A business lunch with a client. An Uber ride to the airport. Drinks at the hotel bar with a colleague. All these expenses could qualify for travel reimbursement, but how do you make sure everyone’s receipts and records are all accounted for?
According to estimates by IBM, faulty and unreliable data costs $3.1 trillion a year–and that’s just in the U.S. Relying on a traditional process of travel reimbursement involves sorting through paper receipts from multiple employees, filing, passing the paperwork on to accounting, onward to the CFO’s approval, then ultimately transferring the correct amount to the employee.
Anyone can see the rife potential for human error in this long chain of events.
What’s more, a manual process that’s prone to errors is vulnerable to abuse on both ends. Employees can more easily fake receipts or file an exaggerated amount. On the other hand, those who have honestly lost their receipts or missed a filing deadline can lose out on reimbursement.
Down the line, this leads to further problems in HR. A Wakefield Research survey revealed that 71% of respondents said consistently long reimbursement cycles would lead them to look for another job.
But even when not dealing with employee retention problems, HR already spends 73% of its time on administrative tasks including travel reimbursement processing.
What is travel reimbursement automation?
Travel reimbursement automation simply refers to a 100% digitized process that pulls information automatically so anyone can create, send, and process forms in the blink of an eye. Information gets processed with speed and accuracy through a piece of software that does all the work.
No more sorting through paper files, receipts blowing away in the wind, or manually filling out an expense envelope where you can barely read your own handwriting because the spaces are so tiny.
Case study 1: Tech company
In one example by the consulting firm McKinsey, a high-growth tech company had been relying on a manual process for sending out offer letters for new hires. All drafts had to be checked numerous times by multiple people to make sure it was accurate and legally compliant.
After switching to an automated process, they were able to reduce their processing time by 66%. They no longer had to draft letters each time as the software would pull the information for them. Compliance checks were performed automatically as well, saving time for all parties involved.
Similarly, automating your travel reimbursement process will reduce time spent checking over accuracy and speed up travel requests through pre-filled information on forms.
Case study 2: Prep school
What do you do when you need a large number of signatures for travel-related Liability Waivers? Gulliver Schools had just this problem for its students and staff–students needed these forms signed by their parents, while the staff needed to submit travel request forms for the school’s approval.
After they digitized all forms, switched to e-signatures, and integrated the data with Google Apps, it became dramatically easier for staff to sign in to the cloud, submit their data, and track the forms online. Similarly, signatures from parents got a lot easier and quicker to collect and were automatically pulled into Google Sheets.
For organizations like schools that deal with a large variety of forms and signatures, automation through the cloud not only saves time but also improves accuracy by foregoing forms passing from the hands of students to parents to staff and vice versa. E-signatures make the process instantaneous.
Benefits of travel reimbursement automation
Before we go over ways to streamline your travel reimbursement process, here are a few benefits of automation:
- Faster and more accurate employee requests
- Easier for accountants to see who submitted the requests & check names on expenses
- Preventing expense abuse with digital signatures
- Reducing human error with apps that take photos of receipts so files are digitized
- Faster reimbursement so employees don’t feel burdened
Manual vs automated process comparison chart
|Manual process||Automated process|
|Employee receives a paper form or Excel spreadsheet.||Employee takes photos of the receipts as soon as they receive them – the software pulls the information into the form and automatically sends it to management/accounting.|
|Employee fills out the form by hand or in Excel – attaching receipts and writing in expense amounts, dates, and other information.||Management approves by signing electronically on any device.|
|HR/management confirms the information manually.||Accounting confirms the information and reimburses the employee.|
|Accounting processes the form, checking over any errors. If there are any errors, the form must be manually sent back for corrections.||The software saves the forms & receipts automatically and can also upload them to an internal business system.|
|Accounting reimburses the employee.|
|Someone manually files the forms and receipts away into a filing cabinet or uploads them to a shared folder / SharePoint.|
How to streamline your travel reimbursement process
1. Use modern, visual tools
When choosing software to automate your travel reimbursement process, check for user-friendliness. If it’s easy and intuitive for everyone to use, there will be less of a learning curve and no need to rely on programmers in your IT department to resolve issues.
Affordable, low-code platforms are now available that enable anyone on the team–not just programmers–to easily create and customize forms simply by dragging and dropping and by using wizards. Once the form is created, it can be automatically routed to the right person on the team. There’s no need to hire an expensive programmer to do this for you or for the employee to manually figure out who to send the form to – in most cases, the software can look it up and automatically handle routing.
2. Increase mobility with mobile-ready solutions
For accurate and fast travel reimbursement processing, access to the automation software on-the-go is key. Ensure that your solution works on mobile devices so that employees can request reimbursement as soon as they get the receipt by taking a photo and pulling all the relevant information into the travel request form.
Having a mobile-ready solution means that you don’t have to rely on managers being in the office to get travel requests approved. Approval time gets drastically reduced when a manager can approve a request via mobile even while they may be traveling themselves or out sick.
This also reduces the problem of missing receipts, as everything is digitized right away. According to a UK study, employees spend 321 million pounds a year on unclaimed expenses – 33% due to lost receipts, and 37% running into cash flow problems as a result.
3. Use electronic signatures
Inaccurate expenses can cost you money, but so can expense abuse. There’s a famous case where the CEO of a pharmaceutical company wrote off his personal expenses for years as travel expenses, costing the company $2.5 million.
Automated forms can safeguard against this kind of abuse by pulling information directly from sources like receipts, but they also come with an extra layer of security through electronic signatures. This also prevents faking identities by automatically confirming the identity of the signer, as well as protect the form from being tampered with by a third party.
4. Invest in integrated solutions
To save valuable time wasted on duplicate data entry and on correcting errors and omissions, use integrated solutions that work across other software you’re using.
For example, data from automated travel request forms can be imported from and exported to your payroll software or your SQL database so employees no longer have to manually type in information that is available electronically and can be automatically entered without errors into the form.
It’s also easier for employees to authenticate if the solution is integrated with your existing identity system e.g. Active Directory. There’s one less password to remember and single sign on (SSO) is also often available..
Types of travel request processes
Travel reimbursement requests come in many shapes and sizes depending on your unique business requirements. All of these forms can be automated so that employee information is automatically filled in based on the logged-in user.
1. Travel authorization and reconciliation form
You can use a travel authorization form to pre-approve your travel expenses. For example, you can estimate predictable expenses like airfare, lodging, and meals.
Try it now: Travel authorization and reconciliation template
How it’s automated: In addition to pre-filled fields and automatic calculations, if the actual amount ends up exceeding the estimate, your manager will automatically receive a request for additional approval.
2. Conditional travel request
This basic form collects the employee and travel details for an upcoming trip for the purpose of an advance. But the routing is dynamic depending on your internal business requirements. For example, additional approval may be required for amounts exceeding a certain preset dollar limit. Perhaps the form needs to be routed to the Travel Desk to make particular arrangements.
Try it now: Conditional travel request template
How it’s automated: After filling out the form, it gets automatically sent to the manager for approval. After that, where it’s sent next is determined dynamically based on business logic visually designed in the process.
3. Mileage reimbursement
As you can see below, this form is pretty straightforward. You can use it to submit any mileage incurred on a rental vehicle, for example.
Try it now: Mileage Reimbursement Form Template
How it’s automated: The form’s connected to the Google API to automatically calculate mileage between destinations so users don’t have to type it in manually. It also calculates the reimbursement amount based on the current IRS mileage rate.
Everyone benefits from travel reimbursement automation
Automating travel reimbursement doesn’t just mean employees can get their cash faster. It also helps businesses save time on manual entries and reduces errors on all sides.
- Management: Easier & faster approval time
- Employees: Faster and more accurate reimbursement
- HR: Less time spent on tracking employee expenses
- Finance: Less time spent on corroborating manual data
Say goodbye to bad handwriting (mistaking 0’s for 6’s), a long email chain involving several people sending forms back and forth, confusing Excel spreadsheets, and not knowing where to address travel request forms.