Article: Digital, automated, contactless: The changing face of expense management

Compensation & Benefits

Digital, automated, contactless: The changing face of expense management

In a webcast organized by People Matters in association with Happay, experts shared views on how organizations need to restrategize their employee benefits strategy amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
Digital, automated, contactless: The changing face of expense management

Today, businesses the world over are battling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the biggest questions that stare them in the face are-how do they ensure business continuity in this time of crisis? How do they make sure expense management is on track given the strain this crisis has put on resources and capabilities.   

It is these issues that were addressed in a webcast organized by People Matters in association with Happay on ‘Decoding business continuity and expense management in times of crisis’. Shailendra Mandrawadkar, Vice President - Enterprise Sales, Happay (JackCanfield Certified Global Trainer with over 25 years experience) Happay and Indrani Chatterjee, CPO, TEDx Speaker, Marshall Goldsmith certified Executive & Team Coach delved into businesses can strategize expense management. 

Here are some key learning takeaways from the session:

Mindset change and manual systems: Challenges to business continuity in the next 6 months

Around  62% of the audience during the webinar when questioned, revealed that their firm had leveraged technology successfully for business continuity.

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However, only 47% of them felt that their company had managed travel and expense management effectively.

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These statistics point out to the fact that the biggest challenge in the next six months for business continuity is going to be a mindset change and accepting the new normal. 

As per Indrani, it should be a cascading effect to the lowest rung of the organization. We have to start putting in new policies which we haven’t done before in order to keep employees, clients, and vendors engaged.

Also, companies in manufacturing and logistics, mainly the traditional setups, where work is still done on the basis of physical interactions, would struggle a little bit to move to a digital way of work. 

Shailendra revealed, “Almost 82% of the companies have a manual or semi-automated expense management system. In times when bills cannot be shared on account of fear of virus transmission and social distancing, this is a wakeup call. That’s an area where technology can do a lot more.”

Also, empowering employees from remote areas and making them productive is an open field. So what tools and technologies can be used to keep employees motivated even when they don’t go to the office, is going to be a challenge in the next few months.

As a result, some companies who are not used to the WFH setup might have also seen employee productivity dropping as it’s for the first time that companies are WFH for an extended period. And even after the lockdown opens, WFH policy might still have to continue (albeit at 30-40%)for many companies. However, companies should remember that employees want to be successful just as companies want them to be. Hence employee engagement tools will help companies to enable their employees to be ready to be productive as WFH becomes the new normal.  

The changing face of expense management-from manual to automated

A lot of internal functions being done only in office premises have to be changed-such as claiming bills or getting reimbursements done or getting sign-offs from the managers. In a situation such as now, technology can play a big role if organizations switch to an automated expense management system. 

Secondly, Shailendra pointed out that we need to have a time limit for policies. Most companies have policies that were made five to ten years back when the world was more predictable. But in today’s environment, expenses that people are going to incur are heard of. There are many unexpected expected expenses related to people’s safety and productivity and they need to be accounted for-be it internet at home or productivity tools. So we need to have a dynamic policy system in place.

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Delivering employee benefits in a crisis-digital to the rescue

Indrani stated, “When we think of employee benefits, we think of things in terms of physical interactions. But it isn’t going to be as frequent now. This thought process will change.” 

HR should relook and revisit as to how they should upskill their employees remotely through courses on a digital platform.

When it comes to expense management, instead of looking at regular expenses like travel, HR should relook at a digital expense management platform to benefit employees by helping them upgrade their operational structure at home or to upgrade their system or their Wi-Fi. So we have to think innovatively as to what things will benefit employees remotely. Today an employee might not be as keen for a travel voucher as he would have been months ago. Similarly, organizations also need to provide them more flexibility while WFH and yet not falter in productivity.

In fact, the audience in the webinar when questioned about the challenges their company faced, revealed that over 22% had seen an increase in expenses on account of use of collaboration softwares and home broadband.

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Moreover, when it comes to benefits transfer, we should make sure there is a digital way to make payments to employees as employees can’t step out. In short, we need not only a plan A or plan B but also a plan C as a crisis like Covid-19 is not the last of the crises to happen because of the global nature of business.

Organizations need to be responsive in the long term

There is no doubt that while businesses are still continuing to function despite lockdowns, the crisis will have a huge impact on businesses if it lasts for a long time. None of us were prepared for this, so organizations did face short term challenges of how do they provide people with the requisite amount of IT infrastructure to avoid disruption to work. Hence at that point, businesses were more in a reactive mode, trying to make use of resources at hand. 

Indrani stated, “So while in the short term, businesses were reactive but in the long term, they need to be prepared for any such crisis or natural calamity.” 

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Also, at a time when cash flows and revenues are getting hit, managing costs is going to be key. We can’t do much about revenues but we can do something about managing expenses minutely, on a real-time basis in order to tide over this phase.

More importantly, how businesses keep employees engaged meaningfully and keep the experience positive is important otherwise they will suffer if they are not able to get the requisite productivity out of employees. 

Shailendra added, “In the long term, as WFH becomes the new normal, companies will have to rethink their strategies to reduce their office costs. Industries will also have to rethink their supply chain expenses and logistics spends. In short, the crisis is a wakeup call for us to rethink our strategies.” 

Expense management strategy for long term-Automated systems & contactless payments

When it comes to a long term strategy for expense management, the first important thing for transfer of benefits is mobility.

Shailendra stated, “It is about providing a system which is anytime, anywhere. So while an employee might be somewhere else and his manager could be in a different city, by making an expense mgt system accessible on phone, benefits transfer can be done seamlessly.” He further added,

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In this direction, a fully digital and automated system that supports the entire expense cycle of the employee, helps to get the work done and lets expense management happen irrespective of where they are working from, is the need of the hour. 

Ultimately, in order to build resilience in the long term, organizations need to create a paperless world. It not only will preserve our world but also make things easier for organizations so that if situations like this arise, one can easily handle.  A paperless world will also help the HR and Finance functions as it helps in building an audit trail, will ensure lots of compliance, and will keep the organization clean and healthy.

Also, building a remote digital workforce should be a priority for companies now. It’s already now becoming a board room level discussion. How do we build a digitally remote workforce, provide them with expense management tools, and enable them to interact with clients to bring in revenues, is what organizations need to focus on.

In conclusion, WFH is here to stay for some time at least. The world is swiftly moving towards becoming more digital and it is time organizations restrategize their employee benefits strategy and question whether they are in a position to ensure seamless expense management in times of crisis. In short, we need to think about building contactless systems and a contactless world in the future-it will help both in expense management and in dealing with any future crisis to come our way.

Happay is a leading expense management solution that helps large enterprises & SMBs automate their corporate spend management system. A customizable solution that can encompass all aspects of organizational requirements & seamlessly integrate with other Enterprise Accounting systems.

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Topics: Compensation & Benefits, Employee Engagement, #COVID-19

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