We’re in a groundbreaking era of technology where apps and integrations are minimizing the need for human intervention in many business areas, including expense submission. For example, there is no need to manually submit an expense for Uber or Lyft, as a rider’s corporate expense management account can connect to their Uber or Lyft profiles and automatically process transactions. However, as with many business processes, direct integration is only reasonable for the largest suppliers, and there need to be easy and practical solutions for the vast majority of what else remains. This is especially the case for out-of-pocket expenses, such as business travel meals.
It’s essential that an expense management system be able to provide several receipt submission formats, to match the different types of receipt format in use, as well as users’ own preferences. While many business travelers have become increasingly mobile-centric, others still prefer to take a more traditional approach of providing hard copy receipts to an administrator. What types of receipt submission should your expense solution be able to support, to cater to the full spectrum of your organization’s users and their travel profiles?
1) Direct mobile upload
This is the most common approach for users who like to create and submit their expenses as soon as they’re incurred. With the expense app open on a mobile phone or tablet, users creating an expense item are prompted to attach an image of the receipt. Selecting this option will then offer the option to either snap an image on the device’s camera directly into the solution, or upload a previously-captured receipt image from its photo library.
Not only does this import the receipt image as an expense item, but using OCR (optical character recognition), all relevant transaction data – merchant, date, amount and expense category – is automatically extracted and attached to the image in near-real-time. Users simply need to drag the image into an expense report and it’s ready to be submitted.
2) Receipt photo email forwarding
Another very straightforward approach is to simply take a photo of a receipt and email it to your dedicated inbox within the expense solution. As with app direct upload, transaction information will be extracted by OCR in near-real-time, so when you’re ready to submit your expenses, the data will be there for you to simply drag and drop onto your expense report. If credit card and/or travel booking items exist, the receipts will be automatically merged to the parent transactions for you.
One added benefit is that it works just as well offline. If you’re on a plane with no wi-fi, for example, simply press send on the email, and as soon as you get cellular coverage when you land, your phone’s email program will transmit it. By the time you reach baggage claim, your expense will be included as a line item within the system. Another benefit is that you can select several receipts from your phone gallery and send them at once. Each receipt will be cropped (separated), the images will be properly oriented, the data will be extracted via OCR and they will be merged to the associated credit card and/or travel transactions.
3) HTML receipt email forwarding
Most travel bookings – as well as many other purchases – are done online, and no physical receipts are provided. In this instance, users can simply forward the merchant’s HTML emails to their expense inbox. Merchant and transaction information is then electronically parsed from the email, and attached to an image of the email, which will again be automatically paired to any card or travel transactions that exist. This solution also works just as well for merchants that provide PDF receipts.
4) Hotel folio forwarding
Hotel folio forwarding is similar to HTML email extraction, in that it pulls out hotel transaction data sent via email, often from a PDF document, after checkout. One very clever addition is the ability to break out separate hotel folio line items, instead of simply providing an overall cost for the entire hotel stay. So, if you put a hotel restaurant meal for all of your colleagues on your room’s bill, it’s easy to break this out, rather than having to manually delete it from the room cost and add a separate line item for the meal (including a list of those who ate). An expense solution should be able to read and extract folio data from any hotel, from chain to boutique. So, regardless of where your travelers stay, they won’t have to type the information into their expense app.
5) Direct integration via apps
A greater number of travelers are opting for app-based services such as Uber, which automatically transmit payment, without the need to use a physical card each time. To take this a step further, business travelers can link their Uber profiles directly to their organization’s expense solution provider. This allows ride data, including a map of the trip and class of service, to transmit to the user’s expense solution as soon as the ride ends – not a single click is required. As greater numbers of services that use mobile app-based payments become popular with business travelers, these direct expense integrations will become more prevalent.
6) Credit card real-time receipts
For organizations that offer their travelers corporate cards, an integration with the provider’s real-time notifications can be a major time-saver. After making a purchase, the card issuer sends an email alert to the user, informing them of the purchase. This email contains an embedded link that opens the expense solution and prompts users to take a photo of the receipt, which is then captured and scanned via OCR as with other methods. This not only streamlines expense reporting, but also makes card reconciliation significantly more straightforward for the back-office team, and as an added benefit, can help reduce card fraud.
7) Fax and scan
While mobile-based solutions for handling receipts are used in greater numbers, certain user profiles (often executive management, whose administrators tend to handle expense submission) and industries still lend themselves to more traditional methods of submitting receipts, and expense solutions must be able to cater to these groups. However, submitting receipts via a fax machine or a desktop scanner shouldn’t mean that users should have to rely on old-school manual entry to get data into the expense system.
Modern expense solutions have the ability to read multiple pages of receipts, even with multiple receipts on a single page, separate the receipts into individual images, extract the transaction data via OCR, and then merge the image and extracted data with credit card and/or travel transactions. This offers the utmost in efficiency to the executive admin, who can add an entire statement’s worth of credit card charges to an expense report in one-click, and then upload one multi-page package of scanned receipts and the system will do the rest.
Whether your business travelers like to snap, send and toss their receipts as soon as they’re done, or stash them in a wallet and submit them once they’re back in the office, give them a flexible solution that adapts to them – rather than a solution that requires them to adapt.
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