Most vendors now use OCR and some providers use machine
learning technology to scan, auto-fill and categorize expense details,
pair receipts with corporate card charges and submit completed
expense items to the expense system for reimbursement. Employees
have less manual work to dread and are reimbursed quicker. Likewise, corporations get quicker spend visibility.
Even so, true automation requires some nerve on the part of the
corporate client, and proficiency varies by provider.
Abacus began the push to eliminate the expense report in 2013,
treating each charge as an individual transaction. That system fills
in expense details from a receipt using OCR, geolocation and machine learning to categorize the expense and pair the receipt with
a corporate card charge. That same year, Certify launched Repor-tExecutive, which goes one step further by automatically submitting complete and compliant expenses according to a set schedule.
Expensify branded and popularized the term Realtime Expense
Reporting after it introduced similar capabilities in 2015. It made
RTER its default setting last year. The more receipts/data that go
through any of these systems, the more the tools learn how to categorize receipts using machine learning.
The Advisory Board Co. VP of information systems Steven
Mandelbaum, who also runs T&E for the firm, has been on the
leading edge of this concept. He dropped the company’s post-trip
expense reporting system in 2015 and moved The Advisory Board
to Expense Now, a proprietary expense system in which managers
approve transactions. It pulls expenses from the employee’s corporate card and pre-populates an email-like inbox. The employee
chooses a purpose for each expense from a drop-down menu of
meeting dates populated by Salesforce and then submits each expense for reimbursement. On the back end, each manager can
see all transactions associated with his or her team and can filter
expenses in various ways—including by employee, date or expense
After nearly 18 months, Mandelbaum said the tool has proven
that “expense reports are artificial groups.” The change has cut the
number of unsubmitted transactions in half. He notes, however,
that the tool works not in isolation but in conjunction with a com-
prehensive travel policy, established procedures and effective cor-
porate card management, among other factors.
According to Expensify CEO David Barrett, adoption of RTER
and submission of individual transactions for approval have been
“incredibly high” among new clients that never knew anything else.
He said “tens of thousands of companies” use RTER. Yet, he also
said established clients tend to turn the setting off and revert to reports. Those reports are valuable to the finance department, Barrett
said; batching an individual’s expenses together, whether monthly
or by business trip, reduces the number of reimbursements an accountant must reconcile with the general ledger.
Michelle De Costa likes the idea of transaction-based, automated
expense submission. “In theory, I love the concept because it lends
to the ease of experience for travelers. Plus, the faster you get in
expenses, the faster you can bill out to clients,” she said.
Automated expense reports are one thing, but automated expense
approvals are a different story for De Costa. She piloted Abukai’s
automated expense submission when she managed T&E for Sapient. The pilot allowed Sapient travelers to capture receipts using
OCR, and the system auto-submitted completed expenses. De Costa said the test run was “pretty successful,” but as The Advisory
Board did, Sapient stopped short of automating approvals.
In her current role as head of corporate travel for Liberty Mutual Insurance, as well, that would be a step too far. “You need the
checks and balances in the middle,” she said. She underscored that
Liberty Mutual would be wary of systems that bypassed human approval, noting that at the very least, the company would need to
implement auditing processes to scour a percent of expenses for
fraud or out-of-policy charges.
Rules Engines & Then Artificial Intelligence
Certify president Bob Neveu, though, maintains that automated ap-
provals do not have to be rubber stamps. “There’s a big difference
between [being able to] flag exceptions, incorrect or fraudulent ex-
penses versus just auto-approval and instant reimbursement. ... No
customer is looking for that.”
Rules engines can analyze expenses against policy, such as
merchants that the company does not allow, and artificial intel-
ligence can go farther to identify expenses that are abnormal for
the traveler, job description or kind of trip. Certify and Expen-
sify, for example enable companies to upload their travel policies
Expense Sector Capital Raises & Acquisitions
€ 2 million.
Deem acquires Olset.
Coupa IPO raises
American Express Global
Business Travel closes
its acquisition of KDS.
Captio raises € 1 million.
After acquiring Concur
in 2014, SAP completes
their native integration.
Nexonia acquires Expense-Watch.