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‘Tis the season for expense reports

SMBs brace yourselves. The receipt race is coming. As the holiday season draws closer and SMBs prepare to shut down over the break, they could find themselves confronted with employees eager to be reimbursed for their expenses they accrued over the year. 

In reviewing our expense transaction data – comprised of millions expense reports globally – we have identified that December 19th is one of Australia’s busiest expense days of the year. December 5th and 6th were also identified as expense management heavy days, making three out of the top five busiest days for Australian businesses fall in the same month.

The rush for employees to be reimbursed before the end of year break is no real surprise. Employees are consumers too and, with the increase in their spending over the holiday season, they will naturally want as much money as is owed to them sitting safely in their hip pocket.

What is a surprise, however, is the capacity for this receipt rush to overwhelm the finance departments of SMBs.

Naturally, SMBs do not want to disappoint their employees by not helping them recover their out of pocket expenses in an orderly and timely fashion. As a result, accountants and finance departments are under significant pressure to process the high volume of transactions requiring settlement before the end of the year.

To relieve the reimbursement pressures this December, SMBs need to prepare themselves effectively to tackle the busiest expense day, and month, head on.

One way SMBs can stay on the front foot is through communicating effectively, and early, with their staff. By being able to predict these days, managers should seek to remind employees to submit expense reports ahead of the day such reports are set to spike. SMBs can also take a staggered approach and encourage employees, sorted by teams, to submit claims by certain days.

SMBs should also outline and distribute their internal expense policies. This is an important piece of communication to staff that should occur throughout the year but, especially, in the lead up to a busy expense month. Ensuring that all employees are cognisant of policy will assist in weeding out erroneous claims that would ordinarily take up, and therefore slow, review and reimbursement time.

SMBs might also want to consider extending their employee education to providing training videos or creating a webinar to guide employees through submitting and approving expense reports. This should include a guideline on exactly what receipts the SMB considers necessary for inclusion, as an incomplete expense report can create more review cycles and may increase the time it takes for the submitter to be reimbursed.

Preparing employees to navigate these high volume days helps SMBs plan better so that they can both manage their staff members’ needs, ensuring they’re reimbursed quickly and accurately, as well as minimise harm to the company’s bottom line from an onerous amount of expenditures that need to be processed at the one time.

Another step SMBs can take to ease the headache of rushed expense reporting is through digitising their expense management processes. Online and mobile technology advancements allow businesses the opportunity to streamline their expenses with their finance departments. Smart-phones now empower employees to capture pictures of receipts and attach them to expense reports, reducing the amount of hard copies an SMB has to consider. If given the choice, SMBs will find that their employees are more keen to leverage their smartphones to submit expense reports on the go, than to spend their own time printing and collating these receipts themselves.

Increased digitisation can also save an SMB from having to shuffling paper between approvers at the last minute, reducing errors. Such technology would also allow for SMBs to import corporate card charges directly into the expense reports, saving significant time and improving the accuracy of monitored information. The result of this would be a more streamlined process that reduces the strain on resources during a busy month. Through this, SMBs are in a better position to reimburse money to their employees faster and with less work.

The right kind of staff preparation and the implementation of digital tools to manage the expense management process will allow SMBs to close the calendar year with confidence and efficiency.

After all, December really should be spent relaxing at the beach not stressed, wading through a mountain of receipts!