Business travel in the U.S. is on the rise. Research from Statista has shown that since 2010, spending on business travel has increased each year by at least 3 percent.
As the senior vice president and general manager of the global Small, Midsized and Nationals Business Unit at Concur, Christal Bemont knows what how difficult it can be for organizations to properly keep track of all of their employees' travel expenses.
Launched nearly 25 years ago, Concur provides a wide selection of integrated travel and expense management solutions to businesses of all sizes. We recently had the chance to speak with Bemont about business travel and the issues organizations face in properly managing the costs.
Q: What trends are you seeing in what travel expenses companies cover and don't cover?
A: The corporate travel industry has been rapidly evolving to keep up with changing business traveler tastes. Most recently, traveler preferences have shifted with the rise of sharing economy players like Uber and Airbnb, as more and more employees are using these services for business travel. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of Uber transactions expensed through Concur grew by 230 percent. And in Q2 2017, the number of business travelers expensing Airbnb accommodations increased 33 percent year over year.
As a result, companies are updating their travel policies to incorporate the sharing economy to increase visibility and help manage that spend. Additionally, we've launched partnerships with Uber and Airbnb to grant companies greater visibility and offer business travelers an improved, simplified experience.
Q: What are the biggest challenges companies face when trying to manage employee expenses?
A: Companies face the biggest challenges when they're managing expenses manually. By tracking expenses with solutions like Excel, finance managers spend too much time on administrative tasks like inputting data, when they could be using that same block of time on more strategic functions such as drawing insights from their data. Manual expense management also allows room for human error, which can lead to inaccurate reimbursement and budget forecasting.
Surprisingly, a lot of small businesses employ manual expense management. A Concur survey conducted in 2016 found 66 percent of small and medium-sized businesses currently use spreadsheets like Excel for expense management. And unsurprisingly, employees believe there's a better way. Out of that group, 87 percent reported they've received employee complaints about their expense management system, including it's too time-consuming (47 percent), it is outdated (36 percent), and it's too difficult to provide the right information (34 percent).
A dedicated expense reporting solution that can automatically populate expense line items eliminates human error and saves time. It also allows faster submission and reimbursement, giving finance managers a more timely, accurate view of employee-initiated spend so they can spot trends and negotiate savings with suppliers.
Q: How has technology changed the way companies manage travel expenses?
A: Technology and automation have smoothed the expense management process for companies and their employees. By using integrated tools that automatically flow travel and purchase data into expense line items, both business travelers and travel managers can spend their time focusing on strategic functions that benefit their company's bottom line.
Advancements in the cloud have also allowed small businesses to implement travel and expense technology in a cost-effective manner. In fact, Concur recently launched Concur Hipmunk, a cloud-based, lightweight travel and expense solution to help small businesses get a handle on employee expenses. Concur Hipmunk gives small businesses the basic tools, access and visibility to manage travel and save money so they can grow.
Technology allows companies to go far beyond simply managing travel and expenses. Concur Locate and Active Monitoring, a travel risk management tool that's fully integrated in the Concur ecosystem, draws from the expansive Concur travel and expense data set to proactively identify and communicate with traveling employees in the event of a crisis anytime, anywhere.
Q: What is the best way for employees to keep track of their expenses when traveling?
A: Mobile is a great way to help road warriors manage their expenses while on the go. For example, Concur users can easily submit expenses through the Concur mobile app and have it automatically processed while managers approve these reports on the go.
Technology is advancing to make mobile expense management on the road as seamless as possible. For example, OCR technology lets users take a picture of their receipt and then automatically extracts and populates important information into an expense report line item.
Q: Is it important to have a travel policy for your employees? Why or why not? If you are creating a policy, what types of things should be covered?
A: Having a travel policy helps companies strategically manage spend and drive savings. For example, businesses can recommend travelers book through certain suppliers that they have negotiated discounts with. Additionally, travel policies can support traveler security. By encouraging travelers to book within channels at preferred travel suppliers, companies have the visibility to identify and potentially communicate with employees in the event of an emergency.
Q: How does Concur help businesses with their travel expenses?
A: Concur offers travel and expense solutions within a connected ecosystem to help companies large and small realize savings. Concur Travel, the Concur online booking tool, features travel options from air to hotel to rental car, all within one channel, to offer employees a seamless experience and grant travel managers visibility. Concur Travel is integrated with Concur Expense, so travel data can automatically populate expense report line items to streamline the process for employees and give companies real-time insight into spend.
Concur also hosts an ecosystem of third-party applications and services that easily integrates with Concur to provide connected traveler experiences and offer companies unprecedented visibility into business categories such as risk and compliance, tax management, and spend optimization.