Expense claim liberation

One of the things that has always frustrated me in my 20 years as an IT professional is the end of month expense reimbursement process. For as long as I can remember there has been the dreaded last Sunday night of the month scramble, finding all my receipts, going through my bank statements and completing an expense claim. Wherever I was working the accountant pressured me, and my wife pressured me. I hated expense claims.

So one of the first value-added modules we developed for Xero was my dream expense claim system. I’d like to think this was just because I said so, but we also found that as a small business ourselves, a large volume (and value) of transactions coming into our business were expense claims – also called employee reimbursements.

This has a cashflow management issue. Business owners often have no visibility of the growing cash commitment of yet-to-be submitted expense claims. Often at month end the business owner is surprised by employee claims that naturally need to be paid immediately. It is also hard to close the month off while you’re waiting for tardy employees (like me) to get expense claims in.

In an earlier release of Xero we had our first cut expense claims system. Immediately we saw that staff loaded receipts as they went. This eliminated the end of month catch up and also gave us visibility of the cash outflow that was coming.

With our latest release the team delivered what I think is a fantastic working model, coupled with a simple manual system for receipts. Now I love expense claims.

Here is how I do it:

I keep a zip lock bag for receipts in my computer case, allowing me to process receipts anywhere. Say I pay for a taxi – the receipt goes in my wallet. When I get a few spare seconds, like in an airport lounge, I go through my wallet and pull out that day’s receipts, I have a link on my browser that takes me quickly into Xero expense claims and by default Xero brings up your current claim. When you ‘add a receipt’ Xero provides a receipt number that I write on the physical paper receipt. I then type the details into Xero.

We’ve done a lot of work with smart keys and short cuts to make data entry into Xero fast and simple. For example, entering ‘t’ in the date puts in today, ‘y’ is yesterday, ‘4’ is 4th of the current month.

We’ve also added an ‘account picker’, which makes it much easier to classify what the expenses are, such as travel, or entertainment. Xero includes a useful onscreen guide that allows the accountant to customise rules for expense classification.

I then put my receipt in the zip lock bag. Done. The expense viewer allows you to sort by date and receipt number so it is easy to check your expense claim against your end of month credit card statement.

At the end of the month, or whenever, you then submit your expense claim, along with your receipts, and the authorised person can check that expenses are appropriate and classified correctly. It is important to have clear policies with staff so that employee reimbursements are not misused – exposing the company to un-budgeted spend.

I’m so excited now that I finally have a system for expenses that eliminates the dreaded month end catch up. It also shows me the power of web delivered software that we can quickly iterate based on real feedback to deliver a solution that really does save time.

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