How Automated Expense Management Frees Finance To Focus On What Matters Most

Jennifer Rodriguez

Manual and spreadsheet-driven processes are costly and inefficient at any scale, not just for big businesses. In fact, given the resource constraints of small and midsize businesses (SMBs), it’s likely that the inherent inefficiencies of manual processes have an even bigger impact on the efficiency and growth goals of smaller firms. These organizations can’t just “throw more bodies” at a cumbersome task, the way larger enterprises can, because there may not be anyone else available to absorb more work – at least not without a serious impact on another business area.

Take a finance task that every SMB does: employee expense reporting and reimbursement, a key area of company spending. Studies show:

  • 41% of businesses have a paper-based expense process in place
  • 26% use spreadsheets to manage their expenses
  • 73% don’t use automated expense management systems at all

In the era of cloud computing, where even the smallest business can easily and affordably access targeted, world-class software geared for SMBs, why not automate expense management to improve process efficiency? You’ll not only unlock greater spend visibility, focus, and control, but you’ll also free your finance staff to focus on top business priorities.

Why don’t SMBs use automation?

We often hear why SMBs haven’t automated, and the reasons typically fall into one of four categories:

1. “It’s just not a priority. We’re good with the status quo.”

These companies tend to put off investment in automation by saying things like, “our people wear too many hats to focus on making a change”; “there’s already a backlog of IT projects”; “our culture and leadership resist change”; or “we don’t want to do too much too soon – before the business is ready.”

But they probably don’t realize just how much the status quo is actually costing them.

Manual, paper-based, and spreadsheet-driven expense processes also increase the risk of fraud and costly mistakes and limit spend visibility and control. These are real risks, too – make no mistake. Sixty percent of SMBs have difficulty tracking spending trends and behaviors, and 56% struggle with missing paperwork. This increases the likelihood of accounting teams missing fraudulent or unqualified spending. And 68% of finance leaders aren’t completely confident that employees comply with company travel and expense (T&E) policies.

2. “I don’t believe we’ll actually realize a monetary return on the investment.”

These companies tend to tell us, “our manual processes are ‘free’ because we don’t pay for software,” and “our accounts payable workload and travel volume aren’t big enough to deliver enough ROI to make it worth the investment.” But most likely, they haven’t looked at the data on ROI. For example, according to AMI-Partners, SMBs are achieving significant savings using automated spending solutions:

  • Improved tracking saves finance firms US$28,000 per year and retail businesses $33,000 per year
  • More accurate data saves professional services firms $39,000 per year
  • Better analytics saves tech firms $35,000 per year

3. “We’re already automated.”

These companies tell us, “we’ve already implemented partial automation. It’s not ‘smart,’ but it’s enough for us.” Or they worry, “our people will struggle to fully adopt the features of a bigger, more powerful solution.” So they get by with the status quo when they could use automation to empower their people to do more faster – and free up time to focus on what matters most. But AMI-Partners also found that accounting and finance teams typically net:

  • 15% less time is spent by finance teams processing expense reports when accounting and finance teams use automated travel and expense solutions
  •  $20 per expense report is saved, on average, by T&E users

4. “The change management required is just too much.”

These companies tell us, “we’ll have to change too many internal processes at once” or “it makes sense, but it will be too hard to communicate the process changes to our internal partners, even if they know it is the best option for the company.” In other cases, they are concerned that their people won’t like it, so they won’t adopt it. Or maybe they fear that the new software won’t integrate with their ERP. But by choosing the right cloud solution, all of these concerns are mitigated.

Look for automated solutions that can be deployed incrementally over time; can be easily integrated with most ERP, finance, and accounting solutions (and with each other); and are easy to roll out and use. For example, your employees will likely want the option of using a mobile app to do work that’s easy and intuitive, just like quality consumer mobile apps.

Do any of these statements ring true for your organization?

It’s time to let go of the status quo and embrace the power of automation. SMBs should adopt a solution to automate and integrate expense management from beginning to end, eliminating inefficient methods that take too much time, cost too much money, fragment your data, and keep you in the office. When all of your expense data is in one place, you can grow your business with more intelligence – for example, by redirecting spend to strategic priorities before it’s too late. You can also harness data for more intelligent planning, accruals, and cash-flow management.

Learn more by downloading the latest paper from SAP Concur: “Focus Your Time and Spending on What Matters Most: Automating Expense Management for Small-to-Midsize Businesses

This post originally appeared on the SAP Concur Newsroom.

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Jennifer Rodriguez

About Jennifer Rodriguez

Jennifer Rodriguez is a seasoned technology marketing professional with more than 15 years of experience across all aspects of marketing management. In her over years at SAP Concur as a senior marketing manager, she has supported marketing efforts for small and midsize businesses from a field and global campaigns perspective. Outside of work life, she loves to travel, cook, and entertain.