Top options for digitising expense management in 2021

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Digitising your expense management process

Finance and business leaders face conflicting priorities in 2021. They need to tighten the belt to deal with the impact of the pandemic, but also invest for growth as the world reopens.

Digitising your expense management processes is key to achieving these dual goals. During the pandemic, companies embracing digital expense management have enjoyed some important advantages over competitors. They reported losing less money to poor controls, higher levels of success in pivoting, and greater confidence in investing for future growth.

If you haven’t yet, now is the time to start looking at how digital expense management could help you over the next year.

The question is: where do you start? There are many different options available – all claiming to give you better oversight and control of your expenses than the next.

In this guide, we’ll go over three of the most popular types of digital expense tools so that you can pick the one that will have the most impact in your business.

1. Expense reporting software

Expense reporting software lets you process, pay, report, and audit employee expenses through a single cloud-based tool.

How it works

When employees spend money on behalf of the company, they take a picture of the receipt on their phone and upload it to the mobile app. Once they’ve captured the receipt, they can add it to an expense claim.

As soon as an employee submits an expense claim, their manager gets a notification either through a desktop or mobile app. The manager reviews the claim and approves it or sends it back to the employee if information is missing. If there are multiple people in the approval chain, the system automatically notifies the next approver.

Once all approvers have reviewed the claim the employee receives confirmation that their claim has been accepted. The system also lets them know when they will be reimbursed.

Most systems integrate with major accounting software, syncing information as soon as it’s captured.

Finance teams can run expense reports by user, division, spend category or vendor, helping them get a clearer picture of what is being spent where. Some systems even analyse spend patterns and automatically suggest cost savings.

No more paperwork; no more bottlenecks

Bottlenecks caused by inefficient processes, and too much paperwork, are the two biggest problems caused by outdated expense processes.

Expense management software fixes this by removing paper and automating approval workflows. All documents are stored digitally in one place, so you can access it from anywhere to approve it. The system notifies managers when it’s their turn to approve a claim, and automatically sends it to the next person in line.

The system stores all expense data in one place, so you have greater oversight of where money is spent, and by whom.

Employee satisfaction improves, thanks to the transparency and reliability of automated processes.

Everybody wins.

Additional perks

Specific capabilities vary between providers, so do your homework to make sure you select one that has everything you need. Here are some extras to consider before choosing a vendor:

  • Digital receipt capture: some mobile apps auto-scan receipts, extracting information such as spend category and VAT, while others need this to be manually entered.
  • Mobile functionality: some let you submit an expense report straight from your phone, while others only store your receipts for you to add to a claim when you’re back at your desk.
  • Auto approvals: set parameters such as category, amount or vendor to allow certain transactions to be auto approved, saving your management and finance teams time.
  • Corporate card reconciliation: sync data from all your corporate cards giving you one view on all your company spending.

2. Smart expense cards

Smart expense cards, such as Soldo, look exactly like traditional corporate credit cards. What sets them apart is that they’re attached to a powerful cloud-based expense management platform.

How it works

You apply for a multi-user account as a company, top it up from your main business bank account, and from there you’re in charge. You can issue cards for any – or all – of your employees without additional applications.

You access the platform through a desktop or mobile app to distribute funds as you wish or set budgets and controls. With Soldo, for instance, you can decide whether an individual user can use their card at restaurants but not cocktail bars, or to pay for travel and accommodation, but not retail therapy.

When employees spend on their smart cards, they get a notification through the app on their phone prompting them to snap a picture of the receipt, add the VAT and spend category. This information is immediately available to the finance team.

Most smart card systems integrate with mainstream accounting software. Soldo, for example, integrates with Xero, NetSuite, QuickBooks Online, and Sage. Transaction data is instantaneously transferred to your accounting software, making reconciliation and end-of-month reporting a breeze.

Real-time visibility; complete control

With smart cards, the spend management tool is directly linked to the means to spend, meaning they provide two big benefits that other solutions don’t.

  1. Real-time visibility
    You can see exactly who’s spending how much and where at all times. You don’t need to wait until the end of the month to receive credit card statements, or for employees to remember to submit expense claims – sometimes months after spending – to know where your money’s going.During the pandemic, this real-time visibility helped companies to pivot their product or service offering. In fact, 53% of companies using smart cards said they were able to pivot successfully, compared to only 38% of those who didn’t have a digital expense management system in place. 1 
  2. Control
    With smart expense cards, you can lower or raise limits, give people one-off access to funds, create new cards, cancel cards, block certain types of transactions, and much more – in just a few clicks. All spend is pre-approved, so there are no surprises in store for you at the end of the month.If you want to increase or lower the balance on someone’s card, no need to spend 45 minutes on the phone to the bank trying to remember that Joan from marketing’s first pet was Fluffy the rabbit. Instead, get it done in seconds on your phone.Thanks to these controls, the average company using smart cards held on to an extra £224,360 per year 2 compared to competitors.

1. Based on findings from our research report ‘A brighter future: better spend controls key to pandemic recovery
2. Based on findings from our research report ‘A brighter future: better spend controls key to pandemic recovery’. Average amount saved in companies of 1 – 500 employees.

Additional perks

Specific capabilities vary between providers, so do your homework to make sure you select one that has everything you need. Here are some extras to consider before choosing a vendor:

  • Virtual cards: ideal for managing online recurring spend such as advertising or tech subscriptions.
  • Multi-currency options: if you’ve got teams in different countries, that travel often, or you plan on expanding internationally, make sure you can use one system to track all your spending.
  • Auto top-ups: top up cards at regular intervals or when balances fall below a critical level.
  • Multi-user cards: assign cards to teams or projects rather than individuals to track spend effortlessly.

Psst… you get all this and more with Soldo. Watch a demo here to see how it works.

3. Travel management software

Part travel booking service, part expense management solution. Modern travel management software helps employees book the cheapest flights, cars, trains, and accommodation, and to manage their itinerary. It tracks all spend taking place through the platform, giving finance teams a consolidated view on travel spend.

How it works

Employees book travel and accommodation through a dedicated service showing the best available corporate rates. Many providers will curate results based on a company’s specific compliance policies, avoiding routes or vendors that are not covered by insurance.

Most platforms have a mobile app through which employees can access the booking facility, manage their own itinerary, and look at the team itinerary as a whole. They can amend bookings and contact customer support through the app. In the case that a flight is cancelled, most platforms will automatically suggest an alternative.

Spend is tracked and available in real time to the finance team for analysis, because all booking takes place through the platform. Finance teams get insight into travel booking trends for individuals, teams or whole companies, which allows them to adjust their travel programme to increase savings.

Reconciliation is made easier by the fact that all details – including receipts and invoices – for each trip is captured in the same system even when bookings are made on a personal card.

Better deals; easier compliance

If travel expenses are the lion’s share of your total spend, travel management software can help you cut costs and save time in the following ways:

  1. Better deals on corporate travel 

    Save money by giving staff access to the best corporate travel rates. Armed with instant access to total travel spend, you’re also able to negotiate better rates with key suppliers. 

  2. Easier compliance 

    Ensure that all bookings are in keeping with internal policies and external regulations. You can set additional approvals for bookings above a certain amount or to specific countries. You can also make sure employees only book travel with favoured suppliers.

Additional perks

  • Loyalty programmes: some options allow users to add loyalty programmes of which they’re already a member, potentially giving your business an extra discount while increasing employee satisfaction. Others have their own loyalty programmes, giving you access to more perks, the more your team travels.
  • Live traveller maps: being able to see where all employee travellers are at any one time helps you respond quicker in case of a regional emergency.
  • Carbon impact data: some solutions track your CO2 footprint, either at a company or individual level. This can be a huge help if you wish to offset your footprint, or if you’re part of climate initiatives.

Time to start digitising

While this guide has outlined the three most popular forms of expense management tools available, individual providers can vary significantly in both functionality and cost. Once you’ve decided on the kind of solution that best suits your business, do additional vendor research to make sure you pick the option that will have the biggest impact on your business.

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