Do the math. How long does it take you to fill out an expense report whenever someone from your team goes on a business lunch? And how many of those reports have errors or are not compliant with your company’s policy? Most of these scenarios are often the reality for finance teams who are not using automation on their expense management process.

Digital transformation has come a long way over the last few years, but there’s still a long road ahead. One thing’s for certain: expense automation can bring value to an organisation, said Jo Heijse, partner at BDO Belgium, during the Future Proof Finance event held by Rydoo and Medius in Ghent.

“Eliminating these kinds of [manual] tasks will give the CFO and his team more time for building up that business partnership and also getting more value to the organisation. It gives them more time for performance, enterprise performance management, cash management and so on.”

According to a report Jo’s been working on at BDO, around 45% of CFO’s time is spent doing traditional finance work. Reviewing expense reports, controlling where the organisation’s money is being spent, looking for errors in reports and trying to steer clear of the risk of fraud. All of these tasks can easily be eliminated thanks to automation processes.

Jo and Haluk at the Future Proof Finance event in Ghent

This is something that Judith Rochlus, Head of Finance EMEA at TVH, has seen happen in her company. According to Judith, Finance teams are becoming more and more relevant in organisation’s structures, even having “a seat at the big table”. But in order to achieve that they needed a much valuable asset: time. Which they got, by using the right software that allowed them to automate their expense management processes.

“Finance needs time for strategic view, paired with analysis of facts and figures on where we want to go. That’s why it’s so important to have tools that help us do it right and why companies are looking at softwares such as Medius and Rydoo to enhance value not only to their organisation but also to each individual in their team.”

Building trust in expense automation

If you manage a team, you’ve probably been in a situation where you present a solution that will make everyone’s jobs easier just to end up facing a lot of resistance from the team. People start wondering if that tool that you’re so excited about will mean that they will no longer be a valuable asset to the organisation and if that will lead them to lose their jobs. For that, you need to know how to build trust in expense automation.

At TVH, that trust had to be built along the way, and for that, Judith Rochlus says, you need communication.

“A lot of communication is involved, both structured communication, with monthly meetings, but also informal”, Rochlus said during the live panel. “People can talk when they sit together for lunch or coffee, and it’s in those moments that you should be explaining the reasons why you’re making this decision. You also need to be transparent about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and where you’re going.”

This communication and transparency also means explaining to people that not only will they not lose their jobs, but that they will also stop doing those boring and dreadful tasks most of them despise. Instead, their time will be spent on tasks that bring more value to the organisation whilst, at the same time, allowing them to develop new skills.

Today, we see that people have a better work-life balance as they have smaller workloads. They have more space to work together and they feel more engaged and productive.

Haluk Temel

CFO at Sodexo Pass Belgium

“We look at it more like your job is going to change slightly. You might need to develop some expertise and you will need training for that, but in the end it will be more interesting and add more value to the organisation.”

In Sodexo’s case, in order to successfully implement expense automation, the Finance team would have to stop working in silos and collaborate with other teams such as HR and IT. According to Haluk Temel, CFO at Sodexo Pass Belgium, including both of these teams in the process was crucial to achieving the expected outcome and building trust in the process.

“If we hadn’t included them from the start, we would have gotten it done faster”, Haluk said during the live panel in Ghent. “But we would stay in silos and it could lead to a conflicting environment.”

Conflicting environments would then lead to a lack of trust in the process and create even bigger barriers to the implementation of an automation expense management process. At the end of the day, the CFO says, “we grow with our learnings” and, keeping the conversation going and investing in transparency whilst, at the same time, highlighting the benefits of the implementation, will lead to long term positive results.

The road from processor to process manager

When Haluk Temel started working in Belgium, in 2019, Sodexo was using a travel and expense card which wasn’t the ideal solution for the team. At the time, the CFO had two options: either continue using a company card and eventually face issues such as lost receipts and errors, or change to an automated expense management solution. In the end, he chose to start using Rydoo.

“We are fully implemented in the tool and we are able to manage our expenses easily.”

Automating expense management processes allows finance teams and even employees to save time on tasks such as filling out complex and endless Excel sheets, navigating through PDF documents to find invoices or spending a good chunk of their workday scanning receipts. This, says Judith Rochlus, allows finance teams to focus their time on valuable tasks, turning them into process managers, rather than processors.

It’s more interesting to focus on tasks that create value, to be involved in shaping the company and its vision, rather than sitting every day and scanning invoices.

Judith Rochlus

Head of Finance EMEA at TVH

“It’s so important that you don’t lose time on tasks that don’t create value and that can be done better, faster and more accurately through software such as Medius and Rydoo”, said Judith. “It’s more interesting to focus on tasks that create value, to be involved in shaping the company and its vision, rather than sitting every day and scanning invoices.”

The combination of technology and data analysis, said Jo Heijse, has led to changes in the way companies are managing their expenses. “We see more and more hands-free accounting”, he said. “That gives CFO’s more free time to focus on things that will be key for the future of the organisation.”

Apart from focusing on other valuable tasks, Haluk also mentioned the fact that Finance teams now have more leverage to manage work-life balance and to improve their productivity.

“When we started implementing automation processes we made surveys to evaluate the engagement of our colleagues as we introduced these methods and, today, we see that people have a better work-life balance as they have smaller workloads. They have more space to work together and they feel more engaged and productive.”

The full panel at the Future Proof Finance in Ghent

More transparency, less fraud

Imagine you’re the Head of Finance of a team that has been growing about 20% of its annual revenue each year. That growth has led to around 40% more invoices being filled every single year, but you don’t have the time or the resources to find more people. This was the scenario at TVH.

“Even if I wanted to hire the resources, there’s no way I would have the time or find the people. And that’s why we need automation”, Judith said. “Softwares makes it easier, user-friendly, but also quite transparent.”

Finance departments need to be fit for the future, and viewing and analysing data in real time is important for that.

Jo Heijse

Partner at BDO Belgium

Transparency also leads to more control and, in turn, less mistakes. As Judith said “people make mistakes because it’s just a lot of work”, and the fact that automation can help with approval flows is crucial to avoiding errors in the future. Automation then can not only turn expense management into a user-friendly and mistake-less process, but it can also make organisations future proof by allowing teams to make faster decisions.

“Finance departments need to be fit for the future, and viewing and analysing data in real time is important for that”, said Jo Heijse from BDO. “It helps avoid mistakes. With that information, you have the advanced financial analytics that you can use for faster decision making.”

Becoming a future proof organisation also means being prepared to deal with global complexities. Being compliant with local norms and regulations is a must, especially if companies are operating internationally. Automation can help deal with these rules that can, at times, make your head spin.

“We have a lot of countries that are quite complex, such as Italy, Poland and Portugal”, Judith recalled. “We try to stay true to our standards process, but we had to customise it to those countries. So it helps to have a global player that has the experience to adapt to those local needs.”

The attendees engaged in the discussion

Automation is rapidly transforming the financial industry, and those who do not embrace it risk falling behind. By reducing manual tasks and increasing accuracy and efficiency, automation allows finance teams to focus on higher value tasks, build trust through effective communication and collaboration, and develop new expertise.

As the examples from both TVH and Sodexo Pass Belgium showed, embracing automation can lead to significant benefits to the organisation, such as reducing workloads, allowing for better work-life balance, increasing productivity and even avoiding the risk of errors. This, in turn, allows for more focus on higher valuable tasks such as strategic decision-making. Expense automation can, therefore, improve efficiency and accuracy, whilst also unlocking opportunities for growth and development. Thus, making them future proof.