Easing T&E

New applications make travel-and-entertainment expense management a breeze.
David RosenbaumMarch 21, 2013

Every month a bound volume of credit-card bills lands with a thud on Dan Marchetti’s desk. “I look at every one of them,” says the CFO of Urschel Laboratories, a 100-year-old family business that dominates the industrial food-cutting business. Marchetti estimates that, adding interest and fees, each expense form costs about $15 to process.

Urschel’s travel-and-entertainment spending is just a bit less than 10% of its total annual operating expenses. That’s in line with a 2012 Aberdeen Group study that found that T&E expenses constitute from 8% to 12% of the average organization’s total budget. For that reason, “anything that smaller businesses can do to get their arms around T&E is huge,” says Aberdeen senior research analyst Christopher Dwyer.

T&E expense management is generally viewed as a hassle, both for employees collecting receipts and for accounting departments. “Tracking receipts is not the average salesperson’s thing,” says Marchetti. Neglected receipts can sit in desk drawers until the third Monday of the following month in which the expense was incurred, after which, he says, “they don’t get reimbursed.”

With that in mind, Marchetti wants to implement a system to automate reporting. He is looking into Concur, which provides a web-based interface for T&E expense management. But there are dozens of other T&E software providers that can be used to manage corporate credit cards and impose credit limits and spending policies. They can reduce the processing costs associated with expense reports and allow organizations to gain greater visibility into their T&E spending.

T&E can be particularly costly for companies that fund corporate credit-card programs. Take Transmarine Propulsion Systems, a small private firm that sends crews all over the world to maintain diesel engines on oceangoing cruisers. Two years ago, T&E expenses became an issue when employees began using their corporate credit cards for personal purposes and then couldn’t cover the charges.

“It was a drain on finance,” says Transmarine president Shane Roeser. “We had to pay the credit-card company and couldn’t always get money from the employee.” Transmarine tried cutting checks for anticipated employee expenses, “but then the guys would run out of money and there would be no way to get money to them easily,” recalls controller Angela Bauer.

The company eventually introduced a prepaid expense card by PEX Card. Using the card, “companies with fleets, or people on the road, can allocate all their purchases on an ad hoc basis,” says PEX Card CEO Toffer Grant. And, of course, employees can’t spend more than what’s put on the card. “It simplified our expense-management process quite drastically and gives instant visibility into our spend,” Bauer says.

That transparency is key. “Visibility in T&E,” says Aberdeen’s Dwyer, “allows finance to control the future.”