As each year begins to wind down, it’s common to see the future-looking articles come out. You've seen all of the “10 things you should know about [insert topic of author’s choice] for next year” pieces. This year is a little different though, as we’re now into the final quarter of not only the year, but the second decade of the 21st century. With that in mind, maybe it’s time to take a broader look at your overall T&E program, to make sure that your organization is future-ready for what the world has to throw at it in the coming years.
Here are three key areas that organizations should address when reviewing their T&E program to determine if it is future-ready.
As we move toward 2020, the possibility of a recession in the coming year looks significantly more likely than it did a year ago. This means that the need for organizations to effectively control and optimize employee T&E spend is likely greater than it has been at any point since the Great Recession a decade ago.
Thankfully, future-ready organizations have a lot more tools at their disposal to help them control these costs. Expense solutions’ sophisticated analytics capabilities enable financial departments to obtain deep insight into spend volumes and patterns. This data can then be used to make smarter, more informed decisions for vendor negotiations as well as eliminating wasteful spend.
At the other end of the cost control spectrum, expense fraud prevention and detection capabilities have also significantly improved over the past few years. In addition to innovations such as the ability for an expense solution to identify receipt images that have been doctored, expense auditing technology has also become significantly more sophisticated. This allows finance teams to more accurately detect potential patterns of deliberate mis-spend and fraud, which is both more effective in spotting these big-picture issues, and also far more efficient than manual line-item expense auditing.
Future-ready organizations leverage technology to analyze data in a more effective and accurate manner to make more informed spend decisions.
One area where things are different today to when the Great Recession hit is that unemployment is at historically low levels. A tight labor market means that employees have a greater amount of leverage, so reducing the quality of the overall user experience could lead to long-term retention challenges.
Future-ready organizations frequently review their travel and expense policies to ensure that they are in sync with modern travel trends, and that they effectively support the needs of their employees. For example, a significant number of organizations still haven’t comprehensively addressed the sharing economy (for example dockless electric scooters) in their expense policies, which could lead to confusion and potentially liability for the employer.
These policies also need to reflect the realities of travel for your team. A policy should have a level of tolerance for travel bookings, to avoid travelers being forced onto specific flights that don’t work for their personal situation, just because they comply with lowest logical fare rule. If a particular remote employee is challenged by the inconvenient flight times of your preferred airline, don’t force them to take it if it means that they need to get a 5:00 a.m. flight each time, instead of a similarly-priced 8:00 a.m. flight on another carrier. Give them the ability to make business travel more convenient.
Additionally, the increase in "bleisure" travel requires flexibility in bookings and payments, to allow employees to easily add days on to their trip, and this should be addressed in the policy to avoid confusion.
Another area that has seen major changes over the past decade is expense management technology, especially in the mobile capabilities that solutions can offer. Sophisticated OCR data extraction capabilities and rules-based policy enforcement and workflow routing allow employees to easily capture receipts and submit expense reports while on the road. This avoids the need for employees to retain their receipts and/or wait until they get home to create and submit their expenses. In an age where time is at a premium for always-connected employees, enabling them to spend more time with their family at the end of a business trip is a welcome bonus.
Future-ready organizations realize that optimizing the user experience is becoming critical for businesses, and refine their policies and technologies to better support their business travelers.
Organizations that want to ready their T&E programs for the next decade also need to ensure tight integration between different aspects of travel, expense and payments. This will not only help with cost control and the user experience, but will also help streamline processes for approval and reconciliation of T&E spend.
Many organizations have already integrated their travel booking and expense solutions, allowing them to select best-of-breed solutions for each. This makes expense policy compliance significantly more straightforward, and enables organizations to have a clearer picture of spend, but will also streamline the overall process for end-users.
One area that many companies have yet to address, however, is how to best integrate a centralized payments process into their T&E environment. While corporate cards are certainly becoming more prevalent for frequent travelers (and are used for centralized travel bookings) most infrequent travelers are still required to use their personal funds for all payments while on a trip, from hotel payment to meals and other incidentals.
This is now changing, as best-of-breed organizations are beginning to adopt virtual and single-use cards. These have multiple benefits to both end-users and employers. They can be quickly deployed by in-house card administrators, directly to travelers’ wallets on their iPhone and Android devices. They can also have a broad range of spend parameters “baked in,” ranging from straightforward spend limits, to restrictions on time, spend categories, and even merchants. This gives infrequent travelers the ability to make payments without using their own funds, while giving employers unparalleled cost-control flexibility.
Future-ready organizations are making corporate card programs an integral part of their overall T&E environment, and are adopting virtual cards to better support their travelers.
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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.