Automation is changing the way companies manage expenses. Since the days of manual processing, when every step from submission through reconciliation required significant time and effort, intelligent systems have lightened the finance team’s workload. Today, expense admins manage powerful solutions that automate the most tedious work.
With all the advancements in expense management, you might wonder what role the actual finance team has to play. If expenses are automated, do companies still need finance people at all?
In fact, automation has made the team more important than ever. Expenses are too nebulous an object of analysis, too political, and too human for computers to manage on their own. The finance department still needs to approve some expenses and think at a high level about how to optimize T&E spend. Here are three reasons why expense automation has made the finance team more important, not less.
Expenses rely on human judgment.
T&E is unpredictable. That’s what makes it hard to automate in the first place. Payroll processing, for example, is comparatively easy to streamline. Expenses, meanwhile, get submitted by all sorts of characters spending money far away from the office, for purposes into which you don’t always have full insight. The job of approving certain expenses and rejecting others requires judicious empathy and a lot of context. Computers have neither.
Since humans submit expenses, humans need to be involved in approving them. Only people are capable of deciding which battles to pick and which lines in the sand to enforce. Even the challenge of getting employees to submit expenses, which anyone who’s had to manage corporate cards can attest to, transpires on the human level. Automation is great at ensuring complete information at the point of submission, but not great at convincing a traveling salesperson to send in the receipt for that $5 coffee. No matter how sophisticated T&E automation gets, human judgment will always need to oversee the process.
Automation makes each employee more valuable.
The real value-add of expense automation isn’t that it takes the place of human labor; it’s that with a more focused workload, each employee generates more impact.
A company’s finance team should be a valued source of strategy. But high-level thinking is hard when you’re bogged down by manual tasks. Expense management in particular demands more tedious work than other processes. The volume alone demands a huge amount of labor, since large companies generate about a thousand expenses a week. All of those transactions have to be checked against policy, approved, and reconciled.
Automated T&E processing eliminates over 80% of manual work. That’s good news for the three-quarters of CFOs who say taking on a more strategic role has been their most defining challenge over the past few years. Not only will expenses get processed faster and at about half the cost, but the human reviewers will be able to spend their time generating business insights — not stuck in the weeds.
Storytelling becomes more important.
One of the great promises of applying intelligent automation to processes with a lot of data, as T&E has, is that once-hidden patterns will begin to emerge clearly. In other words, the same ceaseless volume of work that used to make expense reporting a slog becomes, with the help of automation, a treasure trove of business data.
Expenses contain so much information that insights found by a computer are too numerous and raw for executives to consume themselves. That means finance team employees need to turn into storytellers. Once they only focus on work that actually warrants their attention, the team will become free to spend more time crafting cogent business insights for managers.
Expense management at its core is about deciding what the business needs and who should appropriately procure it. For the foreseeable future, humans are going to be uniquely able to answer those questions. Automated expensing isn’t about taking control from people. It’s about giving people more control in new areas, letting experts stop wasting time and focus on what’s important.
Want to find out how intelligent automation reduces risk in employee expenses? Click here to read “Intelligent Automation and T&E: Minimize Risk In Employee Expenses.”