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Expense culture: Late night submissions and exaggerated claims

Internal expenses are often considered the process that time forgot. But archaic and inefficient internal expense practices are proving to be a double-edged sword - hurting both companies and employees in equal measure.

This has been highlighted in new research (opens in new tab) conducted by Concur that revealed a surprising culture towards expense management in the UK workplace. The findings uncovered that expense fraud is largely commonplace, and long-winded expense processes are forcing employees to work on their submissions outside of office hours.

While it may seem like something that exists anywhere but your business – you might be surprised. In fact, 70 per cent of workers questioned admitted submitting and working on expense reports away from the office, in their own personal time, while almost one in five employees believes it is acceptable to make exaggerated expense claims.

Clearly when it comes to internal expenses, a worrying culture has developed. Outdated processes are open for neglect and abuse and a lose-lose situation has developed. With this in mind, how can companies ensure they do not fall into this increasingly common trap?

Time investment

Firstly, workers and finance teams are simply too busy. When you plan your week of work, collating your receipts and processing your expenses simply doesn’t come into it; these often slip down the priority list of even the finance team. In fact, 68 per cent of managers spend less than 15 minutes reviewing expense claims made by team members, with 17 per cent spending less than five minutes on the task. Evidently, workers and managers simply do not have the capacity to prioritise expenses.

Furthermore, and even more worryingly, the same survey found that 39 per cent of managers admit to signing off on expense claims they believe are non-compliant with company rules. This coupled with the fact that companies often lack any tangible way of tracking or linking the invoices that come into their company and the expenses that leave, creates the perfect environment for fraud.

Tech to the rescue

Thankfully, there is a myriad of technology that can help managers uncover fraudulent claims through the analysis of big data. Software has the ability to monitor this data and highlight patterns and anomalies to those monitoring it. 

Equipped with this, managers can more easily identify workers that are attempting to slip their Sunday pub lunch through the net. And they can see in more granular detail when this is a one-off, or if it is a recurring abuse of trust.  Technology can also significantly cut the effort involved. After all, logging physical receipts and plugging data into an Excel document is time-consuming, no doubt about it. But, if employees can take a picture of their receipt, upload it to an app on their smartphone or browser, and submit it for review in the click of a button – then all the pain is removed from the process.

Workers can then spend their hard-earned personal time focusing on the things that matter, such as Netflix and avoiding expenses at home!

Governance and education

Of course, technology is paramount but without the right culture, it is rendered useless. Alongside software, businesses need to make certain that they have good governance over their expense process and a clear best practice policy. And this governance has to trickle down from the top with senior employees leading by example. Staff members will be more inclined to implement company expense rules if they feel the entire organisation is treated in a fair and equal manner.

It shouldn’t be one rule for one team, and something entirely different for another. Publishing an expense policy for the entire workforce is an ideal way to demonstrate this. Coupled with this is education. Fraudulent claims, whether intentional or not, can be costly to a business. Discouraging the notion that one small exaggerated expense won’t hurt can help towards this, especially when employees realise that their dodgy expense claims are fundamentally damaging the company they work for. Supporting this with crystal clear consequences for any abuse of the process should go a long way in stamping out any underhand tactics.

Culture and technology hand-in-hand

Overall, today’s culture towards expenses is often a self-perpetuating one. However, with the right technology, businesses can address the issue head on. 

Digital solutions, combined with a watertight governance policy and staff education will not only speed up the expense management process for employers and workers alike, but also safeguard against fraud and substandard approval processes. All of which means that both workers and managers can sleep better at night.

Chris Baker, managing director of UK enterprise, Concur (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/vinnstock