How Travel Managers Can Resolve Expense Report Headaches

In a previous post, we discuss common expense reporting hassles. There are a variety of approaches that can be used to resolve common expense reporting headaches. Some approaches may cost more money—at least in the beginning—but can save companies time and money in the long run. These strategies might be especially useful for in-house travel managers or accounting departments that deal with travel reimbursement, but some can certainly apply to travel management companies as well.

1. Explore TEM software and match selections to the company’s expense reporting problems

To deal with poor visibility into spending and concerns about missing or incorrect information, travel managers might explore emerging technologies that streamline these processes. End-to-end technologies generally allow travelers to book all travel through the software, and travel managers receive detailed analytics about employees’ spending.

Mobile technologies are making receipt capture easy.
Mobile technologies are making receipt capture easy.

With approval routing, policy enforcement, mileage calculation, per diem allowances, mobile receipt capture, and detailed analytics, many current technologies (popular products include Certify, Concur, and Expensify) are designed specifically to intersect at some of the hassles travel managers have to deal with. PayStream advisors offers a detailed list of Travel and Expense Management (TEM) software that is worth a look, as it breaks down the functionality and pricing of some of the most popular tools. The key for travel managers would be to identify the most common problems that they have in their own processes and match these problems with the functionalities of the technologies. For example, some tools allow receipt attachment but do not turn receipts into line items; hence, if incorrect information tends to be a problem, travel managers may still deal with data entry errors if they do not choose the right TEM software.

2. Outsource the expense reporting process

Because many companies handle expense reporting in-house through their own internal travel manager or through accounting departments, outsourcing may be a simple and obvious answer to removing expense reporting hassles. Outsourcing sometimes means using a travel management company, but others interpret the use of robust tools like Concur to be outsourcing as well, since they practically eliminate the need for expense reporting at the company. An October 2015 Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) study found that companies are saving considerable money and time when they outsource the expense reporting process, compared to companies that process internally either with or without software. However, the study did not explore how much companies spend to outsource, so it is unclear if companies are actually saving money in the long-run (although they are certainly saving expense reporting headaches). Especially for smaller companies, outsourcing is something to consider.

3. Adopt a holistic approach

travel-management-consultationEven if travel managers or companies are not ready to make the move to outsourcing or are not ready to try out a new technology, the GBTA makes a recommendation that all companies should likely be able to employ. They recommend taking a more holistic approach, evaluating all steps in the process—even those a travel manager may not feel are particular pain points, such as paying out reimbursements. Part of this boils down to travel managers (or others involved in the process) actually taking the time to rethink their current expense reporting process. The GBTA suggests that with the cost of processing and correcting expense reports being relatively high, travel managers might do well to focus on this as much if not more than focusing on reducing the cost of a “flight or hotel booking by a few dollars” (15).

While it may seem counterintuitive to a holistic approach, the GBTA also recommends requiring individual expenses to be itemized. This may make travelers more conscious of their spending, and it may also allow travel managers to collect better data on travelers’ spending habits. Maarten Groeneveld, a senior executive in the travel industry, also recommends that companies publish statistics by department—“what went right and what went wrong.” Making these elements visible for travelers may encourage increased compliance and encourage them to hold on to receipts or use the company’s preferred technologies for booking.

4. Create detailed policies and explain the purpose of the policies

Groeneveld also suggests that travel managers must have clear policies for what documentation is required and why. When we asked him about how to improve expense reporting headaches, he said he would encourage travel managers to consider the details: “Can staff take pictures of receipts and discard originals? What if there is no receipt? What is allowed?” Considering the details and setting specific policies upfront relieves having to tangle through incorrect expense reports later. Picking up on Groeneveld’s statement that travel managers should explain why documentation is required, a Concur report titled “8 Tips for a Best-Practice Expense Process” seems to agree with this approach, stating that transparency can help travelers understand requirements. Concur reminds us that companies ask employees for receipts, for example, for many reasons—including the fact that the IRS requires them as proof. Creating clear policies and explaining the reasons for those policies may help travel managers reduce their expense reporting hassles.

Ultimately, Groeneveld reminds travel managers to ask themselves, “Lastly—and most importantly—what is the impact of my decisions/requirements/procedure on the team members? Does it simplify their life? If it does not, it will be hard to be successful.” Whether applied to the company’s TEM software choice or to the company’s itemization policies, Groeneveld’s reminder is an important one.