March 21, 2023

How to control the maverick spend wreaking havoc on your company budget

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Many companies are losing 10-20 percent of targeted savings due to maverick spending, according to a report from Basware. No business owner wants to lose money in this way, but for many, it’s a problem they are unaware of. For those who know, maverick spend can seem too difficult to solve or address. But it doesn’t have to be this way! 

What is maverick spend?

Maverick spending, or maverick buying, is company spending that doesn’t follow a business’s buying and procurement process. 


Procurement rules are there for a reason. They make it clear that employees need to track and record purchases and define when procurement teams need to seek out more than one bid for projects. Maverick spend is when the purchasing policy isn’t followed and it can lead to companies overpaying for certain professional services.


For this reason, too much maverick spend can be a thorn in the side of finance managers.


But this type of rogue spending isn’t only an expenses problem—it can cause real headaches at an operational level, too. Maverick spending means that new suppliers and vendors have not gone through traditional vetting and screening processes and are not on the preferred supplier's list. This can damage supplier relationships, cause issues during the onboarding and contract management processes, and even lead to non-compliance concerns.

3 common causes of maverick spending 

There’s no one single root cause of maverick spending within companies. But maverick spending can happen when a company has:

1. Simple unawareness

Employees need to know how sourcing and procurement works in the first place. Often, procurement policies are decentralized and ad-hoc, leading line managers and supervisors to use their judgment and ‘bend’ the policy rules on a case-by-case basis. And when that happens, out-of-policy spending becomes normalized through repetition. Good procurement policies are living documents that are regularly updated and widely communicated.  

2. Paper-based purchasing processes

Another of the most common causes of maverick spend is that the business may be relying too heavily on paper-based purchasing processes to buy goods and procure services. Having paper-based purchasing systems makes it difficult to gather and analyze spend data—and nearly impossible to root out wider instances of maverick spending.

3. The procurement process

This is a significant problem in large organizations with many departments. If the process is too difficult to follow—or too time-consuming—then even high-performing employees might take shortcuts to get important work done. 

How to control maverick buying 

We understand. Maverick spend sounds a little ominous. Small business expense management in particular, is hard enough. The idea of losing money you shouldn’t be—and not knowing it’s happening—is enough to give you sleepless nights.

You can control maverick spend by setting up a healthy vendor procurement and vendor management system and using tools that give you real-time visibility into spend as well as enable you to set spend controls and limits for certain categories.

With that said, here are five ways to bring maverick spending under control.

1. Keep a database of vendors

Use a spreadsheet or automate tracking with a vendor management tool. Spend management software often includes vendor tracking features as well. Check if your corporate credit card comes with this kind of software—and if it doesn’t, consider switching.

Procurement professionals should upload their existing and any new vendor contracts to spend management software to help centralize vendor management and improve the bottom line. Beyond helping you keep tabs on your vendors, spend management software can analyze your spending and alert you to cost-saving opportunities.

2. Set up vendor approvals

Prevent SaaS spending creep by making it as easy as possible for your team to request spend—but with an appropriate oversight and approval process as a guardrail.

  • Make stakeholders such as line managers responsible for approving requests up to $1,000.
  • Have managers pre-vet requests for higher spend amounts, which are then routed to the finance team for final approval. 

Your e-procurement system or spend management software should provide integrations that let team members easily request, review, and issue purchase orders and approvals directly in everyday tools like Slack.

3. Incentivize saving with spend analysis

Corporate card reward programs claim loyalty rewards offer savings you can reinvest into your business, unlike ACH and other payment methods. But look closer.

Many corporate cards reward spending, not saving. Instead, look for card programs that give straightforward cashback versus complicated points systems with confusing multipliers and limited redemption options. Consider using spend analysis software to not only monitor expenses, but alert you to simple ways to save too.

4. Block unauthorized vendor charges

It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re only allowing purchases from the right kinds of vendors. You should restrict payment cards to individual merchants and spend categories, preventing out-of-policy spend. 

  • Specify a spend cap that’s in line with the amount of budget that’s been approved. 
  • Generate a virtual card for each vendor (most card companies now allow this).
  • Set auto-lock dates on these cards to prevent unapproved charges like automatic trial conversions and subscription renewals.

5. Use virtual cards to prevent fraud

Virtual cards, with their auto-generated card numbers, eliminate the threat of physical card theft and reduce the risk of rogue vendors and fraudsters stealing your funds. You can quickly disable virtual cards and even set them up for single-use only.

If you create individual cards for vendors, you eliminate the risk of having your financials compromised—since you only have a single vendor tied to that card. Safeguards like this are important because 74% of organizations suffered payment fraud in 2020, according to an AFP Payments Fraud and Control Survey

How Red Antler solved maverick purchasing

Brand marketing agency Red Antler was tracking expenses manually, which meant that producers were spending hours each month reconciling spreadsheets and verifying hundreds of transactions line-by-line against hard-to-read card statements.

Unauthorized expenses often went undetected—that’s maverick spend in action—and employees frequently spent hundreds of their own dollars due to lost receipts or forgotten charges.

By working with Ramp, the agency solved this problem. Using Ramp, they decentralized team spend via individual employee corporate cards, while centralizing control over those individual cards. This has helped the creative production team improve spend visibility and reclaim more than 80 hours a month that they used to spend on burdensome expense reimbursement.

Get maverick spend under control with Ramp

Ramp offers real-time visibility and spend controls, so you always know where spend is happening, and you can even prevent it from occurring in the first place. For example, poor visibility into expenses can be solved with digitized receipt and invoice matching, while spend control can be improved by empowering employees with their own corporate cards. 

The term maverick spend is defined in our Ramp Finance Glossary.

Head of Content, Ramp

Fiona Lee is the Head of Content at Ramp, overseeing content marketing, customer education, and customer marketing. She brings over a decade of editorial experience developing high-quality B2B content. Prior to Ramp, she led content teams at companies large and small, including Google and Intercom, where she developed a strong interest in small businesses growth topics. Fiona graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English.


What are the problems with maverick buying?

Maverick spending can be detrimental to a business’s bottom line and financial future. When purchases are made that don’t have allocated funds or don’t follow procurement rules, this can lead to financial trouble. Managing maverick spending and improving your business spending visibility can help to avoid these problems.

Is there a difference between maverick spending and maverick buying?

Maverick buying and maverick spending are synonyms. Both refer to purchases that don’t follow rules set by a business’s procurement department. Maverick spending can generally be avoided with the right expense management strategies.

What is tail spend?

Tail spend refers to indirect spend on items that are high-volume but low-value. Some examples would include office supplies, postage costs, and electrical bills. These costs can make up a significant amount of a business’s total spend, so it’s essential to have a good tail spend management process in place.

What is procure-to-pay?

Procure-to-pay, or P2P, is the process businesses use to streamline the acquisition of needed goods or services from an outside source. Think of the P2P process as the opposite of maverick spend: with P2P, your company is creating and executing on a predetermined procurement plan, while maverick spend involves employees making purchases outside your procurement plan.

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