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Every employee who has ever filled out expense reports has been there. As the end of the month rolls around, it’s time to submit receipts for expense reimbursement. You dig through the crumpled scraps in your desk drawer, scroll through the camera on your smartphone and try to think back to every client lunch, late night Uber and plane ticket you bought over the past few weeks. You put it all together and send it off to finance, and guess what? They go through all the same documents. Even if everything goes according to plan—a rarity—it might be another few weeks before you are reimbursed for out of pocket expenses.

Christina Cooksey, Head of Creative Production at the Brooklyn-based marketing agency Red Antler, knows the drill all too well. “Given our volume of purchases, expense management was an incredibly cumbersome process,” she says “Because client work and timelines dominate, expenses were often put off.”

On Monday Red Antler might be working with innovative new brands like All Birds or Casper, and Tuesday it’s big players like Google or Amazon. One team might be immersed in creating an original digital experience while across the hall, another is busy designing logos or fresh product packaging. Meanwhile, a third squad finds itself in the midst of producing viral content to help cement a startup’s new image. The last thing any of these people want to do is hunt for a receipt for the coffee they bought a client or some confirmation of that extra hour of studio time they booked.

Manually recording every single expense was a distraction and members of the creative production teams soon found themselves burning 80 hours per month sifting through receipts, reconciling spreadsheets, and expense reports. Not only did that leave less time for clients, but it transformed otherwise productive creatives into accounting bottlenecks. Bureaucracy like this burns everybody’s time and patience. But the right platform and policies can eliminate all this nonsense.

Thinking analytically

Any Red Antler-like scenario sees finance teams grow equally frustrated. They can never seem to close out their books and are forced to play “bad cop” chasing their colleagues to do admin work . “It’s annoying,” says our Controller, Edwine Alphonse. By the time they get the numbers they need, there is not much left for analysis.

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A 2018 study by Deloitte showed that finance teams spend nearly half their working hours creating and updating reports, as compared to a third of their time analyzing data and a paltry 18% of their working hours communicating with the rest of the company. Finance teams should spend their time generating insights, not creating reports. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has said, “there are decisions that can be made by analysis. These are the best kinds of decisions.”

While sales, marketing and HR departments are all using things like automation, algorithms and artificial intelligence to make their lives easier, for whatever reason accounting and budgeting departments often remain mired in receipts and spreadsheets. Even cutting edge companies are not immune to budgeting bottlenecks.

At the job search platform WayUp, complicated workflows saw their finance team struggling with many of the same problems Red Antler had. They wasted hours looking for receipts. People responsible for budgets didn’t have the data they needed and co-founder JJ Fliegelman struggled to keep tabs on spending. Frustrated employees felt they were wasting hours reconciling minor accounting discrepancies. As Ramp developed their innovative expense platform, the team knew there had to be a better way.

“You end up having someone like your VP of software chasing down a receipt from a team member. They really are overqualified to do it.” Diego Zaks, our Creative Director.

Cultural game-changer

Using Ramp as a unifying platform, both Red Antler and WayUp found a way to free themselves from the bureaucracy of month-end expense reporting. Red Antler decentralized team spending by giving each member of the creative production team their own corporate card. They set daily card limits based on prior experience but could easily increase or decrease them using Ramp. As a card manager, Christina kept an eye on purchases and budgets in real-time. Because she was able to review and approve any costs falling outside the normal day-to-day spend immediately, she stayed responsive while keeping budgets where they needed to be.

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So now creatives spend less time managing their expenses, even as Christina tracks the entire team’s spend across categories, departments, clients, and projects. “There are no more stacks of receipts sitting on my desk staring me in the face or finance charges ticking up personal cards,” she says. “Expenses are completed the day of purchase, often within minutes. All we have to do is text their receipt and [send finance] a message with the charge details.”

As for WayUp, early attempts at automating expenses failed, but JJ found Ramp’s expense reconciliation functions could expedite the review of spending while ensuring precision. Team leaders took on added responsibility, and workers got used to communicating with their managers about costs. Improved approval workflow means the finance team guides the expense process with a softer hand. The process is at once easier and more accurate.

“We can automate manual workflows for every employee,” JJ says. “We can create rules for vendors and specific categories.”

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An expense platform like Ramp allows you to automate basic tasks and set granular controls on how your team uses cards. This combination promotes a wider culture of financial responsibility. Purchases under $10 get approved automatically. Card managers might handle approvals on any spend less than $1,000, with the finance team or a more senior executive called in to consult on bigger expenses.

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Whereas general spending goes forward without a hitch, deals with new vendors, or specialized equipment purchases might require management to sign off. All the important data is centralized automatically—so that finance stays focused on generating insights instead of reports.

Smartphones, email, Slack and SMS are workplace norms, and a platform like Ramp easily integrates with tools that people already use. Along with smart policies, those same channels make it easier than ever before to eliminate expense bottlenecks. Less time doing expenses, means everybody spends more time doing their job.

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