How to Choose and Integrate Travel and Expense Management Software
Corporate travel is making a comeback. Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) is expecting business travel spending to bring the industry over $1 trillion in 2022 and by 2024, completely recover to its pre-pandemic levels. Yes, a big segment of employees will never return to in-person meetings, but the rest are already back on the road. Personal client relationships and live conference attendance can still make a difference in the corporate world and regional, domestic travel by car or train doesn’t pose that much of an inconvenience.
Even if you have just a dozen employees traveling in a year, travel and expense management can be a real ordeal. From simply making sure that the trips stay within the budget to collecting them for tax write-offs, you need some sort of system to streamline the process. Let’s talk about handling expense management in your organization.
What is travel and expense management?
Travel and expense management (also often called TEM or T&E) is the process of controlling the business travel budget in order to have visibility over costs and preemptively minimize them. To decide how these expenses will be managed, organizations also create a travel policy and expense policy to let employees know how much they can spend and on what.
TEM’s numerous goals include:
- Expense control
- Preventing disruptions
- Productivity control related to submitting, approving, and reimbursing expenses
- Financial reporting
- Negotiating with third-party vendors
- Duty-of-care support and assistance
The average business trip in the US costs $1,286. Typically, 34 percent of that is spent on accommodation, 27 percent on airfares, 20 percent on meals, and 19 percent on car rentals. There are also client entertainment and conference fees. And that’s only expenses concerning the actual trip. Consider all the resources spent organizing, booking, monitoring, filing expense reports, and then reimbursements. To avoid contributing to that massive increase, organizations are digitizing their TEM activities by adopting corporate travel software from off-the-shelf vendors and dedicated travel management companies.
TEM software can automate and streamline the following processes.
Submitting expense reports. Employees must be able to submit expenses, preferably via a mobile app by scanning receipts with the camera. The system uses Optical Character Recognition to automatically categorize expense entries and send them to the travel manager at the office.
Submitting expenses via the mobile app during the business trip
Issuing a credit card. A system can generate virtual cards or import physical cards. All spending from such cards can also automatically be reported to the central repository.
Customizing an expense policy. An organization can set up rules and policies for how much and where employees can spend. A system can also flag inappropriate expenses to identify fraudulent and duplicate transactions.
T&E software also must support integrations with accounting, HR, and travel products to streamline the processes already existing in your organization.
Previously, we explored how technology trends advance the travel management ecosystem. In this article, we take a look at the current solutions available on the market and how they may benefit you. But first, let’s consider the ways you can manage your T&E activities.
Travel and expense management software types
Tracking travel expenses is just one of the many corporate travel activities companies must perform. There’s also flight and hotel booking and on-trip assistance so that the employee isn’t abandoned in case of disruptions. So, depending on how often your company has to perform these processes, it can approach them in three ways.
Travel management companies (TMCs). Large corporations with thousands of employees worldwide usually use the services of travel management companies. Global TMCs such as American Express, BCD Travel, and CWT provide branded software and have a division of skilled travel agents at your disposal. The services of TMCs include special pricing agreements with major airlines and hotel chains, travel policy development, crisis management, and of course, travel and expense management. See our dedicated article where we compare four main TMCs.
Travel booking platforms. A self-service alternative to TMCs, booking platforms also have access to exclusive hotel and flight deals and provide tools for reporting expenses. Small and mid-size businesses benefit a lot from solutions like Egencia and SAP Concur.
Travel and expense management platforms. Finally, T&E platforms exist separately for businesses that either don’t require full corporate travel support or want to integrate a more fitting third-party solution within their travel booking ecosystem. Sometimes they come from vendors exclusively managing finances or as separate solutions from travel booking platforms. Businesses of all sizes can benefit from T&E products as they often have unique features.
Below, we will review products from the T&E provider category and also cover travel booking platforms’ T&E features.
SAP Concur – plenty of integrations and expandable features
SAP Concur is a universal travel management software with booking and on-trip assistance capabilities. Offering tailored tools, SAP Concur will help you create your own T&E solution from its many products, including Concur Expense (receipt capturing, policy setting, and reimbursement), Concur Travel (self-service booking for employees), Concur Invoice (vendor payments), and Concur Detect (fraud detection and policy compliance).
Managing travel expenses with SAP Concur
Report submission. Concur can capture spending from multiple sources, including OCR, and prepare them for submission. View the self-guided demo of the process.
Payment. Concur integrates with many payment providers and has numerous card programs to help you save money.
Integrations. Concur has huge integration capabilities from ERP apps to booking solutions (Booking.com, FROSCH, Lufthansa, American Airlines, etc.) to finance and HR products, and, of course, other SAP Concur offerings. See their marketplace here.
Pricing. For a tailored solution, you’ll also get a tailored price. Describe your business to Concur to receive a quote.
TripActions – AI-powered expense reporting
TripActions offers a unified solution for corporate travel booking and expense management with lots of interesting features.
Setting up spend policies
Report submission. Employees can take a picture of a receipt or use a virtual card to quickly submit expenses for reports. TripActions also uses natural language processing instead of OCR to itemize receipts.
Payment. TripActions issues its own Liquid corporate card – both virtual and physical – that seamlessly integrates with expense reports. Spend controls are auto-enforced, so an employee can use up only the approved amount at the point of sale. Employees can also request extra funds for specific needs and changes to card limits via the app.
Integrations. TripActions integrates with other T&E software such as ChromeRiver, Certify, Expensify, and Coupa, as well as accounting systems, booking platforms, ERPs, and many more. View the marketplace here.
Pricing. TripActions has three solution types: Travel Only, Travel & Expense, and Professional (for companies with over 100 employees). All products have custom pricing.
Expensify – taxes and accounting help out of the box
Expensify is an expense management software with a few features catering to business travelers. For instance, there’s a virtual assistant that notifies you of flight cancellations and helps remember your trip details. Used both by businesses and individual employees, Expensify takes care of your tax tracking and imports codes from your accounting software to add details to your expense reports.
Report submission. Using a mobile app, employees can take a photo of the receipt and the system will automatically generate an expense report with all the details. Expensify will also compare it to the list of already imported expenses to ensure there’s no duplication.
Payment. Expensify also has its own business credit card, both in physical and virtual form. With it, you can set purchase limits, get automated reports without the need to scan receipts, and a few other perks like cash back, special deals, and free access to their Concierge service.
Integrations. Expensify has out-of-the-box integrations with accounting software like QuickBooks, Sage, and Oracle NetSuite, as well as HR software, tax management software, and receipt integrations with Uber, Lyft, Trainline, and more. You can also integrate Expensify with booking solutions from Kayak, Egencia, TravelPerk, and TripActions. See the full list here.
Pricing. There’s a free version with basic features and two pricing tiers costing $5 and $9 per user per month. Also, self-employed and individual corporate users can leverage Expensify with 25 receipt scans a month for free. See the pricing details here.
Coupa – API for endless integrations
Another business spend management software, Coupa has a suite of tools specifically for corporate travel. There’s a predictive pricing feature that allows viewing trip expenses before they happen. They rely on anonymized data from other users to help predict the travel budget. Coupa also has integrations with Cytric by Amadeus and Egencia to power your travel management operations.
Example of an automatic expense report
Report submission. Coupa uses OCR to automatically file expense reports from receipts, as well as import them from other sources. They also score every expense report to prevent fraud and provide insights for savings opportunities.
Payment. Coupa allows you to generate virtual payment cards for pre-approved expenses as well as use any other payment method. If employees pay with their own money, they can see the status of reimbursement live on the platform.
Integrations. You can use Coupa’s REST API to integrate with any system and have a vast marketplace of apps, including Sabre, Roomex, Amadeus Cytric, and Egencia. Among other integration categories are BI tools, risk and compliance solutions, ERP and accounting products, and more.
Pricing. Since Coupa is a comprehensive expense management platform with many products and features, they don’t offer a standard fee. Contact Coupa for personalized pricing.
Emburse ChromeRiver – fast global reimbursements
Emburse has multiple expense management solutions, targeting different needs and company sizes. Certify and Chrome River are the most popular ones with a number of features for T&E goals. There’s also Emburse Go – a managed corporate travel program that helps with trip planning and provides on-trip assistance.
Expense breakdown in ChromeRiver
Source: CPA Practice Advisor
Report submission. Using OCR, employees can log their expenses in a mobile app. Then, the system automatically approves and submits expenses into reports per specified conditions.
Payment. With Emburse, you can issue virtual and physical cards and apply spending rules. For global reimbursements, they use Wise instead of SWIFT for faster transactions.
Integrations. Chrome River has integrations with main ERP systems such as NetSuite and Sage, rideshare apps Uber, Lyft, and Grab; and, of course, TMCs like American Express, Egencia, CWT, CTM; and booking platforms Amadeus Cytric, Sabre, Egencia, and Deem.
Pricing. Emburse provides custom pricing, so make sure to consult with them about the most suitable solution and your quote.
How to choose and integrate a travel expense management solution
Introducing a new solution to your tech ecosystem requires the collaboration of different departments. That’s why you have to prepare before embarking on a migration project. Here are our recommendations.
1. Define the problem(s) you want to solve
Typically, organizations face four main problems with their T&E efforts.
Confusing policies. Employees have a lot of stress associated with going on a business trip. To eliminate confusion, save time, and help prevent potential fraud, you need precise and accurately written policies with answers to the most common questions.
Unstructured and non-transparent data. If you don’t use the travel data you have to plan future travels more effectively, then what’s the point? You should know the average sum of money an employee spends on food and transportation in different locations. You should track and be prepared for unexpected purchases. Your system needs to promptly generate relevant reports, easily compare datasets, and have a user-friendly dashboard to help travel agents access information at a glance.
Lack of automation. Paper receipts, badly organized Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, and manual information input all weaken the travel management process, especially if you have dozens of employees traveling regularly.
Late reimbursement. If your company takes a long time reimbursing employee expenses, it may majorly affect employee trust and make them avoid corporate travel altogether. Whether your manual expense approval takes a while, or employees themselves take a long time filling in reports, find the bottlenecks in your system and implement automation, or update your policies to ensure that both sides can easily manage expenses after the trip.
2. Consider your technology needs
At this juncture, determine what your requirements are and the type of solution that will fit your unique requirements best. Answer these questions to outline your current situation and help a vendor pick up a solution for you:
- How many employees do you have and how many of them regularly travel?
- What other services would you like to integrate with a TEM solution?
A line-up of accounting integrations for Expensify
- Who will be managing your TEM efforts and do they need training?
- How tech-savvy are your employees? How receptive are they to revolutionary changes?
- Do you want to allow employees to book on their own? Are they willing to have more freedom during corporate trips?
3. Consider your budget capabilities
The price you pay for setup, integration, support, customization and, of course, the product itself depends heavily on what type of solution you’re ready to invest in. We can distinguish three possible solutions: on-premise, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and custom implementation.
On-premise software is usually more expensive as you pay upfront for everything that comes with a product. This includes additional hardware and software required to run this application. Also, since your provider may reside in a different place, even a different country, all setup and integration could be executed on your part, by your own IT department. Customization capabilities are also often limited and expensive.
SaaS is a common solution that allows companies to start using software almost instantly. The payment conditions are also budget-friendly. You pay per user and as you go, meaning that both small and large companies can confidently scale. When it comes to integrations and customization, it differs. Often, you’ll have to search for a solution that has your exact package of allowed integrations, and customization – although allowed – often is your problem.
Custom implementation is a solution where you hire a tech partner to do all the hard work for you. The custom option allows you to wire any popular T&E software to your needs. Along with an implementation partner, you’ll discuss your personal configurations, requests, and expectations. For instance, if you want your expense reports or invoices to be automatically sent to an employee’s email, a vendor will help you build a custom program for that. They will also be able to work on-site, meaning in your own office to augment your IT team. This way, you’ll have more than what a TEM provider offers and can streamline your operations instead of adjusting to pre-established processes.
4. Gather employee feedback
Travelers, the financial department, IT team, and top management all will be involved in company travel expense management. You need to understand their work processes, address their questions, and remove inconvenience decisions with this new product. Ask your employees directly how they currently keep track of expenses and what they’d like to see improved. Travel managers will tell you what slows the approval and reimbursement process down the most and what can help avoid these bottlenecks. Your CFO will help you understand what organization data is being analyzed and what kind of reports the company is lacking.
5. Assess your current infrastructure
You’re most likely already using some type of technology to manage your organization. Typically, the biggest concern about using new systems is how to integrate them with internal processes and other services. So, first, assess what connections you can make and how open a newly integrated software is to more linkage in the future. Usually, T&E solution providers thoroughly describe how they plan to sync up your data, how long integration will take, and what system requirements the software has.
6. Assess a provider’s security profile
What are you doing to make your organization’s data secure? And how does a vendor store your sensitive data in the cloud? Though public cloud services allow you to scale more easily and reduce costs, there’s almost no guarantee this data will be stored safely. Consider what the loss of this data will mean for your organization and people who work in it. The easiest way to check a vendor’s security profile is by reviewing certifications, accreditations, and standards. The best practice information security standard is ISO27001 and with GDPR approaching, it’s the safest sign that an organization is managing data protection responsibly.
ChromeRiver has a page dedicated to data security standards compliance
7. Prepare for legacy data storing
Migrating your old Excel spreadsheets to a new T&E system will take considerable time and labor, especially with respect to the amount of preparation and adjustment you’ll have to make. However, you should still store legacy data accurately. That way, when access is required, data can be easily retrieved and interpreted. If you’re planning to use historical data for reporting and predictions, finish the analysis before migration.
8. Prepare for remote technical implementation
Using a cloud service means that all setup, implementation, and technical support will be managed remotely. When searching for a software provider, make sure they have a professional approach to remote project management, comprehensive guidelines, and FAQs that will help you deal with technical issues on your own. Coupa, for instance, has virtual workshops and training courses, allowing their clients to share best practices and ask questions.
If you don’t have a well-oiled machine to manage your travel expenses, you have no way of knowing if your expenses are normal or not. When you have information only about one point in time, how do you compare the expenses of employees from the same and different levels? How do you engage them to manage their travel activities responsibly if they don’t know your reimbursement policy? How do you know if your organization and personal employee data are safe when they’re using unapproved consumer-faced tools?
Organizing travel and expense management are beneficial for both sides. Travelers don’t feel as lost and confused when they have a strict policy and clear communication. Travel managers can be occupied with more creative and challenging tasks by automating routine ones. It’s for you to decide what change your company requires and how to achieve it. Either way, this change will undoubtedly bring cost savings, performance improvements, and a more transparent relationship within your company.