The Hidden Cost of Expense Management Operations

Center, a finance applications developer helping growing companies optimize business spend through AI-powered expense software, today released its 2019 Spend Management Report, Under Pressure: Operational Challenges for Finance Teams. Based on a survey of 250 U.S.-based finance professionals, the report examines current practices and attitudes related to business spend and expense management. It finds that although 87 percent of respondents use some type of software to manage expenses, the amount of effort finance teams spend on the process itself–from tracking down receipts to closing the books to producing reports–is so time-consuming that it impacts their ability to focus on important strategic work.

These findings are significant at a time when finance departments are being asked to participate more actively in setting and achieving their companies’ strategic goals. Three-quarters (75 percent) of the CFOs who participated in the survey said they’d like more time for strategy and planning. The challenge is that operational work like processing invoices and expenses, producing reports, and closing the books each month takes up the majority of the department’s time and resources.

Front-Line Pressure
The roles that most feel the pressure of too much operational work are those on the finance department’s front-line: accounting, audit, FP&A, and controllers. These respondents were most likely to say that their current expense management processes need improvement, that the time spent producing reports and analyzing data is frustrating, and that they’d like to hire additional resources if they had the budget.

The survey revealed a difference in perspective between the front-line teams and CFOs, who were much more likely to describe their expense management processes as “smooth sailing” or to say they didn’t plan to hire because “everything’s under control.” CFOs are often less involved in the day-to-day operations of spend management than controllers and accounting teams, so they may be less aware of the challenges those teams face.

Both front-line finance teams and CFOs agree on the priorities for their departments in the coming six months. They plan to focus on streamlining current accounting processes (39 percent of respondents) and increasing planning and forecasting accuracy (35 percent). Improving processes and automating spend management will help finance teams dramatically reduce the amount of effort spent on tracking and auditing expenses so they can reallocate that time to work that impacts business growth including spend analysis, strategic planning, and collaboration.

“Time is a finite resource and it’s crucial for organizations to determine how to best allocate it – especially for those members of the finance team,” said Naveen Singh, CEO and co-founder, Center. “Today, organizations need to move beyond spreadsheets and batch-based expense reports. With so much innovation happening in technology, and specifically in AI, finance teams should demand more accurate and real-time data to improve operational visibility, increase productivity, and ultimately help businesses grow.”

Center’s SpendOps Suite is a complete corporate card and AI-powered expense management solution that automates the entire spend cycle from planning through purchase, processing, and posting to the general ledger. Together, its CenterCard® Visa® Business Debit and AI-Powered Expensing, Audit and Insights software help finance teams gain real-time visibility into expenses, reduce time to monthly close, and surface data-driven insights.