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What does 2019 hold for expense management technology?

Charlotte Laffargue | February 25, 2019

Perspectives from the business travel industry

The expense management technology industry is growing and this trend is expected to continue. In 2018, the industry experienced new heights of activity, with dozens of new entrants, from innovative start-ups to niche new players. Meanwhile, larger expense management companies accelerated their growth plans through mergers and acquisitions to establish market dominance. There is a notable drive from businesses to control and manage travel expenses.

The growing demand is being driven by businesses who are recognising that expense management is essential for employees, management and driving operational efficiency across the wider business. Technology now automates reconciliation, approvals and payment, while being transparent and controlling costs. This is significant, especially as travel related expenses comprise of 8% to 12% of an average organisation’s total budget[1].  Several studies show that once the processes involved in expenses are automated, there is significant benefit to the wider business[2].  The travel and expense experts behind the Neo Travel and Expense (T&E) solution calculated a rough estimate of the benefit for mid-market EMEA businesses – it exceeded €150 billion in annual productivity savings. It’s safe to say, the value is substantial.

Expect great choice for businesses

Choice is good for businesses looking to invest in expense management technology. Competition spurs innovation and generates competitive pricing; a trend seen in 2018 and is expected to continue into 2019.  One way that providers are looking to improve their offering is through technology that goes beyond managing expenses post-purchase. Providers are choosing technology that enables the seamless integration of expenses with business travel buying and payment processing – one of the more complex areas of a business to reconcile. As a result, businesses are seeking a single platform which connects travel and expense data with wider business systems to better manage spend. This will increase value for customers and empower employees, travel managers and finance teams to make better business decisions.

The traveller’s perspective
Let’s face it, for employees, expenses are tedious, albeit necessary. Expenses affect everyone, from the new graduate reclaiming mileage, to the C-suite executive. So, it is very important to put the user at the centre of any expense process and technology review. In 2019, expense management companies will focus on technology to make user experience easier, simpler, and more efficient. Here’s what to look out for:

  • Mobile will continue to be important.  The 2018 burst of mobile innovation will grow as mobile frameworks facilitate the simple delivery of complex features to the end user. Complex tasks historically carried out on the internet using a PC or laptop will be enabled on a mobile device at a faster pace than ever before.
  • Zero-touch expense claims will be introduced. The process and options to submit expenses have become smarter and faster. We have seen the beginnings of zero-touch expenses materialising, and soon we will be able to automatically identify what, why, when, and with whom an employee incurred an expense, without manual intervention – expense reports will no longer exist. Will we see the complete automation of expensess in 2019?  Probably not, but we are close. Full automation, that is accurate, compliant, controlled and gives employees back valuable time, is within reach. Investments in machine learning, geo-positioning, and recent advancements in Optical Character Recognition (OCR), accelerated by Amazon and Google’s work, are making this a reality for the near future.
  • Security is everbody’s business now. Consumers and employees have been educated by consumer banking and online experiences and are now aware of potential risks associated with their digital profiles. Expect a growing focus on information security and be prepared to demonstrate exactly where an employees data goes. For new market entrants and companies looking to enter the European market or just keep up with global needs, the cost of updating and introducing digital security could be a barrier to growth.
  • Employees will expense more often for smaller values. Trends in consumer spending indicate more frequent transactions for smaller amounts. Subscription services, easy card and contactless payments, and better cash flow are driving this behaviour. This will, in turn, impact the value and frequency of expense claims.  As the expense process becomes smarter, employees will expense on the go, moving away from a bulk, trip-based expense process. This will deliver better cash flow for both the individual and business, if the right systems and processes are in place, as the expense frequency will multiply.

In 2019 there is the opportunity to improve expense management processes for technology providers and businesses. Get it right and you will reap the benefits for your employees, accountants, finance managers, and the business bottom line.

[1] Source: www.aberdeen.com

[2] Technavio: Global Travel & Expense Software market 2019-2023; https://bankingblog.accenture.com/top-5-trends-shaping-the-expense-management-market; https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US43267018; https://www.levvel.io/resources/report/2017-travel-and-expense-management-report