6 steps to automate your expense approval process

One of the ironies of business management is that you can’t make money without spending it. That’s why every organization has necessary expenses — ranging from salaries and interest payments to conferences and travel costs.

But when it comes to the expense approval process, you may be spending too much money. The average expense report costs around $58 to process, according to the Global Business Travel Association. Approximately 19 percent of those reports have errors, which ultimately cost an additional $52 each to correct. It’s easy to see how quickly expense approvals can add up.

If this sounds like your situation, chances are you’re still using a manual expense approval process. However comfortable you feel with it, using paper receipts and letting reimbursements linger will only hurt your team’s productivity and leave your company vulnerable to fraud. Stop wasting time and money, and take your approvals to the next level with automation.

Pro Tip

Make your expense approval process easier than ever before with Jotform’s free approval templates.

Expense approval process basics

Expense approvals are one aspect of expense management, which covers elements such as

  • Setting travel cost allowances and limits
  • Reimbursing employees for costs
  • Tracking employee spending
  • Creating and enforcing an expense policy
  • Alerting employees who break the policy
  • Analyzing spending data to look for irregularities or opportunities to save

Most of these tasks are organized in an expense approval process — a workflow that usually follows these steps:

  • Employees spend money related to business through travel, gifts for clients, registration for industry events, etc.
  • Employees save receipts and related information to submit a claim for reimbursement.
  • The manager approves or denies the claim.
  • The manager sends the approved claim to the accounting or finance team.
  • Accounting/finance checks expense reports for accuracy and policy compliance.
  • Accounting/finance reimburses the employee.

The more advanced the technology that undergirds your workflow, the faster this process will be. Many organizations use spreadsheets, which are easy to fill out but become unwieldy and disorganized, especially when workers have to print them out.

The best option is to automate the process with programs like Jotform Approvals, which collects electronic signatures and sends reports to the right managers with little effort.

Why your business needs an expense approval process

Even if you think you don’t have an approval process, you do — it just may not look like one. Perhaps your process involves an administrative assistant spending 20 minutes trying to reach an approver, who then says that someone else should take care of it. The assistant then goes to the new approver, who promises to review it later but then forgets.

Imagine a process that takes the load off the assistant, empowers approvers with knowledge, and prevents costly mistakes. That’s the beauty of a modern, efficient, and automated expense approval process. With automation, your employees can turn in reports quickly and with fewer errors, and the finance department will be able to stay on budget — preventing bottlenecks and facilitating cash flow.

To achieve this steadiness, you need strong expense policies, and employees need to have easy access to information about these policies. Perhaps an employee is requesting approval for small expenses but doesn’t know that expenses less than $20 are automatically approved and need to be sent directly to accounting rather than a manager.

It’s hard to enforce policies when you’re focused on ambitious growth plans. Automation will engrain the policy within your workflow, freeing you to think about other priorities.

Simply put, time is money — so when workers spend hours on expenses instead of minutes, that hurts your bottom line.

Steps to automate expense approvals

You may be one of the 43 percent of companies still using manual processes to manage expense reports. Increase morale and productivity by revamping your expense workflow using the following six steps.

1. Decide what needs automating

Maybe you track major expenses with a library of spreadsheets housed on your computer. Or perhaps your employees still print out expense reports and turn them in by hand. First consider what these processes would look like without paper or multiple digital copies, then decide how an automatic system could potentially work.

2. Revisit your policy

If you’re doing reports manually, you’re most likely following a pretty loose expense policy — one that’s nebulous and easy to forget. Write your policy in clear language, so employees won’t waste time wondering if an expense will be approved or rejected.

Your policy should be flexible enough to allow exceptions for emergencies and special circumstances. The policy should also note which managers make final decisions on approvals and detail the steps of the approval workflow. Define best practices that are easy to remember, and make sure that all team members can easily reference the policy whenever they need to.

3. Rework your workflow

Meet with your team to reconfigure who needs to be involved in the expense approval process and who can step back. Ask them what approval responsibilities would work best with their tasks. Using their responses as a guide, build a workflow that everyone can agree on. With a small team, workers’ approval responsibilities may not change much — but they will save more time.

4. Choose your tools

Whether it’s a travel expense tracker, a mileage app, or a receipt digitizer, think of the apps and tools that will make your employees’ lives easier. Ask them which tools they prefer, and choose ones that eliminate the most paper.

Perhaps one software program features a mobile app that can log expenses. Or another approval platform doesn’t have an app but integrates perfectly with your existing accounting software and automatically creates reports.

Many programs offer free demonstrations so you can explore features before you financially commit. Remember, the program you choose should be effortless for your team while providing thorough analytics capabilities for you.

For ultimate automation, look for a program that connects to your business checking and credit card accounts. Cloud-based platforms are accessible and good for companies without robust IT support. Some platforms you can research include Fyle, MobileXpense, SalesTrip, and Cflow.

5. Customize the software

Once you’ve gotten the software, spend as much time as possible familiarizing yourself with it. Just like any other tool, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. Take advantage of any training tools the software company offers and host training sessions with employees.

6. Improve over time

Avoid the temptation to coast by on a shiny new process. As you might have heard, something that works well can probably work better. You should regularly look for ways to optimize the expense approval process. This is especially vital if your company is growing and you’re taking on more business — and more expenses.

Approving expenses with Jotform

Automation doesn’t have to be hard, expenses don’t have to be time-consuming, and you don’t have to break the bank to increase your productivity.

Jotform offers thousands of templates so you can create all the forms you need for an efficient expense approval process, including expense report forms, expense tracking forms, and daily expense reports.

You can take your forms to a new level with the new Jotform Approvals, which allows you to build a workflow through a drag-and-drop interface. By adding conditional logic, email notifications, and custom outcomes, your workflow becomes instantly effortless.

Jotform Tables gives you a centralized location to track approvals and submissions, while Jotform Mobile Forms lets you manage forms on the go. Plus, since you can customize your workflow at any time, Jotform scales with your business.

Overseeing business processes isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be strenuous and wasteful. Automate with Jotform Approvals to launch your organization into the future.

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