Varun Rathi, Co-Founder & COO, Happay speaks about the importance and effective way to manage T&E.
What is the current status of the corporate travel market and T&E Expense Management in India?
T&E forms the second largest operational cost for most organizations after employee payroll. Managing T&E expenses is one of the key priorities for all organizations today. However, most enterprises focus on cutting down on travel rather than finding ways to control the expenses. That may not be a good idea for companies looking at building relationships with customers, partners across different countries. To stay competitive in a world with increasingly connected commerce this is critical. An American Express business travel study shows that 52% of companies view their investment in business travel as a way to maintain market share, and 44% see travel as a route to increasing share.
Instead of cutting down on travel, it would be prudent for companies to manage these costs wisely and get the maximum impact for what they spend.
What are the kinds of inefficiencies you see in corporate T&E expense management today in terms of, compliance, approvals, etc.?
Managing T&E spending is a huge challenge for businesses. This is due to lack of real-time data visibility that can throw useful insights on employee spends. Travel expense management process is data heavy. Information flows from different sources – employee reimbursement, accounts department, vendor invoices, credit card statements, travel desks, etc.
Additionally, travel vendor choices and payment methods are also expanding. As per a BCG-Google report, by 2020 mobile will be the leading mode of travel bookings, with 62% bookings happening through mobile. With players like WhatsApp opening up to mobile payments, the transactions will happen in newer ways. Further bookings through Ola/Uber have also increased as opposed to corporate travel agencies earlier.
While airfare and hotel stay forms the larger cost in T&E, there are several other micro spends like luggage fare, meals, local travel expenses etc. All these expenses add to the information deluge. To compile information from varied sources into a central management system and draw relevant insights is an arduous task. It is also prone to mistakes, if not done in the right manner. Despite digitization, most organizations function on an old and archaic system of expense filing, which requires manual entry of data.
The top challenges with T&E Expense management for organisations who follow manual processes are -
Poor visibility into T&E spending: No readily available data on - How much are employees spending on travel? Which are the most common expense categories? Who are the top spenders? Who are the top travel vendors that are being used?
Poor policy adherence: How to create travel policies that are easy for employees to comply to and at the same time improve the profitability of the company?
Lack of cost controls:
a. How to keep T&E costs under control? How to make the most cost-effective travel bookings whether airfare, hotel, and lodging, taxi rentals, etc.?
b. Which travel vendors to negotiate deals with and how?
Daunting T&E expense claims and reimbursements:
a. How to enable employees to submit their travel requisitions and travel expense claims in time without having them do a lot of manual work and data entry?
b. How to make the reimbursement process simpler and faster for employees (who are your biggest revenue generators) so they can focus on growing your business rather than spending hours on expense reports?
Poor budget planning and execution: How to use expense data to optimise budgets, take smart and strategic business decisions, easily identify cost-saving opportunities without compromising on employee comfort and happiness?
To overcome these challenges, organisations need to recognize the critical role digital and automated T&E expense management solutions play. These solutions provide visibility and controls that can help businesses monitor costs and optimize spending as well as provide a comfortable travel experience to their employees who travel frequently for business.
How a digital solution like Happay helps companies manage T&E costs efficiently and overcome all T&E related challenges?
Automated T&E expense management solutions like Happay digitise and streamline a company’s entire T&E expense management process from Travel requisitions and approvals, T&E Expense reporting, policy compliance and approvals to settlement, accounting integrations and MIS.
How does this happen -
• Lift and shift the process on paper to process on the system: A company already has all policies and workflows related to T&E on paper. What Happay does is it replicates the existing process of a company which is on paper onto the Happay system - right from the users, their roles and designations, the company approval hierarchy, expense forms and fields, expense categories, expense policies and workflows. Once all data is digital, the company has complete visibility into every aspect of the process which was not possible before. 99% of the vendors currently in the market are not able to lift and shift a company’s existing process - this is where Happay differs. The flexibility and configurability of the Happay platform enable this seamlessly.
• Let the system run for a while and gather data
Once the entire process is on the system, the company can let the Happay system run for a while and start gathering information and data and based on this data, the company can optimise its process further. Since Happay is a cloud-based platform, expense data is available in real-time on both desktop and smartphone.
• Use data to fix gaps, optimise the process and save costs: How the data captured on Happay helps companies manage T&E expenses better
o Real-time visibility into T&E spending: Companies have complete visibility into the business travel that is planned and approved, business trips completed by employees, audit trail of all expenses and reports and settlement data at their fingertips
o System-driven policy compliance: With Happay, policies are available on the system and the system alerts both employees and approvers in case any expense violates policy. Companies can easily track the top violators, the spend categories on which violations typically happen and then optimise policies accordingly.
o More control over T&E costs and more cost-saving opportunities: Happay’s analytics and MIS reports help companies keep track of the top spenders in the company, top spend categories, most frequented cities of travel, top vendors used for travel bookings and more - all this data helps companies negotiate better deals with travel vendors and create more effective travel policies that consequently help reduce overall T&E costs
o Paperless and digital expense reporting process for employees: Employees can manage all their T&E expenses on the go, from their Happay mobile app. They can create travel requisitions, get their trip itineraries pre-approved by managers from their smartphones. They can capture their T&E expense data on the Happay app and web dashboard from any source: from the advances they get on their Happay cards (auto-capture of card expenses), the cash that they spend out of their own pocket or from their personal debit/credit cards. With Happay’s AI capabilities, employees can automatically import spend data from SMSs, from the invoices they receive in their email inbox, from travel vendors such as Ola and Uber, OCR scans, etc. Employees use the same app to submit their expense reports, track where their report is in the approval process.
o Quick approvals and reimbursements: Approvers can easily check employee travel requisitions and reports on their Happay app, review policy violations and add comments in return and take the necessary action on reports from Happay. Finance teams can do settlement and reimburse employees from the same platform.
o MIS for process cycle optimisation: Happay not only helps digitise the expense reporting process for employees and approvers it also helps companies improve their process TATs. Data captured on Happay can help companies understand when reports are typically submitted by employees, at which approvers the reports stack up and why, the time taken to process reimbursements once reports are approved, etc. Visibility into this data helps companies introduce policies that reduce cycle times.
o System integrations: Happay integrates with key softwares that Indian companies typically use such as HRMS, Accounting ERPs, TMC (Travel Management Company) software and travel portals.
With a digital and automated T&E platform like Happay in place, companies can gain 100% spend visibility and control, speed up their process cycle time by 7X, reduce paperwork by 96%, reduce leakage by more than 90%, and boost overall employee productivity.