Expense management

Expense management automation - Detailed guide for businesses

Apr 12, 2023

Expense management automation has become an increasingly popular way to save time and money in businesses of all sizes. It eliminates labor-intensive systems by automating the process of tracking, approving, and reimbursing business expenses, eliminating manual data entry and paperwork.

Automation tools provide increased visibility into expenses and help ensure that policies are complied with. It also simplifies the process of filing expense reports and payments, reducing errors and significantly improving accuracy.

With expense management automation, businesses can both streamline their processes and at the same time save money.

What is expense management automation?

Expense management automation is a system that streamlines the processing of employee expenses. It replaces the traditional, manual forms of expense management which used to require heavy paperwork and labor. This is done by automating the entire process from employee submission of expenses to verification and approval of the expenses, to the payment of the employee.

Automation reduces the manual effort required to manage employee expenses, making the process simpler, faster, and much more accurate.

Automation systems also offer additional features, such as expense policy enforcement, automated reporting and analytics, and improved visibility into the expense process.

Automation solutions can significantly reduce the time and cost associated with the traditional forms of processing employee expenses, making it an essential tool for modern businesses of all sizes.

What is the traditional expense management process?

Traditional expense management process

1. Expense incurrence

In any expense management process, employees will begin by making the expense they need to. There are many different ways that an expense can be incurred.

These expenses would traditionally be made with cash or rely on your employees’ personal funds first. Sometimes employees will also have to get an approval document before the expense is incurred.

Check out article on the 7 effective ways to reduce business expenses to discover the 7 powerful strategies to slash business expenses and boost profits! Learn cost-cutting tips from experts to streamline your operations.

2. Expense documentation

Employees will have to ensure that they have the appropriate documentation following the expense. This could include having to keep a copy of the receipt, as well as noting down when and where the expense was incurred.

Traditionally, this step would be done manually and rely on the employee’s own documentation.

3. Expense report preparation

Before an employee can submit an expense report, they’ll need to prepare all the documents required.

Typically, companies will have an expense report form that your employees must complete according to the expense incurred. They may also be required to attach physical copies of supporting documentation, including but not limited to tickets, bills, and receipts.

4. Expense report submission

It’s only after an employee has filled out the expense report paper forms and attached physical copies of different supporting documents can they submit the expense report.

This is likely to require the employee to find their supervisor or manager in the office before handing over all the documents.

Want to streamline your expense reporting process for better efficiency and accuracy? Explore our article for expert tips and tools to simplify expense reporting, save time, and improve financial visibility.

5. Manager approval

Once an employee has submitted their expense report, managers will get a chance to review it. Based on the details provided, they can approve, reject, or send the report back for more information.

To make sure that approval doesn’t take any longer than it should, employees need to be sure that every document asked has been submitted.

6. Finance team review

The next step is to send the report to the finance team. This step can only be achieved after a manager approves the expense report.

At this stage, the finance team will have to manually go over the report and supporting documents to check its credibility and authenticity. The compliance check happens during this review.

7. Reimbursement process

Without the help of expense management automation, the reimbursement process is traditionally done manually.

If the expense reports submitted are all according to the company’s policy, the finance team can manually make bank transfers or pay employees back in cash to settle reimbursements. This is for any expenses made using your employees’ own funds. 

Check out article on employee expense reimbursement policy to get a complete idea on the set of guidelines and rules to follow when creating a reimbursement policy.

8. Payment to employees

Processing reimbursements only wraps up after your employees receive their payments. If the payments are made through bank transfers, which are common traditionally, you’ll have to collect your employees’ bank account details.

It’s only when you have these details can you make your payments according to the nominal that is approved for reimbursement.

9. Record keeping

Regardless of traditional processes or modern ones done with expense management automation, you’ll want to keep a detailed record of all your expenses and reimbursements.

However, doing this traditionally is known to be time-consuming and complicated. You’ll have to manually enter all details and find a way to store all physical documents safely.

10. Auditing

Most businesses will regularly perform audits to make sure that all expense documents are accurate and comply with both company policies and local regulations.

Due to the sheer volume of documents to collect and look through, however, it may be difficult for a lot of businesses to do audits more than once a year.

Streamline your expense management and reimbursement process

What are the benefits of expense management automation for management team?

Real-time expense visibility

Automated expense management tools provide information on where the business's money is being spent and the irregularities.

This helps the management to take quick corrective action and ensure that expenses are within the budget.

Enhanced fraud protection

Automation can help detect and alert management on cases such as duplicate entries, incorrect payments, and unauthorized expenses, all of which could be indications of fraud.

By detecting such threats early automation tools can prevent future harm.

Better operational efficiency

Automation reduces manual data entry and processing time, thus improving operational efficiency.

This also helps to reduce costs and improve profitability.

Fewer expense-related errors

By automating expense management system, businesses can drastically reduce the amount of manual entry and risk of processing errors, thus providing accurate and timely reporting.

With an efficient expense management system it will be easy to preemptively identify any discrepancies in the company expenses and prevent financial losses.

Improves policy compliance

Automated compliance checks and policy enforcement ensures that all expenses are following the business's policies, helping to reduce compliance-related risks.

Expense management automation software also comes with approval workflow features to help management further bolster policy compliance.

Improved control over spending

Automated expense management systems enable businesses to set and enforce spending limits and policies through the help of spend limit control and policy enforcement features.

This helps to ensure that expenses are within budget and that any irregularities are identified quickly.

Improved decision-making

Automation provides data-driven insights which can help finance teams make better decisions.

This helps to ensure that the business is making strategic investments that are aligned with its goals and objectives.

Speeds up reimbursement

Automation makes it easier to process employee reimbursements, as all expenses are tracked in real time.

This helps to ensure that employees are reimbursed quickly and accurately.

Eliminates paper records

Automation eliminates the need for paper records and spreadsheets, which can be easily lost or misplaced.

This simplifies expense tracking and reporting.

What are the benefits of expense management automation for employees?

Increased efficiency

Automating the expense management system eliminates manual data entry and streamlines the expense-tracking process.

This makes it easier for employees to record, track and manage their expenses, saving them a significant amount of time as well as energy.

Improved visibility

Expense management systems that are automated provide employees with better visibility into their spending, allowing them to keep track of business expenses in real-time.

This helps them when spending on the job, employees can better manage their budgets and ensure that there is no overspending.

Improved security

Expense management automation software can be easily integrated with other business systems, such as payroll or accounting software.

This means that all your company’s financial data can be safely stored in a single secure system. This significantly minimizes the risk of financial data being lost or misused.

Accurate records

Automated expense management systems ensure that all expense records are accurate and up to date.

This eliminates the possibility of discrepancies or errors, as well as the need to manually reconcile accounts.

Easier reporting

By automating the expense management system businesses can generate expense reports much more quickly and accurately.

This makes it easier for employees to track their business expenses and ensures that expense reports are ready for submission promptly.

Reduced costs

Automated expense management tools can help reduce the amount of time and money that businesses need to spend on the manual processing of expenses, meaning that businesses can save money in the long run.

Expense management automation to reduce cost and improve profitability

What are the key components of expense management automation?

There are several different components to expense management automation. All these key components work in tandem with each other to streamline your workflows.

Ultimately, the result you’ll get as a sum of all of them is an optimized expense management process. 

1. Automated expense tracking and reporting

One of the biggest needs for automated expense management is to make tracking and reporting expenses easier. It goes without saying that you’ll need these features in your expense automation software.

You’ll automatically get expense updates as they are made, prompting employees to fill in their report details easily before submission.

Navigate the complexities of expense management with our comprehensive article on ensuring expense report compliance. Uncover proven strategies and best practices to maintain accuracy, adhere to policies, and avoid costly pitfalls. Read the article to streamline your expense management practices, ensuring seamless compliance and mitigating risks effectively. 

2. Digital receipt management

Instead of asking employees to collect and store receipts for every purchase they make, you’ll want tools to aid you with digital receipt management.

A key feature of this is the ability to snap pictures of your receipts to store them in your account. Optical character recognition (OCR) will also enhance your receipt management.

3. Integrations with corporate cards and accounting system

While automated expense management is good on its own, it’s even better if you can integrate your software with tools like corporate cards and accounting systems.

Integrations will give you a more holistic approach to expense management and ensure that all aspects of your business expenses are working in parallel with one another.

4. Automated policy enforcement

You want to make sure that your expense policies are enforced properly so that every employee is adhering to them. This is why automated policy enforcement is considered a key component of expense management automation. This can include features such as customized expense limits and alerts for any suspicious or out-of-policy expenses.

5. Real-time spend analytics

Get better visibility into how your money is being used with real-time spend analytics. Through your system’s dashboard, you’ll be able to view all expense transactions.

With the help of visualization and filter tools, it’s easy to analyze how much you’ve spent in a certain period of time and what prominent expenses are.

6. Expense approval workflows

Often what holds back the expense management process is how long approvals take. Instead of having one document cross many desks and risking it getting lost in the process, an important feature of expense management automation that you want to have is automated approval workflows. Notify approvers immediately when a request comes in.

7. Mobile accessibility

One thing that sets apart expense management automation from traditional processes is that you can do things faster due to the ability to access your data and workflows from anywhere at any time.

Having mobile accessibility is important as it helps you and your employees report expenses, approve requests and reports, and get data overview with ease.

How to implement expense management automation in your organization?

Follow the steps mentioned below to successfully implement automation for the expense management process in your organization.

1. Assess the current expense management process

Assessing the current expense management process is the first step in implementing expense management automation in a business organization.

This involves examining the current systems, processes, and procedures for managing expenses, including any manual processes and systems used for recording, tracking, approving, and reimbursing expenses.

This assessment should include areas such as the types of expenses that are incurred, the processes for approving them, and the frequency with which expenses are recorded and tracked. It should also include an assessment of the current systems and processes used for reimbursement and auditing.

2. Define goals and objectives

Once you know what your pain points are, you need to figure out what you want out of implementing expense management automation.

Have goals such as a 20% faster reimbursement process turnover time or increased accuracy of expense reports. You’ll also want to break down these goals into smaller objectives to figure out how you can use automation tools to achieve them.

Also, check our ultimate guide to travel expense reimbursement to learn how to manage travel expenses efficiently, ensure policy compliance, and optimize reimbursements. 

3. Choose the right expense management automation tool

After areas of improvement have been identified, the next step is to choose the right expense management automation tool. There are a variety of tools available, ranging from cloud-based solutions to more complex enterprise software solutions.

The right tool should be chosen based on the specific needs of the business, the size of the organization, budget considerations, and the desired features.

4. Plan the implementation process

Before you implement your new tool, you want to have a plan. Talk to key personnel about implementation and come up with a timeline along with the roles and responsibilities of each person.

You also want to discuss the implementation process with the sales and customer support teams of your new expense management automation software provider. They’ll have insights on how to best get started with it.

5. Roll out the implementation in phases

Having completed the employee training process, the next step is to roll out the implementation in phases.

This allows the organization to gradually transition from manual expense management processes to automated ones. Doing so gives businesses the required room for any necessary adjustments to be made to the tool or the processes as needed.

6. Train employees on how to use the tool efficiently

Eventually, you want most if not all of your employees to start using your expense report automation tools. Before they get started, however, it’s necessary that they’re given proper training.

Familiarize your employees with your expense management automation tools and help them get onboarded. Make sure that you’re answering any queries that your employees may have regarding the new system.

7. Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the implementation

During the implementation process, you want to ensure that you’re evaluating how it is progressing. This is key to the success of your new automated expense tools as you’ll want to adjust accordingly if you’re finding that the process isn’t as effective as you hoped.

Be open to making changes and keep on reviewing the implementation until you’re satisfied with your expense management process. 

8. Provide ongoing support to employees and managers

It’s not just the initial training and onboarding process that is important for employees and managers alike. For the longevity of the effectiveness of expense management automation, it’s important that you’re providing necessary ongoing support for your employees.

If there are new automation features, for example, be sure to keep everyone in the loop and introduce them to these features and benefits.

9. Measure the success and ROI

Given that you would have come up with goals and objectives before implementing expense automation in your organization, you’ll want to come back to them to measure its performance against these goals.

There will also be costs involved in automating your business expense management, so it’s a good idea to look at what your return on investment (ROI) is compared to those initial costs.

Easily automate your expense management process

How to accelerate the adoption of expense automation in your organization?

Properly communicate the benefits to your employees

Communicating the benefits of expense management automation software to employees is an important step in accelerating its adoption. This should include how it streamlines the workflow and reduces the manual effort required to manage expenses.

Employees should also be made aware of the added security and improved accuracy that an automated system provides.

Address employee concerns and their resistance to change

Addressing employee concerns and resistance to change should involve listening to their fears and understanding their preferences.

It is important to assure that the new system will be easy to use and understand. This could involve providing demos and presentations to demonstrate the usability of the tool.

In addition, allowing employees to provide feedback and suggestions during the transition can help to build trust and acceptance. 

Provide ongoing support and training

Ensuring ongoing support and training is also essential for the successful adoption of the expense automation tool. This should include providing detailed instructions and resources to help employees understand the tool and how to use it effectively.

Regular check-ins and updates can also help ensure that employees remain up-to-date and take advantage of any new features or updates.

Reward employees who use the tool effectively

You can also boost expense automation adoption by rewarding employees who successfully use the tool. This could involve offering incentives such as additional time off or gift cards.

Recognizing employees who demonstrate effective use of the tool can also serve as a motivational factor for others to follow suit.

Best practices for successful expense management automation

1. Establish clear expense policies

Regardless of whether your expenses are managed manually or automatically, you want to have expense policies in place.

Before you even begin automating your expense management, make sure that you have clear and defined guidelines for how to make and report expenses. Include details like what expenses are allowed within the policy.

2. Involve key stakeholders

When you’re starting to implement expense management automation within your organization, it’s important that you take into account feedback and suggestions to ensure that you’re making the most of the new systems that you’re going to introduce.

Consult with key stakeholders such as your HR and finance teams and get employees involved in the decision-making process. 

3. Customize to fit the policies

Chances are you already have existing expense policies. Automation is meant to make your expense management easier and simpler, not more difficult.

Instead of having to rework your policies entirely to fit your new tools, you’ll want to instead customize your automation software and features to reflect your policies.

4. Provide proper training to employees

Expense report automation software is only as effective as how it is being used. Considering that the bulk of its usage will be by your employees, you need to make sure that you’re providing proper training so that they can use the software effectively. Familiarize employees with all the features that they will be using.

5. Properly communicate the benefits to your employees

Employees might be reluctant to change their current work processes. This is why you’ll need to let your employees know what the benefits of expense management automation are.

Inform employees of how new changes to the process can lighten their workload and cut the time usually spent on monotonous manual tasks. 

6. Address employee concerns and their resistance to change

Even after giving your employees training and letting them know how expense management automation can benefit everyone, you may still find that some employees are resistant to change.

Let employees know that you’ll happily address any concerns they may have. Make sure your employees feel supported during the implementation process.

7. Reward employees who use the tool effectively

To incentivize employees, you want to consider rewarding employees for using your expense automation tools effectively. The reward doesn’t have to be a material reward.

You can also give shoutouts to employees or reduce their workload. It also will show how your automation tools can help overall expense management to other employees.

8. Provide ongoing support and training

It’s not enough to only provide training to employees once. Most expense management software providers will continuously make adjustments and improvements to their platforms.

To make sure that your employees are up to speed with the new changes, host regular training sessions. You also want employees to know that they can come forward with any questions. 

9. Implement strong security measures

Most expense automation tools require you to make an account to log into the platform. This ensures that your data isn’t accessible to unauthorized parties.

However, you want to strengthen these security measures by making it clear to employees that they should keep account information private. Enabling two-factor authentication also gives an added layer of security.

10. Keep the system up to date

Cloud-based expense management automation tools are likely to automatically update, meaning that you won’t have to worry about whether or not you’re up to date with new technology and features.

However, it’s still important to do a routine check in case you miss any updates. You always want the latest version of your systems. 

11. Foster a culture of compliance

Complying with expense policies should be non-negotiable. To foster a culture of compliance, you want to educate employees on your expense policies as well as local regulations.

Clearly lay out what the expectations are and let them know what your processes look like. Make sure that you monitor expenses often to make sure everything complies with your policies.

Get better visibility into your company expenses with automation

Future trends in expense management automation

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already a popular trend, proven to improve business expense management automation.

With machine learning algorithms that can identify errors, automatically categorize expenses, and notify you of any fraud attempts, it’s no surprise that you’ll find AI will simplify your processes significantly.

AI technology saves you time, allowing you to focus on decision-making instead of repetitive and monotonous administrative tasks.

Predictive analytics

One important thing you want to do to manage your expenses better is to make forecasts. Based on your existing data, you can determine how much money you’ll spend in the near future.

An up-and-coming trend is that many expense management software now has features that can automatically do your analysis for you. It’ll look at your data and identify patterns, making forecasts much easier. 

Mobile-first solutions

As the world sees increasingly smarter smartphones, many people are opting to use them instead of relying on desktop computers. The value that people have put on mobile accessibility means that a lot of service providers are starting to extend their services to mobile.

Expense management software is no different, with many providers offering mobile applications that can be your point of contact for automated expense reporting. 

Blockchain technology

Having taken the world by storm, many organizations are trying to find ways to implement blockchain technology into their businesses.

With the advanced security features that you can get from blockchain technology, it’s possible that expense management automation will also begin to rely on them to improve security and transparency, especially when encryption and verification are two valued features. 

Virtual expense assistance

Similar to other existing virtual assistants, having virtual expense assistance will make completing your tasks much faster.

Expense report automation tools are handy, but virtual assistants will mean that there’s less need for manual work. Instead, you can dictate what you’re looking for and your system will do it for you via virtual assistant commands.

Reap the full benefits of expense management automation with Volopay

Making the switch from traditional and manual expense management to implementing expense management automation systems like Volopay will reap your business many benefits, especially in the long run. While there may be initial costs associated with automating your processes, you’ll be saving on time, resources, and ultimately money when you don’t have to rely on tedious administrative tasks.

Not to mention that you’ll achieve higher accuracy and efficiency with expense automation. Say goodbye to typos and other human-made errors by replacing manual data entry with an automated system that can free up your employees’ time. Employees will be able to focus on other tasks that require their attention without having to worry about the quality of their work.

Volopay’s expense management automation software allows you to streamline your processes. With features like easy expense reporting, corporate card, reimbursement management, and automated approval workflows, you can manage all your business expenses through a single platform. No more stressing over paper documents and filling out forms to ensure that all your expenses are managed properly!

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