finance team are helping to smooth the expense process but a report by Amadeus, based on research by Forrester Consulting, found that only a small percentage of organisations have an end-to-end cloud-based T&E management system in place, with many still depending on outdated tools such as spreadsheets.
The report also identified widespread acknowledgement that improved T&E management processes and tools are critical to reduce costs, increase efficiency in business operations and improve employee experience.
“A stronger focus on employee wellbeing should also encourage more companies to invest in automated T&E systems”
Paul Dear, Senior Director Supplier Management at SAP Concur, believes bringing travel booking and expense management together into one, integrated cloud platform is now more imperative due to the growing use of ‘sharing economy’ providers, such as Uber and Airbnb, where spending categories that previously came under company control are shifting to employee control.
“With this shift, sometimes finance departments within organisations cannot really see this spending until budgets have already been exceeded and forecasts have already been missed,” he says.
“With the help of an automated travel solution, businesses can now simplify the process and capture and manage more of what their employees are buying by staying connected to all their employees’ spending that’s happening through different systems and directly with suppliers.”
A stronger focus on employee wellbeing should also encourage more companies to invest in automated T&E systems.
Ami Taylor, Senior Director Global Product Strategy at SAP Concur, explains: “As companies continue to increase their business travel, there needs to be proactive consideration on employee wellbeing and care. Companies will need to take initiative with safeguarding and supporting their employees.
“Technology can significantly help to reduce the headache around filing expense reports and streamline booking operations, helping businesses to prepare for any challenges that lie ahead. Being aware of the various tools and technologies is a step in the right direction to help make travellers’ lives easier and adapt faster to regulation changes, such as post-Covid changes and cost-of-living uncertainties.”
Payment and expense technology providers are also getting in on the action when it comes to helping corporates meet the sustainability agenda.
“As business travel continues to bounce back, organisations will also look for solutions and insights that can help track emissions associated with employees’ travel spend – meaning they can better understand purchasing behaviours and find ways to manage and reduce their carbon footprint,” says Hana Lear, Head of Corporate and Strategic Sales, UK, for American Express.
“At a time when companies are on the hook to cut costs and find efficiencies, modern solutions offer a path to get there”
Through its Carbon Footprint Tool, part of its Commercial Insights online reporting solution, American Express has created a dashboard so companies can see the estimated carbon emissions, not only from air travel, hotel, and ground transportation, but also from F&B and retail spending.
Earlier this year SAP Concur added the CHOOOSE Climate App to its App Centre, allowing its customers to track, manage and report travel emissions and access vetted carbon compensation programmes, and partnered with Thrust Carbon to give travel managers live emissions reporting and the ability to generate reports to share with government and industry bodies.
In June, Conferma Pay also enlisted the help of Thrust Carbon to help its customers collate ‘carbon spend’ information on hotel and airline transactions.
Business or pleasure?
Pointing to another wider trend, Amex research shows that 53% of business travellers are more likely to consider a ‘bleisure’ trip than pre-pandemic and 47% are now more likely to bring family on trips.
“These elements all contribute to the blurring of professional and personal expenditure, so it’s more vital than ever before that payment providers offer the right tools to help travellers manage their account anytime and anywhere,” says Lear.
On the move
Meanwhile the shift to remote working is putting more of a spotlight on digital expense solutions, potentially leading to new day-to-day expenses and business travel across an entire company rather than being limited to certain individuals or teams.
It has prompted expense management software provider Expensify to broaden its product offering. “Employees are no longer beholden to a desktop software installed by IT or sitting next to an admin who books their travel for them, so they need new booking tools that are at least as good as Google Flights,” says a spokesman. “That’s why we built Concierge Travel, our AI-driven chat tool that gives every employee access to their very own travel assistant.”
It has also introduced Expensify Lounges, where its members can “always count on a beautiful space, great coffee, a good cocktail, and other people getting sh*t done”.
Talking of which, I think it’s time I made a cuppa (or a margarita?) and filed those long overdue expenses.