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How To Improve Travel Management & T&E Expense Process

Lee Qiu's Profile

We are a medium sized technology company with offices across three continents.  We have about 60 regular travelers globally and USD $1.5MM annual T&E budget.

Travel Expense Management Best Practices

Right now we are using internal resources to manage travels, i.e., looking for best fare, booking flight & hotels through two to three corporate credit cards.  Individual travelers are not given corp cards, but only pay out-of-pocket meals & other incidental charges, then reimburse the expenses back. 

There are various problems with the current work flow.  For example, low visibility of expenses as flight & hotel cost only showing up on the corp card, impossible to determine ROI for the T&E $, cumbersome reimbursement process, etc.  Also anecdotally I don’t think we are getting the best fares on hotels and flights.

T&E and travel management in general have always been a "hot button" issue within the Company.  We are thinking about improving it either in a whole-sale fashion or in bits & pieces (i.e., outsource the travel management process but leave T&E process intact). 

Any comments and suggestions are highly welcomed here!!!

Answers

John Krebsbach
Title: Co-Founder
Company: Relify
(Co-Founder, Relify) |

I'm in a similar boat, so I feel your pain. My company has semi-electronic handling of T&E submissions. The review and reimbursement is still manual, as is the travel booking. I've been exploring ways to improve the whole approach, but haven't landed on anything.

One company I keep coming across in research is Concur (http://www.concur.com/). I did a demo earlier this year of their system, and it is quite refined and easy to use. I couldn't make the pricing work in my company though - they charge per expense report.

I look forward to seeing other suggestions here as well!

-John Krebsbach

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

Lee, get this free report here at Proformative:

"2016 Expense Management Trends"
https://www.proformative.com/whitepapers/2016-expense-management-trends

Enjoy! Best... Sarah

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
Company: SBAConsulting.com
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, SBAConsulting.com) |

I've had success with a competitor, Expensify. I suggest you also look at that product.

Wayne
http://sbaconsulting.com/management.html

Mark Stokes
Title: CFO
Company: Private
(CFO, Private) |

Bring it in-house. I know that will sound like three steps back, but let me plant a few seeds, and this is based on what i did with a recent company of mine.

First off, hire a smart former travel agent in a low cost region of the U.S.. Give that person your travel guidelines to follow and hook them in to your erp system with A/P level access and to any expense management systems such as Concur, Expensify, etc.. Get them set up on Kayak, Priceline and a few other travel search and cheap travel booking sites, and let them work every trip for your employees. At your volume it may even require two of these folks. Then have them book every piece of travel. Take it out of the hands of the travelers, who will not be on policy and often take more expensive flights just based on the frequent flyer program, hotel program, etc..

With this setup you are ensuring that your policies are followed, that your systems for Travel expense management are used and fed properly, and that they are using the modern tools of travel booking that get you best pricing. If they have enough gumption and direction from you (or your group) you can have them analyze your travel patterns and get you into air, car rental and hotel travel programs that can save you a few bucks per booking.

If you outsource this you will not control the people and the fees upon fees will drive you crazy. Plus you will never know if they are always finding the best prices b/c their incentives may not be aligned with yours.

Topic Expert
Deborah Godfrey
Title: Budget Administrator, Business Manager, ..
Company: Seeking Employment
(Budget Administrator, Business Manager, Project/Program Manager, Seeking Employment) |

I have to agree with Mark to keep the entire process in house for control, monitoring and less out of pocket expenses. Having been on both sides of the coin, I am familiar with bridging together the travel process, accounts payable and internal control of expenses. One thing that I strongly recommend, however, before you even get started is to document the current processes. This will help to set the foundation and point you in the direction you need to move to. It will also help to identify duplication of duties, strengthen control and establish a consistent flow. This will also help to build the A/P portion for the ERP systems. Remember, your A/P systems have to be aligned with the accounting systems for audits and various reporting.

There are a number of ERP systems on the market that are fantastic. Oracle seems to be pretty popular.

Policies and procedures should also be aligned against the ERP systems (A/P process). These will help those who do the travel process and have the T&E control to enforce the company's polices and procedures. They can also be the individuals who keep management apprised of the policies/procedures and provide updates as required.

The bottom line is that you are looking to minimize cost to the company, establish policies/procedures for all to follow and locate an ERP system that will provide the necessary A/P information that produces good accounting practices and reports.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if I can be of assistance in anyway--I am available.

Art Shively
Title: Principal
Company: Shively Investments
(Principal, Shively Investments) |

My company implemented the Concur T&E system 2 years ago. I am very happy with the system.

Concur's user/traveler functionality is excellent. Cliqbook looks a lot like the online travel agency functionality that many are familiar with from personal use. Implementation, converting from a manual shoe-box approach, was much easier and smoother than I expected.

For managers, Concur's electronic T&E report review and approval functionality is very good.

The "Concur Pay" functionality for employee reimbursement is effective and efficient. It proved to be a much better method than reimbursement through a link with our payroll system.

Concur's reporting capabilities are excellent. Month-end T&E accounting has been significantly streamlined at my company, facilitated by Concur data extracts that are imported directly into the general ledger. Use of the system has also greatly improved my company's ability to accrue for T&E expenses that have been "incurred, but not yet reported".

The system has very robust capabilities to monitor and/or enforce policies and procedures. It is very flexible in this regard, providing the ability to tailor the system to a company's specific requirements. It also has robust capabilities for multiple-cost-center and project-cost requirements.

My oompany's experience with Concur's customer support has been excellent. Concur personnel were very helpful in the implementation of the system. I was particularly impressed by their project management approach. Post-implementation, I have been very pleased with the level of service that they have provided to my medium sized company. My concerns of being a small fish in a big pond were unfounded.

Personally, I like the "pay by the drink" Concur pricing. It has facilitated a phased implementation at our company. Although, we did adjust the frequency of report submission in order to reduce cost.

We have experienced very few complaints abut the Concur system. The most notable complaint concerns use of the system by international travelers with limited or no access to the internet. We are working with Concur on a solution to this. The bulk of the complaints have been in regards to travel agency service and change fees. In particular, the ability to change flights on Southwest and Jet Blue from within Concur has been an issue. Although, I think that the Southwest issue is close to resolution.

Some keys to success include:
- Use of credit cards that "feed" the system (can be company-paid, employee-paid, or a hybrid)
- Careful selection of a compatible travel agency (in my experience, you get what you pay for - and watch out for changes fees, etc)
- Effective employee training in the use Concur and Cliqbook
- User knowledge of transaction fees and the most economical way to effect certain transactions.

Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

Lee
You mention this is a "hot button" within the company. If that is the case, I would suggest that before you do anything about process change and potential software selection, you talk to your executive/CEO and think about this as more of a Change Management initiative.
What is your case for change?
What pains/risks are you trying to reduce? E.g. High T&E spend, clients complaining about re-billing of expenses....
What is the culture in your organization? Does everyone stay at 5 star hotels, eat at high end places...
What is your CEO prepared to stand behind as a T&E strategy? If he is not behind it, be cautious. Talk to your CFO too and figure out what you want to achieve.
Finally, how far have you gone with audio/video conferencing to conduct meetings? We used this medium (including Skype!!) for many global training sessions on a new accounting system project. It can be done.
Regards
Len

Topic Expert
Joan Varrone
Title: CFO
Company: Cloud Cruiser
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, Cloud Cruiser) |

I think there are two pieced here. Controlling the spending upfront and once the travel has occurred an effiicient process for expense reimbursements.

I agree with the previous poster that you should not allow folks to just book their own travel. We had a travel agent which has both a website and live agents that folks needed to use for travel; the agency had our travel policy and if someone wanted to book outside of the policy they needed to get authorization. The travel agency acted as the "monitor" for us without having the CFO involved in each transacation.

For the reporting of expenses, I understand that Concur works well and just spent time at a company which was using it sucessfully

Lee Qiu
Title: Internal Audit
Company: Charter School Network
(Internal Audit, Charter School Network) |

I have a bit doubt about using internal resources to manage travel, which is essentially our current approach.
1. Are we getting the best fare? Whenever you talk to travel agencies, volume discount / rebate from airline are always the catch words. Can we get the same deal with the in-house approach?
2. Cancellation policy: To get the best airfare, frequently our internal resource takes the non cancellable option, which would be a disaster if the traveler has to change. Unfortunately it happens quite often. While with travel agency, would the ticket bank for unused tickets or even refund be on the standard offering?
3. Policy enforcement: unless we put the internal travel agent in a bubble, I think it’s impossible for him to be a good gate keeper. For example, when a VP comes to him and wants to book a specific flight and hotel, would he be able to say no? Remember we are talking about small office size and position on the corporate totem pole.
4. Customer services: are we expecting people to work on weekends to handle any last minute travel changes?

Alex Woo
Title: Principal
Company: ClearView
(Principal, ClearView) |

First, someone controlling the money needs to decide if the trip is necessary. How many trips we took are waste of time and money? Sure, IT support and outside vendors can help get you the best deal; someone has to manage them.

If you hired the right people who care for the company and management communicate the value and walk the walk, travelers should use the travel money if it is their own. Then, when you are stuck in a foreign control and s_it happened, cost is last thing on your mind.

Topic Expert
Linda Wright
Title: Consultant
Company: Wright Consulting
(Consultant, Wright Consulting) |

For many years I participated in an AMEX travel advisory forum. Yes, some of you may object to AMEX as a top tier provider, although I did not find them to be so.

Several lessons learned:

Have a comprehensive travel policy to be sure that T & E expenses are fully segregated from G & A expenses on the General Ledger.

Be sure that travelers know the class of expense that is permissable.

Avoid per diems as these tend towards expense "creep".

Enforce the timely submission of reports and receipts. Perhaps seemingly draconian, we time barred submissions of reports outside of quarterly close and filings without CEO approval. Did a world of good.

Use whatever tools you have --Concur is one--that will allow audits and lessons learned. A few "public hangings" will stop any problematic practices.

Get the traveler to pay first and then seek reimbursement--continued best practice.

Strangely, this category of spend is one of the most emotional. Get clear, get serious and the whole company will be better for it.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Concur is a company that has provided tools for expense reporting, but in the future they are going to move into the area of travel planning.

Your issue is common and I have worked on many expense reporting processes for consulting firms.

I can connect you directly to someone at Concur who can help get your questions answered if you would like me to help.

Joshua Hurni
Title: Account Exec
Company: AMS
LinkedIn Profile
(Account Exec, AMS) |

If you are running SAP they have a cloud based T/E system (similar to Concur) that integrates with their ERP called TravelOnDemand

Tunde Akinfenwa
Title: Assistant Manager, Subsistence & Travels
Company: Airtel Networks Ltd
(Assistant Manager, Subsistence & Travels, Airtel Networks Ltd) |

I agree with Mark, bring them in house. outsourcing is not a better option as it will cost you more, processes will be slow and sluggish. firstly, employ an experienced travel management expert who will help fine tune the process, draw up a travel policy and constantly reviews the policy as at when necessary.

The T&E should be placed under this person as he is the custodian of the travel budget and policy (this is what i do currently). you should have corporate agreement with travel and hospitality providers - with a view to enjoy corporate incentives, reduced rates etc. Employees would not be arranging their own travels anymore. Onilne requisitions will be raised by the travellers, submitted for approval and the travel manager, books flight, hotels, car etc and sends to the travellers (one -stop-shop). paper work is also reduced to its barest minimum.

Your travel manager captures all daily transactions and reports are prepared on a weekly or monthly basis depending on management's requirement.

Topic Expert
Patrick Dunne
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: Milk Source
(Chief Financial Officer, Milk Source) |

I have been in your shoes in managing this for a large consulting firm. Unfortunately, you will always have issues to resolve. We established a travel firm to manage this for us, but they always measured savings from a list price. Our employees always felt they could get better pricing on the internet, but internet airline ticketing always had restrictions, with significant up charges. We finally used travel agency reporting to figure out our cost per night based on major markets. We established this baseline the first year and were able to measure against this in subsequent years. You will find it very hard to satisfy everyone as everyone thinks they can manage travel, but they usually restrict themselves too much and end up paying large up charges

Simon Turner
Title: Vice President, Finance
Company: International Finance and Operations Exe..
LinkedIn Profile
(Vice President, Finance, International Finance and Operations Executive) |

You have a lot of good advice here to draw on, my suggestion would be to also look at Certify as an alternative to Concur, we chose it on the basis that it was less expensive and has a much more user friendly application which is important when you are trying to drive adoption.

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