Keeping tabs on corporate expenses is a challenge at the best of times. For what seems like forever, businesses have set yearly budgets and then worked toward them. Employees spend, file expense reports and seek reimbursement. Finance teams use that data to close the books and adjust earnings forecasts on a monthly or quarterly basis. Even after hours of labor, that information rarely makes its way to decision makers fast enough to actively impact management decisions. Even up-to-date reports may do little more than interpret developments through the prism of year-end projections.
Monitoring spending is the first step to keeping finances in order. If you don’t know the past, how can you plan for the future?
Automation, algorithms, and artificial intelligence are becoming the norm for interacting with customers and partners. But the story is often different behind the company curtain. Even as advanced analytics offer real time insights into customer behavior and needs, businesses still struggle to get the same kind of granular information about their own operations. For whatever reason, expense platforms in particular have failed to keep up with increased dynamism in sales, marketing, communication and other pillars of business. There is no reason for this to continue.
While 90% of business leaders claim real-time insights into their business are important, just 27% say their organization is effective at making those real-time course corrections. In an age of agile business, where small teams operating on automated platforms are the principal drivers of innovation, tracking expenses in real time is essential. These numbers generate valuable insights into the company’s overall financial health, and help identify process improvements that can increase efficiency or manage risk.
Making it easy for leaders to easily access the information they need to make informed decisions is the biggest single distinction between businesses that are agile and those that are fragile.
A better, faster way to track expenses
It’s no secret that employees dread filing monthly expense reports. And few are shocked to learn that finance teams abhor policing receipts. Finance departments report spending nearly half their working hours creating and updating reports. Many of those reports are already outdated by the time they make their way to other departments. Annual projections done at the start of the year become far less useful as the months tick by, so processes risk trending toward inefficiency on a company-wide scale. It’s high time we track spending and budgets in real time.
Even the most innovative tech companies still struggle with internal expense issues. As a collaborative data platform that combines SQL, R, Python, and visual analytics in one central place, San Francisco-based Mode Analytics helps corporate teams leverage data to make business decisions quickly. Speed is the name of the game, but Mode had trouble keeping tabs on its own spending in a timely manner. To the outside world Mode looked cutting edge, but their internal processes remained old fashioned.
Traditional corporate cards just weren’t nimble enough. Employees couldn’t get new cards to spend what they needed, and it was hard to adjust cards in response to changing employee needs. Finance spent far too many hours contacting employees to collect and reconcile receipts, then wasted more time manually uploading all the transactions to their accounting software. By the time the books closed at the end of each accounting period, it was time to start all over again.
Worse yet, nobody at Mode could manage to get a centralized real time view of how money was being spent. Management lacked the information they needed to make informed decisions. At times they felt as if they were flying blind. “The faster we can analyze and review data, the better,” says Teo Evanick, Controller at Mode.
Mode needed a corporate card that enhanced, rather than hindered, agility. They also needed a platform that deployed fast and easily integrated with their existing systems. Most of all they needed real-time insights into how they were spending. Platform integrations allowed Mode to track spending at the merchant, department, and employee levels. Management could react, and faster decision-making cut costs. On big purchases, the finance team receives smart alerts via Slack, so they track spending as it happens. For a company looking to stay flexible and financially sound, it’s the only way forward.
“Everyone can log in and see every transaction the instant it happens, forecast spend, and correct wasteful behavior,” Teo says.
Guided by data
Elsewhere, the fast-growing, fully-remote SaaS company Shortcut (formerly known as Clubhouse) was also using outdated expense management tools. Manually reconciling expense reports was imprecise and inefficient. All this lag meant the company had trouble making sense of where finances stood at any given time.
"There wasn’t really any visibility on what employees were spending on and how much, so there was no control over when the sync would occur,” says Shafak Ilyas, Senior Accountant at Shortcut.
Shortcut creates project management software designed for software teams, but they lacked the software necessary to track their own spending. Ramp streamlined Shortcut's expense management by easily syncing with their existing accounting vendor QuickBooks. In a matter of minutes, Ramp mapped Shortcut's chart of accounts and set up a seamless, centralized accounting system between QuickBooks and Ramp. Revolutionizing expense management need not create company-wide upheaval.
All of the sudden, Shortcut could reconcile transactions in real-time. Rather than counting on employees to manually track and report purchases, Ramp automatically collects and matches receipts and memos from company cardholders via email or SMS. The result is unprecedented control and visibility of corporate spending. Managers see what individuals and teams are purchasing with a simple click, and finance teams can review and plan for approved expenses in advance.
“Everything is quicker. I can sync whenever I want,” Shafak says. “Closing the books used to take a couple of days, and now it takes about an hour a month.”
In a dynamic economy where costs and customer demand fluctuate by the hour it’s hard to know what conditions will be like six days, never mind six months, in the future. Tracking expenses in real time lets a company identify trends, and adjust to changing customer needs. Decision-makers need systems that grant easy access to financial data, analytics and other up-to-date information. That kind of agility means they can diversify into new opportunities or shift spending away from less profitable parts of the business.
“All the transactions flow through to a clear, easy to understand real time stream,” says Diego Zaks, our Creative Director. “Everybody can search and slice-and-dice the numbers anyway they want.”