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For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Buyers Guide: 13 tips for effective expense management

Sarah Lamaletie is travel manager at Sightsavers, an international NGO that works to eliminate avoidable blindness and support people with visual impairments.

The charity’s travel was largely unmanaged until 2013, when security concerns, travel cost reporting and an increase in institutional donors who required more in-depth reporting resulted in a need to address this across the organisation.

She provides her top tips on implementing effective expense management.

  1. EVEN IF YOU KNOW WHAT IS AVAILABLE and do not need to do an RFI [request for in­formation], do some basic fact finding. Ideally, you need UATP [Univer­sal Air Travel Plan, the airline-owned payment network] level 3 data. Our travel data was extremely limited – access to UATP, cross-referenced with the agency information, significantly improves this.
     
  2. CONSULT WITH INTERNAL STAKEHOLDERS. I worked with the corporate services team and finance throughout.
     
  3. IF YOU ARE STARTING FROM SCRATCH, define your re­quirement and what issues you have, so that you can more easily choose a solution.
     
  4. POs ALLOW FOR PRE-APPROV­AL OF EXACT COSTS, but are resource heavy and time consuming. For example, flight costs can increase and if POs are not issued instantly, mismatches are an issue.
     
  5. A PURCHASING CARD ALLOWS ALL SPEND to be captured, but reconciliation is a major headache, as the information provided on standard cards is insufficient.
     
  6. INDIVIDUAL CORPORATE CARDS PUT POWER AND EASE in trav­ellers’ hands, but there can be problems with approvals and spend, and getting data is reliant on the expense management system.
     
  7. A LODGE CARD ACCOUNT CEN­TRALISES PAYMENTS, gives complete data and supports policy compliance by remov­ing the payment method from the travel­ler, which allows checks to be put in place. In addition, changes and cancellations are much easier to track with the UATP data. All the reasons above are why I chose Airplus as our card provider.
     
  8. WITH AIRPLUS, WE HOPE TO ACHIEVE GOOD DATA, which can be used to identify overspend and compliance. Previous problems with fraud removed the option of individual corporate cards, and Airplus is very supportive of the SME [small- and medium-sized enterprises] market.
     
  9. IF YOU ARE A LARGE COMPANY WITH STABLE NEEDS, Amex, which I have worked for and with previously, is excellent. But we are small and, as I was starting the process from scratch, I wanted some flexibility. Airplus understood this and was willing to work with us and our agent to get what was needed in the correct format and so on.
     
  10. A SELF-BOOKING TOOL [SBT] IS NOT ESSENTIAL. We have a dedicated team at Key Travel. In addition, a small in-house team centralises all requests, liaises with the traveller and works with Key to make all international flights and many of the hotel bookings. The possibility of extend­ing this to all international hotel accom­modation is under discussion.
     
  11. MOST STAFF MEMBERS DO NOT HAVE CORPORATE CARDS, but this does not mean we sac­rifice control. And those who do are not permitted to book flights with their corporate cards and may only book hotels in certain circumstances. All cor­porate card expenses are linked to the expense management system. For those without cards, Fare FX pre-paid cards are a good option, or they can spend on personal cards and make a standard expenses claim.
     
  12. I STRONGLY RECOMMEND A LODGE CARD. It simplifies back office processes, enables easier reconciliation and gives the travel manager a depth of data that can be queried as necessary. This allows for analysis, makes answering questions from auditors easier and facilitates both ad hoc and general reporting.
     
  13. EXPENSE SYSTEMS IN AN ERP [ENTERPRISE RESOURCE PLANNING SYSTEM] are not ideal when used in isolation and, with ours, we found that the data loaded was prone to human error and/or was of insufficient detail. On initial review, I found considerable spend labelled simply ‘air fare’ or even ‘travel’, which is of little use.

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