What is spend management and how to automate the process?
Spend management is the process of handling all business expenses. This includes tracking all transactions, building good vendor relationships, creating expense analytics documents and reports, mitigating any financial risks, saving costs wherever possible, and making the best use of the company funds.
However, you can only practice good spend management when you understand each aspect of the process. So, here is your guide to understanding what is spend management and its best practices.
A business runs on different kinds of expenses, from initial investments to daily transactions and payments. Different types of expenses have to be considered and understood in order to manage them correctly. This is because different expenses are carried out for different purposes and have varying results.
One similar strategy might not work on all types; some customization according to expense nature has to be done for the desired results.
Here is a list of the major types of spending for a business:
Managed expenses are those that are authorized and have the top management involved from start to end. This means sourcing, finalizing, collecting, arranging, and signing, all these steps have the company representative involved.
Managed expenses are controlled and contracted spends that have a clearly laid down procurement cycle.
Unmanaged spending is non-contractual and does not have a procurement cycle. This means these are spends generally made in emergencies or unplanned scenarios. There is no negotiating or signing for these spends.
For example, your employees make an unexpected expense on their business travel at their own discretion; that is something the finance team didn’t plan and accrued on the go.
Operating spends are the ones related to the core of the business. These expenses are daily or day-to-day operational expenditures that are necessary for the business's functioning.
For example, the cost of raw material procurement, marketing campaign execution expenses, sales initiative costs, etc.
Contrary to operating expenses, these are not directly or indirectly related to the core business operations. Non-operating expenses are recorded separately so that the decision-makers can have a clear view of how much it actually costs to keep the business operations running.
Examples of this category are debt interest payments, inventory write-offs, lawsuit settlement expenses, etc.
Fixed spends are those that do not depend on the change in volume of production or goods or sold services. If production increases or decreases, these expenses are still fixed and have to be paid no matter what.
For example, business insurance, office rent, warehouse maintenance costs, employees’ salaries, etc.
Opposite to fixed spends, these spends vary with the fluctuations in production and services provided. This means variable spending will rise with the increase in the volume of production and vice versa.
For example, raw materials costs, packaging expenses, delivery charges, sales commission, etc.
Spend management is a set of practices or a process that defines how businesses control and manage their expenses. Tracking, controlling, optimizing, spending, and regulating are all parts of the spend management process.
Examples of expenses are software subscription costs, procurement expenses, vendor relationship management, T&E costs, etc. Spend management helps a company run on a comprehensive plan of making the most efficient use of company funds to reduce costs and fraud.
A spend management process is meant to help the business take care of expenses, invoices, and card-related activities. There are different components of a spend management process to deal with different entities and problems of the business’s financial standing.
Without a proper understanding of how the business expenses are incurred, you will not be able to devise proper strategies to deal with the relative issues.
Hence, an advanced spend analysis structure is required, wherein you evaluate the expense type, people making these expenses, the frequency and importance, total expenses made each month, and the loopholes that need to be fixed.
After spending analysis comes budgeting and planning. Once you have the numbers and data before you, it is time to start dividing the company funds. This means you will have a lot of specific budget amounts for each department or project.
To implement the budget and budget usage policies, you will also need to plan. The analysis data will give you the base on which you will create plans for future moves of the business.
Related read: What is financial planning and analysis?
Next in line is procurement and sourcing. With a budget and implementation plan in place, you can begin the process of procurement and sourcing.
This means you start getting the necessary raw material or supplies for further manufacturing or sales. You have to research and choose the best providers for sourcing the business requirements.
Moving on to purchase approval and control. After you have decided on your vendors, the requirements, and the pricing negotiations, you have to get approvals for the purchases. This part requires the managers or department heads to approve the expenses, and also, they have to have control over the spending.
For example, the marketing team has to purchase a software tool for tracking website traffic, and the manager will have to approve or reject the selected vendor according to the expense rules, plus have visibility and control over how much is being spent.
The spend management process also includes taking care of the vendor invoice payments. This means there should be a comprehensive process of management that will receive the invoice to match the details, get approvals, integrate with accounting software, and finally make the payment.
Only when the invoice is processed according to the workflow will the company have the relevant data in the expense reports.
Suggested read: What is the vendor payment process and how to automate it?
Next is an extremely important element called expense tracking and reporting. All expenses made have to be tracked and recorded for further data analysis.
This is efficiently possible using an automation system, wherein the expenses are automatically tracked in real-time, and the required data is entered into an expense report that can be accessed anytime.
You might also be interested to read: Paperless expense reporting to streamline expense management
What spending, plans, and strategies are used for business growth will possibly have risks and dangers associated with it.
Spending more than allotted on a particular project might lead to scarcity of funds for other activities, or investing in an asset might not bring out the desired returns.
All these kinds of risks have to be anticipated and managed properly. This is where compliance and risk management practices come into play.
Along with client relationships, vendor relationship management is also essential to take your business forward. Keeping your vendors happy will reap benefits for your company. Pay your vendors on time, keep an open communication channel, and be flexible with payment solutions.
This helps in negotiating the terms of the contract further down the line and also getting discounts for cheaper purchases. Everything ultimately helps in maintaining favorable supplier relationships.
Effective spend management will not only help your business cut down costs but will also aid in recognizing revenue generation opportunities. Along with this, you’ll be able to mitigate risks, make better growth decisions, allot resources better for efficiency utilization, and overall achieve better financial stability.
Spend management is a complicated task that involves various processes, and managing all of those manually can be very stressful. Manual gathering of documents, data analysis, interpretation, planning, and adjustment becomes hectic and immensely labor intensive.
Here are some challenges of manual spend management:
As mentioned above, there are various steps and processes involved in the spend management procedure.
Completing all the tasks within a fixed period of time to complete the further steps and get the required results on time is difficult. You will require a huge team of employees working constantly to keep updated data for budgeting and planning purposes.
It is natural for humans to overlook tiny mistakes or details when dealing with huge volumes of data regularly. Repetitive tasks can be tedious, and the chances of human errors increase.
For example, your finance team employees are supposed to collect all expense receipts and reports from all departments, combine everything together, and make a single expense report from those. This will include an endless amount of numbers and details, and overlooking some miscalculations is normal when done manually.
As the whole data gathering and processing takes a lot of time, there is no real-time expense tracking possibility. The managers will only get to know of the expenses when it comes to their desk or approval, and the business heads will only know everything at the end of the month.
Correction of any glitch or even a new plan implementation can only happen after the end of a record period (month, quarter, year). There is no clear visibility into the spending data.
As mentioned above, plans and strategies can only be implemented once you have all the sorted and organized data before you. This takes away the possibility of instantly reacting to market changes and turning situations in favor of the company.
Scalability becomes limited because all the documents and information required to expand to a new market will take months to compline, and plan implementation will take another few months.
Manual spend management does not allow centralization of the company information. All departments will process their expenses differently and privately. It then goes to the finance team for approval and checks.
Maintaining a centralized database with all updated information manually is nearly impossible. There will always be some document or some data that will be missing.
Manual spend management opens up your books and expense reports to fraud. Amendments in reimbursement numbers or department expense data can be easily made.
This way, you do not get accurate information, plus fraud amendments can drain the company funds like water. Compliance and audit management will take ages to complete.
Now, there is only so much that your finance employees will be able to calculate and infer from the collected material. To run a successful business in today’s world, you need quick and advanced analytical insights to make the correct decisions.
Even if you consider that your employees can learn how to calculate and analyze all the new important matrices, it will still consume a lot more time, and accuracy is not guaranteed.
The spend management process for a company brings out essential insights used for future planning. Anything that goes wrong during the process can deeply affect the decisions made for the growth of the company.
Here is a list of the things that could go wrong with a poor spend management process:
Without proper tracking, recording, and management of expenses, your employees are prone to spend more than required.
Overspending is a common problem with manual spend management because issues like budget implementation, expense tracking, and spending control become extremely difficult to execute. This gives your employees the space to make unilateral expense decisions sometimes.
Poor spend management also leads to inefficient resource allocation. Resource allocation depends on a clear understanding of all department expenses and requirements, plus the future revenue generation expectations.
This is the only way through which you can divide resources in such a way that all the areas of the business can produce optimal results.
How can you possibly exert control over the company expenses when you don’t know what the actual essential ones are and which are the ones that can be let go?
Where do you need to set restrictions, and how to help employees make expenses easily?
Good spend management is the answer here. Without that, you will be shooting in the dark. Lack of financial visibility is not a favorable state for any company.
Every company expense has to be checked and approved against the business spending policies. This is because these policies are meant to help the business keep all its transactions under control.
However, poor spend management leads to breaches in the reports and database, missing receipts and details, and wrongly processed expense data. This raises compliance and regulatory issues.
Quick and accurate spend management is the need of the hour because market conditions are volatile.
Responding at the right time with the right strategies is essential to growing a business along with saving costs. Lack of precise spend data and delated insights keep your business away from many cost-saving opportunities.
When your spending records are manually managed, there is a very good chance that your employees or any third person can make changes in the expense data to get that extra money.
This creates anomalies in the final results and then leads to ineffective strategy planning. Or maybe your expense documents could be misplaced, which will further create compliance issues.
Poor spend management basically refers to inaccuracy in spending data management. Not following the right procedures or not using the right tools can lead to mistakes in calculations, document checking, and financial reporting.
Financial reports are meant to support business growth decisions, and mistakes in this report will lead to lax business development planning.
Ensuring that all your vendors are paid on time, and all invoices are processed correctly is the right practice to maintain good vendor relationships.
Again, this comes with good spend management, as you need to be aware of the due dates and payment amounts to plan your cash flow properly.
Vendor relationship issues should be solved on a priority basis, and that can only be done when you have accurate expense data and vendor information before you.
You cannot give your employees an arbitrary rule to make expenses and then have all costs calculated at the end of the month. This will lead to overspending that your business will not be able to handle.
Make a clear and all-encompassing spending policy. This must include all expense-related rules and regulations, reimbursement process, approval workflow, and which expenses are allowed and which aren’t.
Another good spend management strategy is to set budgetary controls. Allocate a specific amount to each department or project. Lay down ground rules and the results expected from that budget.
Along with this, you have to keep monitoring the budgets to ensure proper usage and determine if there are any cost-saving opportunities.
Next is procurement. If you give each department the individual right to make supply purchases, everything will add up to way more than expected.
Hence, centralize your procurement process. This means pre-set vendors for all the necessary supplies, mandate approval for any vendor before going forward with negotiations, and also make sure that all procurement processing is done through the financial team of the business.
This way, all the important data is not scattered, and everything stays within compliance regulations.
The strategy that is a must and is the need of the hour is spend management automation. This automation can be done by using advanced and modern technology.
A spend management system can help you centralize all processes, gather all data in real-time, track expenses, automatically create an expense database, provide analytical insights, and much more.
So you save both time and extra manual labor. All tedious and repetitive tasks are taken over by the system to be completed within minutes.
Just implementing a few plans according to the business needs is not spend management. You have to be vigilant and proactive; this means you have to conduct regular reviews of the company's spending.
Regular reviews help you check if everyone is following the rules and that all expenses are within the given budget.
Also, you get to identify any plan errors or drawbacks which you can correct instantly.
Another effective spend management strategy is to encourage and maintain good vendor relationships.
All your business processes related to procurements and suppliers should be optimized. Let your vendors know that you are open to communication, will pay all bills on time, and overall make it a good partnership.
This will help you gain better discounts and deals from the vendors.
Making a document of compliance requirements and rules and passing it along to the employees will not help.
The managers and heads of departments will have to take the extra step to enforce those compliance rules by being strict with the process.
Along with this, monitoring the spending behavior will also tell you if any expense is going out of line or was not approved.
An essential step to ensure that your spend management process goes the right way is to educate and train your employees.
Assist your employees in understanding the spending rules, properly follow the procedures, and be open to questions for better comprehension.
Once your employees are familiar with the company policies, spend management will become a lot easier.
As mentioned above, it is critical to use technology for the best of the company. This means you can make smart use of spend analytics tools and platforms. These platforms will help you track business expenses and make sense of all that data.
You can access reports, charts, graphs, etc., to observe the spending pattern, highest-costing projects, cost-saving areas, etc.
Again, one plan does not fit all. Use the spending data to make improvements in the previous plans for better outcomes. Monitor all data and use it to your advantage.
Analyze what can be improved using the expense information, create plans for better recourse management, and ultimately improve the whole process.
Why did we talk so much about what could go wrong in the spend management process, and what are the best practices? Because conducting all spend management procedures in the correct manner will help you reap numerous benefits.
Here are some:
All spend management best practices will definitely help your business save a lot of money. Leveraging technology, setting spending policies, continuous monitoring, and using analytics will show you the real financial health picture of the business, according to which you can easily identify areas for cost-saving.
Effective spend management will also give your business the power of better budget control. The right strategies keep the expenses under control, and all department activities are conducted at optimal capacity with the given budget limit.
This is because spending on data analytics, budget enforcement, and employee training goes a long way.
Another natural benefit of effective spend management is improved cash flow. When you have a good look over the expenses, how spends are being incurred, and if these are maintained in compliance with the spending policy, you get a better understanding of the business cash flow.
The subsequent plans and strategies implemented will help in improving cash flow.
Check out our article on cash flow management to get a complete idea on how different spends affects cash flow and the strategies to improve your business cash flow.
If you adopt a spend management automation system, you will take off the significant workload of your employees. The system will take over the repetitive tasks and complete them with 100% accuracy.
Plus, your employees get the time to utilize their skills for more human-centric tasks like planning and forecasting.
Good spend management gives you the ability to plan your business cash flow and time the vendor payments according to inflow and due dates.
This means that you can always make on-time or before-time payments to your vendors. Your vendors will be happy, and this will build a trustable image for your company.
Subsequently, you automatically create better vendor relationships.
How can you manage your business revenue and expenses without knowing the specifics of revenue generated and types of expenses?
You can get this with smart spend management. Using the above-mentioned spend management practices, you can easily gain insights on business spending, like how much is spent on daily purchases, which department is making what kind of expenses, how your employees are spending the company funds, etc.
Spend management practices allow businesses to map out all supply chain costs. These costs can then be used to determine which vendor is giving the best value and which is not.
Your supply chain management and costs are automatically optimized. With this clear picture, you can grab better sourcing opportunities.
If you adopt an end-to-end spend management system, you can easily detect any future risks and also identify any weak links in the purchasing or procurement process.
Eventually, you can create and develop plans to manage these risks even before they hit the company.
Plus, you will not have to worry about any expense being out of order, as the system will only allow those spends that will be in line with the set rules and budget limits.
The ability to make more profitable decisions comes from having an accurate spend database and all minute information.
Smart spend management provides you with a database and advanced analytics features that further help you to understand all the data to make the best possible decisions.
One of the most sought-after benefits of effective spend management is visibility and increased accountability. You will know who is responsible for which expenses and what are the particulars of each spend.
A spend management system also allows you to stop any spending if it is not authorized or seems to be a fraud.
Advancements in technology are made to help humans do their work in a better and more efficient way. So, it is a smart option to adopt automation tools and technologies for effective spend management.
These are systems that are meant to automate the invoice capturing to the reimbursement process. This means that right from capturing the receipts from email or other sources and recognizing the essential characters to processing those with other related documents, entering the information in expense reports, and finally making payments, the system can automate everything.
Plus, it also helps in real-time expense tracking and streamlining approvals.
Another spend management software for small businesses is procurement software. This system is designed to help businesses automate the source-to-pay cycle. This means the first step of sourcing supplies from a vendor to managing spending and contracts and making invoice payments; the system can do it all.
Using this software, you can exert full control over the procurement process and use it to maintain good vendor relationships.
An invoice management software caters to the billing function of business operations. The system generates bills for the product and services.
The process of getting paid becomes seamless, along with having the business's financial health status before you. You can make accurate financial forecasts and have flexible cash flow using this spend management platform.
A spend analytics software holds expertise in gathering company-wide spend data. This data collection is done from multiple sources, different departments, and in all kinds of forms.
It then processes this data and gives out the results in the form of expense reports, charts, graphs, and a general database that will help you understand the numbers of your company and make prudential decisions.
Another spend management software for small businesses is a travel and expense management system. This can be viewed as an all-in-one management system to track and manage all your business and travel expenses under one platform.
From travel booking to travel expense reimbursements, controlling international spending, and overall managing, other related expenses come under the expertise of the system.
A mobile expense management solution is a system that gives your business the ability to manage and control your business expenses from anywhere and everywhere using your mobile device.
You get complete control and visibility over the amount your employees and departments spend. Plus, you can also see all international expense activity as well.
Data analytics and business intelligence tools carry out the process of data collection, analysis, and reporting. This information is gathered from both internal and external sources.
Functions such as performance management, predictive analysis, data visualization, and more are conducted by this software.
An expense management system is an advanced substitute for the traditional way of capturing, recording, processing, and entering expense data. To grow with the modern and quickly growing business market, your company needs to adopt expense management software.
This system is a solution to automate invoice capturing, expense reporting, accounting integration, and receipt management processes with faster processing speed and corporate cards for easier spend control and payment transfer.
An expense management software is designed to take over all the tedious and repetitive tasks of the spend management process and automate them.
This means that the system carries out all processes like data gathering, analysis, organization, etc. Completes these tasks within minutes and in real time.
Expense management software also helps businesses maintain policy compliance. Any expense that is not in accordance with the company rules and budget limits put into the system will not be processed.
Plus, a system with a corporate card also allows you to assign cards to employees or departments and set spend limits on those. Any expense under the limit will automatically be approved. Anything over it will need approval from the managers and other designated approvers.
Another amazing benefit of an expense management system is real-time visibility. All expenses made through the system or devices connected to the system will automatically be tracked and recorded.
All this happens in real-time so that you can know the current status of any payment or money transfer instantly.
The approval workflow has now been streamlined with expense management software. These systems allow you to set 3-4 levels of approvers.
Every expense request or reimbursement request has to be approved by each level of approvers. This ensures expense policy compliance and also gives the approvers control over the expenses to keep everything under the budget.
As all expense amounts and related information are tracked and stored in the expense database in real-time, there is no chance of any errors or mistakes in the data.
All the information is accurate, as no one can mess with the database manually.
So, the mistakes that would normally be accompanied by manual processing are effectively eliminated here.
Also, you might be interested to know - Best business expense tracker app of 2023
The process of manual reimbursements is cumbersome and difficult.
Gathering all receipts and expense reports, matching with expense policy, checking with receipts for legitimacy, entering data into expense reports, and finally transferring the amount. All this, when done manually, can be a nightmare.
However, with expense management, the approvers just have to accept the reimbursement claim; all other tasks are automated.
As all expense reports are built with real-time accurate data, the company records are automatically audit-ready.
You can access this database anytime for updated expense numbers and to see how each department or project is performing financially.
As no manual alteration is possible without messing up all the connected numbers, there is no chance of false totals.
Almost all expense management systems come with a mobile application. This mobile application helps you keep track of expenses through your phone, approve or reject requests on the go, and much more. It is a feature meant to give you anywhere accessibility.
One more business function that is automated and optimized by using expense management software is data analytics and reporting. These systems create expense reports, analytical graphs, and charts to help you understand the business’s expense patterns and cash flow behavior.
All these different types of expense management tools help your business streamline spend management processes, bring out better financial insights, improve data accuracy, and to-the-point policy compliance.
Ultimately, expense management tools can help you save a lot of time and labor, which can then be invested for beneficial outcomes.
You should consider adopting spend management software because it is an easy solution to all your management process issues. Using these systems is not rocket science.
A pretty simple user dashboard that lets you navigate through all features and easily manage all your expenses is a must.
Next on the list of features to consider for your expense management software is security. As this system will be handling the inflow and outflow of all your business funds and will be processing all data related to it, tight security is a must.
So prioritize end-to-end payment transfer encryption, approvals for all transfers, managing accessibility to features, etc.
Your expense management systems provide you with the whole package of spend management features. That means you should be able to track and record your expenses, get automatically created expense reports, set spend controls, look over all expenses in real-time, and a lot more.
Some software is built to serve specific business requirements, whereas spend management software takes care of almost everything.
Technological advancements are here to support a business. This means as your business grows and expands to different areas, the expense management system should also grow.
You must be served with the ability to process heavy expense data, loads of documents for cross-referencing, and work easily with an interconnected web of features to handle all aspects of the business operations.
Along with openness to integration comes customization options. A rigid system that processes your data and you do not get to tailor it according to your business's needs and organization practices is not the right choice.
The right system is that lets you customize important features and make adjustments according to the business’s requirements.
So, a customization option for card payment cycle management should be there, while preserving the integrity of real-time expense recording.
The next thing to consider before adopting a spend management platform is its integration capabilities.
You do not want to be stuck with a system that does not take data from your other business software, so you have to enter everything in it manually.
So, a flexible system with open integration capabilities to integrate with software like ERP, accounting, CRM, etc.
Just because you want a whole suite of management features, it does not mean that it should cost you a fortune. Hence, a spend management platform provider that gives you access to all features within a suitable budget limit is the one for your business.
Some providers offer different packages to cater to various kinds of issues. So, you can consider the different packages to see which suits your company the best.
Another essential spend management platform feature is vendor relationship management. Your system should be able to process all data quickly, take invoices, process all necessary information, and finally give you a look at the final due amount and date.
Reminders to pay a vendor invoice that is nearing the due date are also a good feature. This will help you keep your vendor happy with on-time payments and clear communications.
An all-in-one spend management platform that solves all your business finance management needs is Volopay.
The Volopay suite of features includes everything from simple expense tracking to advanced analytics and invoice and vendor management. This is a revolutionary spend management platform that allows you to efficiently manage all your expenses, make low-cost international transactions, and maintain control from your mobile devices with the Volopay mobile application.
Zoho Expense is another online Spend management software for small businesses that take care of processing receipts, creating expense reports, providing an approval workflow, streamlining business costs, and giving complete visibility over business expenses.
SAP Concur is yet another travel and expense management software that specializes in invoice management, daily business expense handling, and automating your business travel expenditure.
It is an American SaaS company that easily integrates travel and expense management with your current system.
A global expense management software that supports financial processing for all business sizes and industries is Fyle. It provides features like automated policy compliance, spend controls, easy expense approval, budget tracking, real-time spend analytics, and much more.
Take your business to the next level by switching from basic manual expense management to advanced automated spend management with Volopay. All the features and tools required to solve your financial issues can be found in one platform — Volopay.
Here is a glimpse of what you get:
● Real-time expense tracking and recording
● Direct accounting integration
● Multi-currency digital wallets
● Vendor management system
● Invoice processing automation
● Reimbursement and approval workflow
● Corporate cards, both virtual and physical, and much more