Why Spreadsheet Expense Reporting is Costing You (In More Ways Than One)

If your organization is like most, you probably use spreadsheets to manage expense reports because it’s ‘good enough.’ But good enough is not really good enough when you consider the cost implications.

Business owners already spend more in the Travel & Entertainment category than in any other and the use of spreadsheets only adds to these expenses. It’s like a lot of things in business—too often our actions are defined by momentum, not by conscious choices. We have a lot of manual processes that seem to work fine but upon further investigation the truth is that they don’t. When you examine the hidden costs and inefficiencies inherent with such a manual process, the true costs start to ratchet up.

Here are five reasons to eliminate spreadsheets from your expense reporting process right now.

1. Spreadsheets aren’t mobile.

Employees can’t fill out a spreadsheet on a smartphone, yet mobile is a modern mandate of most companies. Business travelers demand connectivity and spreadsheets are not congruent with the work-from-anywhere mindset of today’s workforce. Mobile devices allow employees to work from any location and remain productive even while on the go. In a recent Forrester Consulting survey of 305 IT decision-makers at companies that use mobile applications, 76 percent cited increased employee responsiveness and decision-making speed as an observed benefit, while 47 percent believe they have increased productivity.1 Soon, mobile expense reporting will be the only way it’s done.

The current process: The employees are responsible for managing and submitting receipts (plus keeping copies for personal records). The finance department must then validate each line item of the expense report while making sure they have the correct paper receipt for each line item – assuming everything matches up; not likely without extra digging and follow-up.

The mobile process: Employees snap a smartphone photo of receipts, submit them electronically, and toss the paper. Every receipt can be viewed online as well as automatically matched with the appropriate expense entry. Managers can then approve from anywhere using their smartphone. The impact of a mobile-enabled expense programs: 28 percent reduction in time to submit and approve reports, increase in compliance by 10 percent and reduction of processing cost by 40 percent. (Aberdeen Group Research)2

2. Spreadsheet data entry wastes time.

Manual expense reporting affects productivity across the board, from the finance department to executives, managers, and salespeople. By automating the process, the entire timeline is sped up, allowing employees to focus on the jobs they were hired to do rather than on the tedious amounts of data entry that manual spreadsheet management requires.

3. Spreadsheets are often inaccurate.

Manual data entry increases the likelihood of errors, a problem that is further compounded when many individuals are involved in the process. Think about it: When an expense is incurred, digital data is created around the purchase and a receipt is automatically printed. The employee re-types that same info from the receipt (that was digital to begin with) into a spreadsheet, prints the spreadsheet, and staples the receipt to the printed copy. Often, an administrator finds errors and has to track down the employee to correct inaccuracies, adding days or even weeks to the process.

Automated expense reporting, on the other hand, grabs exact credit card transactions, matches them to receipt photos and specific vendors, and automatically and accurately assigns an expense classification such as “meal,” “lodging,” or “office supplies.” Now think about how many tasks and mistakes that could be eliminated across your company over the course of one week, much less an entire year.

4. Spreadsheets slow down the entire process.

After hours of (potentially error-riddled) manual entry, an employee prints out the spreadsheet and sends to a manager (often via courier which is costly) for a signature. The report may then sit for days or even weeks. Once approved, it needs to be processed (sometimes again via courier to head office) so that the employee may be reimbursed. This sort of workflow—one filled with emails, attachments, and couriers—is extremely slow, inefficient, and ultimately expensive.

Automated expense reporting is just the opposite. Exact credit card data and electronic copies of receipts are automatically captured. Employees simply click the ‘submit’ button, and the expense report can be reviewed and approved from any mobile device—with a full audit trail. It’s simply a much faster way to approve and reimburse, which makes for much happier employees.

5. Spreadsheets don’t provide immediate insight into spend.

Ten percent of operating expenses are T&E related. Therefore, it stands to reason that managers should really know where the money is going – in real time. But when the expense data is a stack of paper or a collection of clunky files, finding the desired information is neither a quick nor easy task.

With automated expense reporting, expense data is at your fingertips. It can be reported as soon as the money is spent – not weeks or even months later. You can also drill down to get line item details for any expense, which means more visibility into spend. This information can be used to encourage travelling employees to make better decisions, saving the company money.

1.Forrester, 2014
2. Aberdeen, 2013

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Concur is a leading provider of integrated travel and expense management solutions. Concur’s adaptable web-based and mobile solutions help companies and their employees control costs and save time.