Employee business expenses have evolved over the past few years. Some employees continue to from home, and others have new “hybrid” work schedules. Travel spend is (still) down in general, but the risk of wasteful and unnecessary spend still exists. To push forward, we must look at our past spending decisions to identify where improvement in business expense policies and compliance training is needed.
The best thing about data and trend analysis is what you can learn from it. Every quarter and every year, Oversight compiles a detailed Spend Insights Report based on the combined expense and exception data of each of our customers. You may be asking yourself, “How does this report benefit me?” or “Why is this relevant?” or “Why does this matter?” Trust me – it matters!
To provide this useful information, Oversight compares facts from year-to-year and quarter-to-quarter, noting where spend is changing and identifying emerging trends in employee spend behaviors. From these details, employers can make important decisions about their spend policies, compliance training, and where to focus their attention for auditing purposes.
Based on the final 2021 Spend Insights Report, I’ve noted my “Top Six” things you should focus on in 2022 below
1. Keep an eye on the price of travel (travel expenses)
Travel is quite different from what it was just two years ago. For businesses to survive the ramifications of COVID-19, many have had to increase their prices. This includes airfare, hotel accommodations, rental cars, and restaurants – the main components of travel.
On top of higher prices, there can still be additional costs related to travel such as COVID testing requirements, potential quarantine fees, and last-minute bookings/cancellations. While it is clear travel restrictions are beginning to lift, it will take time for the travel industry to recover from the substantial losses they have endured during the pandemic. It might be a good time to review business expense policies around travel.
2. Employee out-of-pocket purchases
There is a rising trend with employees requesting out-of-pocket expense reimbursements rather than utilizing their company-provided credit cards. Some employees do this to build up their rewards points for travel and retail purchases, but others do so to mask the details of their purchases.
When employees use their cards as intended, employers have access to “Level 3” banking details that provide a full description of each item purchased. When they use their own personal cards, this additional detail is not available for comparison to any receipts attached to their expenses.
Regardless of the reasons for requesting out-of-pocket reimbursement, any business spending should be made in the best interest of the company, not the employee.
Our analysis shows a growth of 3.5% in High Out-of-Pocket Expense exceptions from 2020-2021. The more interesting statistic is the significant increase of 70% between Q3 and Q4 of 2021, attributed to holiday spend such as employee gifts. Updated business expense policy and compliance guidelines should be reviewed with an eye to new trends.
3. Enforce receipt validation
If your business expense policy requires receipts, employees should not have to be reminded to attach them. With the ability to take photos of receipts with smartphones, there really should be no excuses. However, our data showed a 306% jump in Excessive Missing Receipt Affidavits exceptions from Q1-Q4 of 2021. Not 3.6% or 30.6%, but 306%!
Similarly, exceptions for Expense and Purchase Card Receipt Validation also increased in 2021. This could mean the wrong receipt, a hand-written note, or a picture was attached by accident or intentionally.
Employers have good reason to require receipts for purchases made on behalf of the company. When their employees are using affidavits frequently, they are potentially doing so to prevent approvers from seeing non-business-related/personal/potentially fraudulent purchases on their receipts.
My advice for 2022 - remind employees that receipts are required, not optional. The usage of Missing Receipt Affidavits should be minimal, so beware of repeat users who are taking advantage of this workaround. Also, send a reminder to your approvers to look closely at the receipts attached to expense reports.
4. Duplicate mileage submissions
Duplicate mileage submissions have been a continual issue for many of our customers. While 2021 was no exception to this rule, our analysis showed an extraordinary increase in the volume of duplicate mileage violations – more than 2,000% between Q3 and Q4 alone!
5. Refine business expense policies
Adjust spend thresholds to align with the “new normal” costs of traveling. The meal per diems set five years ago would not likely coincide with the cost of an average meal today.
Consider adding a pre-trip approval process to ensure every trip is necessary and compliant. Revisit your policies regarding continuing education, tuition reimbursements, and employee development coursework. In 2021, education spending increased almost 80% from Q1-Q4, and violations in the same category increased by nearly 60% YOY.
Reinforce spend policies related to meal reimbursements while working from home. Eating out while traveling on company business is necessary but expecting employers to pay for your daily meals while you work from home is unreasonable.
Re-emphasize the potential consequences for submitting expenses related to adult entertainment venues. While related spend was down from 2020, Q4 saw a large spike in the number of confirmed violations for such establishments.
Taking steps like those mentioned above can deter future issues.
6. AI Fraud Detection Software & Finance Analytics
Want to spot employees spend patterns and peculiarities that even the most trained eye cannot? With the use of intelligent technology, you can transform how you audit spend, so you can better control spend.
Detect spend risks, prevent cash leakage, and improve process management using AI, ML, and advanced data analytics. Let the technology do the work so your team can focus on more strategic issues, like addressing the root cause of non-compliant spending.
So, if you haven’t already done so, consider adding intelligent technology – like Oversight - to increase the scale and efficiency of audits before reimbursement. You’ll be glad you did.
What is your employee spend data telling you? Understanding where the problems lie, how you can improve, what needs to be addressed immediately, and who needs additional training are some of the things that an in-depth analysis can provide. Choosing to embrace advanced technology, such as Oversight, will provide continuous monitoring of 100% of your transactions, as well as analytics to spot patterns of wasteful or potentially fraudulent spend.
Remain diligent in your efforts to increase visibility into and control over travel expenses. As our customers have seen, controls are never perfect – employees always seem to find a way around them.
Furthermore, dusting off your travel and expense policies to review content and make edits as needed is never a bad idea. Focus on include ensuring guidelines are still relative to the “new normal” for business travel, determining if policies are too strict or too lax, and whether spend thresholds are still reasonable considering the increasing costs of (just about) everything.
View the full 2021 Spend Insights Report, or visit our website to learn more about how our AI platform can help you automate manual processes and empower you to See It All. Spot The Patterns. Steer The Future.