Automation » How can AI and ML help corporates level up their expense management?

How can AI and ML help corporates level up their expense management?

While AI and ML-powered solutions enable corporates to unlock a lot of potential within their respective finance departments, it’s worth noting there are challenges to implementation

Corporate travel and expense (T&E) management is complex by nature.

Back-office teams work tirelessly to collect expense reports, track down supporting receipts, identify and code the expenses, cross-reference them for compliance, and input all the data into a central ERP or CRM system long before anything gets reimbursed.

Yet those complexities have only increased thanks to rapidly evolving technologies. With a range of new apps, sites, and platforms all using proprietary services with clashing formats, finance teams are now facing an unprecedented diversity of expenses — not to mention a notable hike in volume.

According to the SAP Concur 2023 Global Travel Managers Report, 98% of managers say lagging data and analytics have led to bottlenecks and an inability to complete fundamental daily tasks.

Fortunately, that is where artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) solutions can be a lifeline.

AI and ML can streamline operations, reduce costs, and enhance decision-making through data-driven insights. They also fortify a corporation’s financial integrity to create a more agile, efficient, and resilient organisation poised for success in an ever-evolving marketplace.

The power of AI and ML in expense management

Over the last few years, AI has powered several game-changing innovations across a range of verticals — but changes taking place in the T&E space have been particularly powerful.

Companies like SAP Concur have been at the forefront, continuously developing AI tools that now demonstrate heightened potential for transforming corporate expense processes.

AI is all about making computers think more like we do, and ML is a subset of AI which uses algorithms that ‘teach’ systems to process impossibly huge amounts of data. By processing this big data, ML-powered systems can streamline increasingly complex manual T&E processes to save corporates time and resources.

One of those key areas is AI’s ability to automate expense report creation.

ML solutions can be set up to generate automated reports based on various employee expense categories — and make quick work standardising and digitising receipts that aren’t using typical formats, currencies, or abbreviations.

Likewise, ML software is incredibly efficient at detecting and preventing fraud, as well as ensuring compliance with company policies.

By codifying best practices based on internal compliance rules and industry standards, ML solutions learn from transactions and streamline the approval of expenses that are in line with company policy — flagging only those that appear to clash.

For example, a member of your sales team expenses a client dinner and orders a beer without realising your company expense policy does not reimburse alcohol. Because your ML software recognises the names of drinks and standard meal costs, it would flag the line item and return the claim back to the employee before it is submitted.

That prevents any embarrassment on behalf of your employee, but also saves time for your AP team having to review the expenses manually.

According to one study by the GBTA, almost one in five expense claims contain errors like this — and it takes teams an average of 18 minutes to correct mistake-ridden expense reports.

Those additional minutes spent equate to around $58 (£46.17) per report in unnecessary spend.

Levelling up with SAP Concur solutions

Expense management solutions need to be trustworthy, flexible, and forward-thinking.

Tracing its roots back to the dawn of the internet age, SAP Concur has been at the forefront of T&E management for some three decades. The SaaS provider has totally redefined the corporate finance space with its output of AI-driven software solutions.

The SAP Concur mobile app is a sound example of how AI can make expense reporting fast and simple. With the help of machine learning technology, members of your team can simply take a photo of a receipt on their phones to kickstart the reporting process.

From there, the app’s Expenselt tool automatically creates, itemises, and categorises the expense entries so that expense reports are automatically generated off the back of your employee uploads.

As a result, any non-compliant and potentially fraudulent expenses are automatically flagged before reimbursement. You can also use Concur Detect by Oversight to perform crucial audits that detect and prevent fraud early. Concur Detect analyses your post-payment trends and patterns to flag instances of misuse — enabling you to adjust policy or employee behaviour accordingly.

Compliance checks can also be performed with Concur Expense’s Verify – a self-serve audit solution in the Concur Expense tool. Verify automatically reviews your expense reports to identify problems like duplicate receipts, incorrect dates, or out-of-policy spend.

Because Verify performs 100% of an audit automatically, finance teams no longer have to perform random audits to identify non-compliance. All reports with exceptions that require human intervention are flagged — freeing up teams for higher value tasks.

Leveraging the benefits of AI-driven expense management

By adopting AI and ML-driven software like the SAP Concur suite of T&E solutions, teams can expect to leverage a wide range of benefits.

First and foremost, corporates will tally up efficiency gains and cost savings through a reduction in manual work.

For example, SAP Concur customers that’ve adopted ExpenseIt report the number of returned expense reports they deal with drops from 14% to just 1.2% after implementation. Assuming an organisation deals with 1,000 expense reports each month — and the average returned report takes 18 minutes to correct — that equates to 273 reclaimed personnel hours every month.

By clawing that time back and introducing these efficiencies, you’re also going to improve overall employee satisfaction.

AI solutions enable you to eliminate many of the laborious and mundane tasks your finance teams don’t enjoy. According to the latest SAP Concur Spend Insights Report, $1.6 billon (£1.27 billion) worth of spending exceptions went unexamined by finance teams in 2022 because of slow manual processes.

AI tools remove that weighty workload from the equation.

According to SAP Concur, 97% of the 2.8m expense reports that passed through its Verify solution between January 2022 and June 2023 were automatically audited. That sort of automation empowers members of your team to direct their skills and creativity elsewhere — making the daily grind far less grinding.

Finally, AI-powered solutions amplify and streamline fraud detection to ensure company policies and external regulations are being met. With tools like Verify and Concur Detect running constantly, virtually every instance of non-compliance or fraud will be flagged for manual inspection. That means less reliance on random audits and more peace of mind knowing your T&E systems are being used — not abused.

The future of finance: personalised expense management

While AI and ML-powered solutions enable corporates to unlock a lot of potential within their respective finance departments, it’s worth noting there are challenges to implementation.

The cost of integrating new solutions within existing tech stacks is admittedly a hurdle. According to researchers at McKinsey & Company, finance organisations have been forced to reduce their costs by 29% over the course of the last decade. Meanwhile, there is an increasing chorus of ethical concerns about the use of AI. For example, there are questions around bias and fairness within AI algorithms.

That being said, the potential cost savings associated with AI-based T&E have the power to offset implementation expenses — while it’s possible to ensure your organisation is on the right side of ethical AI by choosing the right software partner.

That’s why SAP has implemented a global policy on AI, documented in an AI Ethics Handbook. The policy governs the development, deployment, use and sale of AI systems at SAP, defining clear rules of ethics – vital to building trust in AI solutions.

In addition to ethics, finance leaders must also ensure they’re partnering with a solutions provider that understands the future direction of AI and ML in finance. While there are a range of intriguing implications across the finance sector, one clear area for development is the vast potential for personalised expense management experiences.

That means using tools to create unique processes for each individual organisation — but also deploying AI to improve the working lives of each team member within that organisation. For example, SAP Concur works with a number of App Centre partners to fulfil client’s duty of care requirements, such as locating and supporting employees in case of an emergency or natural disaster.

As AI gets smarter and T&E operations get increasingly more complex, it’s these highly personalised tools and dynamic features that are going to create new levels of efficiency and generate added value for finance teams. That’s why it’s worth exploring the benefits of automation solutions at the cutting edge of AI.

Explore SAP Concur AI-driven solutions to discover how you can level up your T&E operations using AI and ML.

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