November 9, 2021

Designing for better trust between finance teams and employees

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As stewards of their company’s assets, finance leaders invest a lot of time and energy into preventing waste. After all, they are responsible for making sure companies use resources as strategically as possible. 

But this loss aversion approach often pits finance teams against employees who need to spend money to do their jobs. Fairly or unfairly, who hasn't heard the jokes about finance teams being the "bad cops"?

At Ramp, we're designing an alternative approach to spend control—one that actually makes it easier for employees to make purchases and pay vendors, without sacrificing finance rigor. It opens the door for finance teams to partner with their organizations in a whole new way. 

Questioning the status quo

Before I talk about our design framework, you may be wondering: why does it even matter if we fix the age-old rift between controller and spender?

It matters because the status quo causes dysfunctional behavior that’s costing businesses valuable time and money. 

Most companies have very meticulous finance processes in an attempt to monitor every transaction. Corporate cards are limited to execs. All other employees are asked to pay for expenses out of pocket and file for reimbursements for everything from office supplies to flights. 

These policies hardly make sense—why do companies entrust people to make critical business and product decisions for the company, but make them jump through hoops just to spend $25 on a client lunch? They only result in resentful employees who drag their feet on submitting their receipts and expense reports. Some people practically run the other way when they see the finance team approaching. No wonder mistrust builds up over time on both sides. 

We believe well-designed automation can act as an important mediator between finance teams and employees. When software takes on the work of verifying what people are spending on, finance teams can trust that employees are using company dollars responsibly. Less hands-on scrutiny helps employees see finance teams as partners, rather than challengers.

Flipping the loss aversion mindset 

So what does good finance automation design look like? First and foremost, it reframes how finance teams think about control. 

The typical loss aversion mindset leads to expense policies and workflows that are designed with one goal in mind: to prevent out-of-policy and fraudulent transactions. Unfortunately, in most cases, the amount of overhead involved outweighs the amount of out-of-policy spending they’re able to prevent. 

In reality, the large majority of transactions at most businesses are legitimate expenses that are in the company’s best interests. Out of the hundreds of thousands of  transactions that occurred on Ramp cards from June to September, less than 0.07% of transactions needed review.

Finance teams would actually save their organizations more time and money if they spend their efforts optimizing how transactions are initiated and processed. In an optimization-first approach, finance teams make it as easy as possible for employees to make vital business purchases.

Here’s how the two models result in drastically different user experiences: 

A fear-driven, loss aversion mindset that focuses on preventing a small subset of transactions doesn't help to grow the business. It only increases administrative overhead for everyone and strains relationships. Well-designed finance automation helps teams transition to an optimization-first model.

Creating more productive interactions

Adopting an optimization approach doesn’t mean that poor spending gets ignored. Good software design flags situations that benefit from human review while automating the rest. The AI doesn’t replace finance teams; rather it focuses their attention on the matters they’re best suited to handle. 

Take these examples: 

  • Approving employees’ spend requests
    In most cases, the line manager is the best person to verify that their team member’s request is a good use of money, not the software. The job of automation is to pull in the right people to review those requests. By making it easy for managers to review spending before it takes place, the software prevents out-of-policy charges from happening.

  • Investigating out-of-policy transactions
    If an out-of-policy charge does slip through, more often than not, it is a simple accident like forgetting to switch business and personal profiles for an Uber ride. A straightforward conversation between the employee and a finance specialist—prompted by automation—is the fastest way to get context and resolve the issue.  

  • Syncing transactions
    It’s a lot harder to fix transaction coding issues once they’re entered into your general ledger. Well-designed automation helps finance teams auto-categorize transactions, but gives them a chance to review and adjust before syncing transactions. 

Finance automation design that keeps humans in the loop helps finance teams stay in control while improving the way they work with the rest of their organization.

Design that bridges the gap 

At Ramp, the goal of design goes far beyond creating an effortless user experience that people love. We’re designing automation that lays the groundwork for more effective finance collaboration and better spend control. Businesses grow faster when teams optimize for efficiency and trust. 

Head of Design, Ramp

As one of Ramp’s earliest employees, Diego oversees product and brand design. Previously, Diego was the Director of Digital Design at Juul Labs. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Design and Visual Communications from Pratt University.


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