Travel and Expense ManagementBy Kathleen Burns
Travel and expense is one of the largest cost companies face — and finance teams often struggle with managing it. But, T&E doesn't have to be an uncontrollable beast.
Managing travel costs can feel like a constant battle, especially without the right systems/solution in place. What should the timeline for reimbursement look like? Is the travel policy understood and followed? How can the finance team ever get on top of reporting and forecasting expenses if they’re constantly playing catch up? Travel cost management is a beast, but with the right tools in place it can become more manageable. Plus, a sophisticated T&E management system will make your finance team very happy.
Elements of travel and expense management
First things first: what is travel and expense management? Travel and expense management is the process of tracking and reporting on your company’s corporate travel behavior — how much, and on what, do people spend on business trips?
The most important element of travel and expense management is developing a clear corporate travel policy. A travel policy is the keystone for managing all corporate travel expenses. The policy sets guidelines for your employees to follow when booking travel, and it should include detailed information to help guide each decision throughout the booking process. This includes price ranges for airfare, hotel per-night rates, and per diems. Travel policies should also outline what kind of ground transportation is preferred (rental car, taxi, or rideshare?), what is and isn’t reimbursable, the required reporting procedure, and the expense reimbursement process.
Corporate travel policies are not one size fits all. They should reflect the values and priorities of your company. For example, if your company is extremely budget conscious, you’ll want to have a relatively tight policy. But, if you place more value on flexibility and employee experience, you might let your travelers spend a little more in order to stay at the conference hotel for easy networking opportunities. Travel policies should also take into account the number of traveling employees at your company, employee preferences, and budget.
Another important element of travel and expense management is duty of care. Duty of care is your organization’s responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of all employees while they are traveling for business. The risk management associated with duty of care includes knowing where all traveling employees are, maintaining awareness of any potential safety risks they may face, and developing a contingency plan for if employee safety is compromised on a business trip.
How to manage corporate travel and expense budgets
As if the frustration of organizing and tracking travel expenses wasn’t enough...now try balancing your company’s need for business travel with the budgets set by the finance team. Not easy. Business travel is necessary for business development, but it is very expensive. So how do you balance corporate travel and the expenses it brings?
- Increase spend visibility
Using a centralized booking tool for all travel expenses is a good first step. With a centralized booking tool, all employees book their travel in the same place. This means that the finance team can easily see all spend on travel accommodations in one place, rather than tracking down receipts from individual employees. With real-time reporting capabilities, your finance team can stay on top of spend management.
- Automate expense reporting
Introduce some automation into your expense management. Are you still collecting paper receipts? If so, it’s probably time to stop. Transitioning to a digital expense management solution makes the entire expense reporting process simpler — employees can submit electronic receipts and immediately turn them into a digital expense report. With many expensing tools you can even connect your corporate card and expense reports are created automatically with each purchase. The entire process becomes faster and more streamlined, empowering the finance team with more information to establish realistic budgets and forecasts, without the delay of manual expense reporting.
- Adopt a corporate travel management tool
If only there was a unified tool to help you increase spend visibility and do digital expensing...oh, wait. Adopting corporate travel management software, like Lola.com, can help you unify budget management, travel policy compliance, and expense reporting. Corporate travel management software is the best way to balance the needs and budget for business travel. A centralized booking tool means company-wide travel spend can be tracked in one place. Finance teams can analyze spend by department or by out of policy bookings in order to identify regular budget-offenders.
Tools and resources for T&E management: What to look for
In the past few years, more and more companies have been turning to software products for help with managing budgets, expenses, travel, and more. This is great news for anyone looking to get a better grip on their travel and expense management. Software as a Service products can simplify and automate these traditionally tedious, time-consuming processes, like tracking budget, filing expense reports, and booking travel. But, with seemingly endless options out there for travel and expense management resources, how are you supposed to narrow down the list and choose the best tools for your company?
Identify your company’s pain points
Before you start your search for travel and expense management tools, take a step back to consider your company’s needs and pain points. What processes are you currently struggling with the most? For some companies that might be expense tracking. If your organization lacks strong, and accurate, expense reporting methods than that capability should be at the forefront of your search. If your company is growing rapidly, it might be smart to find resources that help with expense reimbursement to help you maneuver that process. Or maybe you’re a super budget-conscious business. In that case, look for tools that specifically highlight their ability to help you save money.
Check out reviews
Once you’ve established your priorities and have an idea of the problems that need to be solved, it’s time to start checking out your options. Software review sites, like Capterra and TrustRadius, are a good place to start. You can search by category and can filter the results by popular features and pricing options. This is the best way to get an idea of the landscape and see what options are out there. Look for reviews that speak to the specific capabilities that you identified as high priority for your company. Different tools often focus on different features, so while one travel and expense management option might have super helpful integrations, they might have not so great customer service. Again, make sure you’re looking for tools that will fulfill your company’s needs.
Leverage your network
The best way to figure out which tools work and which don’t? Let someone else try them first. Just kidding...sort of. But, leveraging your network can help get you some unfiltered feedback on the management solutions they’ve already tried. Ask around in your personal or professional network for recommendations, and listen for remarks on what worked, what didn’t, and what can be improved. Don’t forget to ask feature or capability specific questions to quickly disqualify tools that don’t specialize in the areas your company needs the most support. You can also ask the vendors you’re considering to speak with one of their current customers. This is a great way to quickly identify a product’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential fit with your organization.
Best online services for travel and expense management
By now you’re probably thinking, sure I could do all that work and research...or you could just tell me what some of the best online services for travel and expense management are. If you’re an SMB or growing business looking for cost-effective, user-friendly expense reporting and corporate travel booking tools, here’s what we recommend.
For expense reporting: Expensify
Expensify specializes in helping you painlessly create expense reports. Integrate your corporate card and for each purchase Expensify will automatically log the expense amount, attach the receipt and send it off for approval — no more tracking down paper receipts. Their online platform is also accessible on their mobile app for on-the-go expensing. Integrations with several common business services — like HR, travel (including Lola.com), tax and practice management software — improve your overall workflow.
Expensify includes a variety of features to streamline the entire expense reporting process. Features like unlimited receipt scanning, corporate card reconciliation, and next-day reimbursement simplify pre-accounting — the process of collecting, coding, and submitting a business’s key financial data to enable accounting to occur. Expensify also includes automatic auditing and compliance management. With capabilities like detecting duplicate receipts, double checking exchange rates, and confirming the validity of each transaction, this tool provides the security finance teams require, while also relieving them from the pressure of tracking each metric. Using an online expense management tool like Expensify puts the expensing responsibility in the hands of the employees, and enables your team to manage expenses efficiently.
For travel management: Lola.com
We might be a little biased, but adopting corporate travel management software, like Lola, gives your company a centralized booking tool to organize all business travel. Plus, Lola’s integration with Expensify makes it easy to reconcile all corporate travel related fees within the same platform. Business travel is one of the top expenses companies face, behind only payroll and benefits. So, it’s crucial to have a dependable, easy to use tool to help your finance and administrative teams manage both the travel process and the costs. Lola is the top rated travel management app because of it’s transparent pricing, user-friendly interface and world-class customer support. If you’re looking for a single tool to improve your organization’s corporate travel program, and save some money while you’re at it, Lola may be for you.
Travel and expense management is a necessary evil. But by identifying the gaps in your company’s T&E management, doing the research, and taking advantage of modern tools, it can become a little less painful.