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Follow the money

How to manage your travellers’ expenses—on time and on budget

By Allan Britnell

With a preponderance of online book­ing tools, employees are increasingly booking their own travel. While this does take one task off a travel manager’s plate, it can make it harder to keep on top of budgets and expenses. Luckily, there are some options to help streamline expense tracking, improve accuracy and expedite payments.

Policy paper
“No matter what tools you use, if you don’t have a clear policy in place, it doesn’t matter,” says Patrick Doyle, regional vice-president for American Express Global Business Travel in Toronto.

These customized policies should spell out what is and is not covered, details on any spending limits and partner programs that offer discounted rates. Do you accept a simple credit card statement, or do you require an itemized receipt for each expense?

Asking for the latter helps you determine if employ­ees are, for example, padding their hotel bills with unauthorized minibar or movie rental charges.

But a travel policy is not a static document and should be reviewed and updated regularly to address any grey areas that can come up: Do you cover Wi-Fi on airplanes? A NEXUS card for frequent travel to the US? A second checked bag? What about dry cleaning for employees who are on the road for long periods of time?

Tech tools
A 2018 survey by SAP Concur found that only 11 per cent of Canadian companies have fully automated travel expense tracking systems. Yet the SAP survey found that of companies that did implement automated systems there was a num­ber of benefits, including reduced travel costs, improved accuracy in expense reporting and quicker reimbursement times for employees.

There are several systems available, including offerings from SAP Concur, American Express Global Business Travel, TravelBank and Claire, an artificial intelligence-based system from 30 Seconds to Fly. These platforms can help keep costs down by building in maximum values for specific fields, and pro­hibiting or red-flagging unauthorized expenses.

Employee aids
One benefit to employees is that synchronized booking and expense tools automatically extrapolate expense line items, eliminating the menial task while improving accuracy. With some systems, you simply take a photo of a receipt and it automatically flows the information into an expense report.

Travel managers appreciate that robust systems can cross-check the data fields from each employee’s itinerary with electronic receipts and credit card statements.

Gaming the system
One way to encourage compliance with company policy and onboarding with a new system is to incentivize its use, perhaps by offering a percent­age of any reports that come in under budget as a bonus, or allowing savings from one trip to be used towards upgrades for another.

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