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Keeping end of year expenses under control

During the ‘silly season’ it can be easy for expenses to get out of control. Employees are starting to relax and may feel comfortable claiming team lunches or other entertainment expenses back from the business. At the same time, Christmas is a time for giving; many organisations buy gifts at the end of the year to thank loyal customers, clients, suppliers and partners for their support. Then there’s the office Christmas party, staff bonuses and, before you know it, the business’s cash flow has been diminished.

Meanwhile, employees are asking to be reimbursed for expenses that fall outside your policies. You don’t want to set the wrong precedent but, at the same time, you don’t want to dent morale by rejecting people’s claims for things they thought the business would cover.

These problems can occur at any time of year but December is a particularly busy time in Australia for expense activity. In the rush to close off December before everyone goes on leave, details can be missed.

The potential for errors is even worse if your company uses manual or paper-based claiming processes. Receipts can get lost, details can be transcribed incorrectly and claims that normally wouldn’t get approved can slip through.

Furthermore, paper-based or manual approaches are cumbersome and detract from workers’ key priorities, which is to focus on completing important work and building client relationships before the year ends. As a result, employees are less likely to get their expenses completed and submitted in a timely fashion.

The consequences of this can be dangerous. For example, the company may not have a clear picture of how much is being spent by employees, let alone whether all expenses fall within company policy. If the employee uses a company credit card, this can lead to an uncomfortable situation where the company needs to be reimbursed by the employee.

This type of uncertainty can create extra stress for everyone in the lead up to the holidays, but businesses can avoid this expense management stress by taking three key steps.

First, review your internal processes. Look at all expense-related processes and identify the areas where processes may be inadvertently duplicated or slowed down by administrative bottlenecks. This includes replacing paper-based procedures where possible by automated, mobile expense management solutions that reduce the burden of expense management.

Second, make sure you clearly reiterate company policies. Don’t assume employees are aware of policies or remember them. Instead, constantly reinforce them to ensure employees are fully aware of how much they can claim – and for what purposes – before they spend the money. This reduces the frustration that employees can feel when their expense claims are rejected by mitigating the risk that they will incur out-of-policy expenses in the first place.

For example, the company may decide that it is willing to pay for employees to conduct client relationship-building activities during work hours but not after hours. Or it may be willing to cover all related expenses, no matter what time of day they are incurred, up to a certain limit. Making sure employees are well aware of these parameters reduces the chances they will accidentally breach them.

As well as ensuring employees are aware of the policies, businesses should ensure they are also aware of the penalties for non-compliance. These can range from simply requiring the employee to repay any out-of-policy expenses, to formal warnings, or even dismissal, for egregious and deliberate breaches.

Finally, businesses should integrate mobility with online expense management systems. Mobile expense management lets employees quickly digitise their expense information and immediately send it to their organisation’s cloud-based or online expense management platform. When submitting your expenses is as simple as taking a picture of the receipt with a smartphone, then uploading the details using the same device, employees are more likely to get their expenses in on time. And, because this technology dramatically reduces the time it takes to complete expenses, it improves the employee’s chances of having their expenses approved immediately.

Online platforms usually incorporate policy information too, which means employees will be notified immediately if their expenditure falls outside the company policy and won’t be reimbursed. This avoids situations where managers have to inform employees directly that their expenses are invalid and must be repaid or won’t be reimbursed.

The end of the calendar year can be stressful enough without worrying about expenses. Companies can significantly reduce the stress and inefficiencies associated with expense management by implementing a mobile, cloud-based expense management system. An automated system removes the burden of expense management from both employees and managers, letting them wind up the year without any added pressure.

About the author

Matt Goss is managing director, ANZ, at Concur. Matt Goss is a management executive with extensive experience in establishing and managing operations for cloud-based technology companies. 

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