The University of New Mexico (UNM) is a public research university in Albuquerque, New Mexico. UNM was founded in 1889. In the spring of 2019, more than 29,000 students were registered across six campuses. In this guest blog post, Lorrie Black, a senior business analyst at UNM, discusses how the university’s decision to move to Chrome River from a home-grown system reduced risk and increased employee satisfaction.
UNM processes about 50,000 expense reports per year. Before we switched to Chrome River in December of 2016, we had a paper-intensive home-grown system that also included a specially-created, UNM-designed form in our ERP solution. With a combination of receipts, expense forms and administrative paperwork, we were buried in paper. Not only that, but many offices would provide duplicate copies for the expense owner as well as their department files. In addition, original paperwork would eventually be sent to our records management department, where it would sit until it could be destroyed.
The approval process could take weeks. Paper-based expenses were submitted electronically, but the paper had to be routed via campus mail to various individuals for signature approval or if denied, the report was returned to the creator. Trying to discover where a report was in the process could lead to a painful paper chase, and inevitably some expenses got lost in the process. Not only was this a compliance risk for the university, it meant payment to our traveling faculty, staff and students was delayed.
Once a report had been physically signed off, it needed to be electronically approved in our ERP system before a reimbursement could be made. Even after an expense report had been approved and processed for payment, we still had to scan the documents into our document management solution. In short, it was unsustainable – both for our finance department and also the vast quantities of paper that we consumed.
When we were looking for an expense management solution, we had several key goals in mind: we needed to simplify the process, the tool needed to provide flexibility for all expense types, not just travel; we needed electronic routings, robust reporting options and it needed to integrate with our PCard program; the tool needed to be flexible and configurable to our policies and processes; and users needed to be able to access the tool from anywhere.
Chrome River already had an impressive number of large universities as customers, and as it was the expense technology partner for Ellucian [UNM’s ERP solution provider], we were confident we’d made the right choice in selecting it.
The biggest immediate benefit we noticed was the ease of everything being submitted and approved online. Receipts could be uploaded directly from travelers’ mobile phone cameras, or simply by forwarding purchase confirmation emails. Users didn’t have to walk across campus to submit their expense report, and as soon as it was submitted, they were able to see where it was in the approval process. In addition, the university’s finance team can also now create reports of approvals aging in Chrome River, so if there is an approval bottleneck, we can spot this and remedy it.
By speeding up the approval process, we can reimburse expenses much more quickly, which our travelers obviously appreciate. In fact, one of our professors and our CFO said they were ecstatic to see they got paid the same day their reimbursements were submitted!
Streamlined PCard reconciliation
Beyond the clear improvements in the efficiency of expense processing, we’ve also seen several other benefits since we implemented Chrome River. As many of our travelers are issued with PCards, we needed a solution which made it easy to reconcile these cards. Now that our travelers can easily attach, capture, and upload receipt images on their phone, and attach these to each transaction, the reconciliation process has become much more streamlined.
Before Chrome River, our PCard holders had to reconcile their transactions in Banner [UNM’s ERP solution] and then again when they received their paper statement. Paper statements, along with all backup documentation and receipts, were sent to our PCard department for review. Once reviewed, the statement and all back up was separated, scanned, bundled all back together boxed and sent to records management until it could be destroyed. Now it is “one and done.” PCard charges, receipts, backup documentation are all in Chrome River, so no more paper!
Another area where we have noticed a significant improvement is in compliance with our travel policy. Our policy is configured into Chrome River, so when travelers try and submit an item which is outside the policy, they will see an exception notice. They then have the choice to either amend the expense item, or submit it with a note about why it is out of policy. This is a huge time saver, and eliminates a drawn-out back-and-forth to finally approve a specific expense item. Compliance messages are easily configurable to accommodate our business needs. We own the messages and they can be updated as our business requirements change.
With Chrome River, UNM can let business flow by allowing our staff to focus on their core missions of education and research without having to worry about when their expenses will be reimbursed. For my colleagues on the finance team, we can rest easily knowing that we’re making our travelers’ lives much easier, as well as doing our bit for the environment by drastically cutting paper use. In fact, the year after we implemented Chrome River, we eliminated over 800,000 sheets of paper!
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Our choice of Chrome River EXPENSE was made in part due to the very user-friendly interface, easy configurability, and the clear commitment to impactful customer service – all aspects in which Chrome River was the clear winner. While Chrome River is not as large as some of the other vendors we considered, we found that to be a benefit and our due diligence showed that it could support us as well as any large players in the space, along with a personalized level of customer care.
We are excited to be able to enforce much more stringent compliance to our expense guidelines and significantly enhance our expense reporting and analytics. By automating these processes, we will be able to free up AP time formerly spent on manual administrative tasks, and enhance the role by being much more strategic.