There’s no greater truth than ‘expense reporting sucks’ in office life. Perhaps tracking vacations/time off/remote work is equally, if not more, damaged, but we’ll get to that later. In this post, I will try and get to some hard facts about why we all hate expense reports. I will also take a stab at understanding why the tech world, so good at orchestrating such glorious symphonies of human computer interactions, has still not been able to crack this seemingly simple problem.
Obfuscated by design
Speaking to the CFO of a well-funded, 500 people company, I almost fell off the chair when he said he prefers to keep the expensing process semi broken. After all, if it was so good, wouldn’t everyone expense everything they should?
Take a pause, and think over it. Companies use bad expense management system to save on costs.
The ‘I’ll get to it later’ conundrum
All bad systems are amazingly effective at leading you towards procrastination. Doing taxes, paying bills, filing documents… I can go on, but I guess you get the drift. These actions require an absurd amount of energy and will power that it is nearly impossible to not punt on it till the very end. The reason is partly bad software and partly the fact that humans hate the act of organising stuff. Finding bills, filling out forms with the correct expense codes, recalling the purpose of each expense and heaven forbid if you’re still doing this on paper, in which case printing out your expense reports, is all one big murky enterprise. It’s fine. The whole thing makes it easy for you to just forgive yourself and say “I’ll get to it when I get to it”.
Trips or tricks
So you take field trips, incur expenses and then get back to base dreading the sheer act of sitting down and filing your expenses reports for your trips. It is made complicated by the fact that official trips are swift, packed with meetings and leave very little time for one to get organised. If we divide the general population of expense report haterz in the order of their hatred, people that undertake trips would be the among the top 2.
But you say you have an admin to file just your trip reports? Really! Are you really telling me that you can justify having someone else doing this for you. Well you can if it’s really that much of a time suck but it does not have to be. Keep reading to find out the silver lining.
Company card should make it easy not hard
Yes, your expectation was spot on, the company card they gave you, should have made things easy for you and your accounting team. It didn’t however because we skipped this minor detail. That we all hate being organised. It makes us humans cringe. Recovering bills and receipts to file it with the expense forms so that another human being, who hates looking at your receipts as much as you do finding them, can sit with the credit card statement and reconcile the items is wishful thinking. The story basically writes itself, doesn’t it.
Ludicrous. This is the one word that comes to my mind when it comes to filing an expense report that comprises international travel or expense made in a foreign currencies. This particular breed of expenses deserves a special mention as it is a marred with all the problems listed above and in addition to that needs to deal with conversion rates, a factor that makes even the most analytically inclined minds boggle.
Don’t make me Fail
When two systems that should ideally work together get separated, both of them become more complicated than they should. It’s inevitable. Your policies are a function of compliance and financials. Your policies then dictate your expense report rules. If only there was a way for your financials to directly control policies. Ever received a ‘Your last expense report was Rejected’ emails at 9pm? Well it would happen a lot less if things were related and spoke with each other.
I’ve also undertaken effort to understand this problem in a lot more detail and a result of that is www.expensereportingsucks.com a collection of tweets illustrating how bad things are. Do give it a gander!