Dean Forbes, CEO, KDS
With one quarter of corporate business travellers admitting to embellishing their travel receipts, Dean Forbes at KDS reviews how finance teams can ensure corporate expenses are accurately reported….
Corporate accountants have long been aware that fraud relating to travel and subsistence happens. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, a typical company loses 5 per cent of annual revenue due to fraud, 15 per cent of which is down to fraudulent expense reporting. There are plenty of opportunities for employees to ‘go rogue’ and inflate their expenses – exaggerating mileage claims, adding extra to taxi receipts, entertaining friends rather than clients for meals, and claiming for tips not paid are all firm favourites with employees looking to bump up their claims.
Travel fraud and expense abuse remains an enduring challenge for many organisations. As a recent KDS survey among business travellers revealed, a quarter admitted to embellishing their company expenses. The study, commissioned to investigate the attitudes, actions and behaviours of business professionals when booking work-related travel and reporting expenses, found that over one-fifth of respondents regularly round up business mileage and a quarter will falsify blank taxi receipts.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of employees are honest, some will take liberties when it comes to travel and expense claims. Most employees don’t maliciously set out to defraud a company – but inflating an expense claim is viewed by some as a fair ‘trade-off’ for the inconvenience of being on the road in the first place. It’s also the reason others find ways to ‘upgrade’ their travel and accommodation in order to compensate for time away from home. Whatever the motivation, expense abuse means many organisations need to address the issue of problematic or inaccurate receipts.
Enforcing timely expense submissions and excluding non-allowed items not approved for reimbursement can make a big difference when it comes to minimising the risk of employees ‘going rogue’ with business travel bookings and expenses. For example, what actions does a company take if a business traveller initially complies with established travel policies when booking flights and hotels, but upgrades without permissions at a later date?
When it comes to minimising the instances in which staff can ‘go rogue’ when it comes to logging, tracking and claiming expenses, there are a number of steps organisations can take:
- Expense account policy and procedure
The expense account policy is an essential component in the fight against fraud. But over restrictive policies encourage rebellion, so adapting a travel expenses policy to make it fair and relevant should help reduce fraud incidents. Hotel night fees, for example, may vary considerably from location to location so a blanket rule may make it difficult for staff to do the right thing when it comes to booking a room.
Ensure all employees are well informed about the corporate expense policy and that it makes sense to the people that use it. For example, revenue generating roles such as sales may have far more freedom than back office staff. If this is the case, then make sure the reasons behind it are clearly understood so that grudges don’t build up.
- Automate expense processes
Ensure that the travel expense process is intuitive and easy to use. Ideally, business travellers should be electronically logging and submitting as they go, rather than saving up receipts, estimating for ‘lost receipts’ or claiming for a trip they forgot to claim for n the past. Finance teams tasked with reporting, budgeting and reconciliation know that ad hoc claims make it difficult to balance the books.
Manual expense filing systems can be open to manipulation or error; furthermore, they eat up valuable employee time. In our recent survey, over 40 per cent of respondents confirmed they’re still using time intensive spreadsheets to track and submit their expenses, with 80 per cent saying they complete and file claims during working hours.
- Speed up reimbursement
On average, it takes 17 days for an expense claim to be checked, processed and reimbursed. But employees who experience this type of ‘cash lag’ may be less motivated to engage in appropriate behaviours when it comes to expense submissions. Some may genuinely encounter financial difficulties as a result of reimbursement delays, all of which can incentivise expense inflation in the future.
Automated account management generates positive employee satisfaction feelings; reimbursement is immediate and encourages employees to be compliant and ‘do the right thing’.
- Deal with ‘wrong doers’
Make sure managers that approve expense claims feel empowered to say ‘No’. Turning a blind eye encourages a culture of rogue expense claiming and, if left for long enough, can be viewed as an entitlement. Managers need to lead by example, encourage teams to stick to the corporate travel policy, and have the confidence to challenge suspicious claims.
Staff will need to fully understand the potential consequences of ‘rogue’ spend or falsified accounts. A good first step is to educate teams on the impact of staff expenses on revenue and profit. During training, staff should also be made aware that rounding up a mileage claim or falsifying a taxi receipt is fraud – and that this is a criminal act.
Ensure that all levels of personnel are subject to the same scrutiny; that includes senior members of staff and long-serving employees.
- Smart supplier management
Wherever possible, insist on direct invoicing to the company; a good travel expense management tool will enable this more accurate and efficient approach that saves both time and money. Making the switch from manual to electronic expense reporting will also eliminate the risk of receipts getting altered and enables timely expense submissions.
Putting in place an automated expense management tool, designed with the mobile traveller in mind, not only speeds up accurate claim submissions. It’s also less likely to leave an employee ‘out of pocket’ should they lose paper receipts in transit or forget to claim for a taxi journey.
The Aberdeen Group estimates a typical company spends more than 10 percent of its annual budget on expenses related to business travel. No wonder then that travel and expense management is increasingly coming under scrutiny as ineffective and outdated travel and expense management systems put companies at risk of significant unnecessary wastage – with travel expenses being open to neglect at best, and abuse or fraud at worst.
Implementing an automated expense management tool not only gives organisations greater control of staff spend; it also generates real-time analytics and business intelligence that makes more accurate projections possible. Furthermore, a well administered company expense scheme is more likely to be compliant for tax and regulatory purposes.
With the right procedures and solutions in place, organisations can ensure employees are able to operate at maximum efficiency and adhere with ease to enterprise travel and expense policies.
To see a full report on the KDS Travel and Expense Survey findings, please visit: http://page.kds.com/survey2016.html
Can your company data make you famous?
By Kerry Gould, Associate Director, Speed Communications
Businesses gather and generate reams of data every day on everything from purchasing habits to customer behaviour. But too often, it gets ignored or restricted to ‘internal use’. Is this a big opportunity missed?
Perhaps more than in any other sector, finance and banking companies hold a goldmine of data. Of course, individual customer transactions are highly sensitive and need to be kept secure. But when these are collated into trends across an entire customer base, it can paint a compelling picture of people’s changing priorities. What are people spending money on? How are they using credit cards differently? Are they shifting their savings goals or looking at mortgages differently? And it’s not just consumer-facing businesses that can use their data to tell stories. It’s a growing area in the world of B2B marketing, especially for firms targeting the UK’s 5 million+ SMEs.
Insight in the COVID-19 era
Appetite to share data is increasing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, too. We’re already seeing companies step up and share this intelligence; barely a day goes by when there’s not a report on how people are changing and adapting. In an era when everyone is trying to be a ‘thought leader’, having this unique insight can really set a company apart and elevate its public profile.
There are some great examples out there. Barclaycard revealed in its SME Barometer that the number of small businesses actively taking payments has increased by 24 per cent since the start of lockdown, an indicator of recovery. Meanwhile, Bottomline revealed in its Business Payments Barometer that 89% of firms continued to pay its suppliers late and £164,000 was lost by the average mid-sized business to payment fraud.
These reports achieved media coverage in print and online, and likely to have been shared widely over social networks, been promoted in email newsletters, discussed in online webinars and provided talking points in customer meetings. In today’s multi-channel world, there are a plethora of ways to reach customers (and potential customers) and we know that a ‘layered approach’ to these communications stand the best chance of getting you noticed and remembered.
Commissioning a survey through an independent research agency is a tried and tested method for marketing and PR teams to gather insight to use for content marketing and news generation. But often, your company’s own proprietary data can be even more compelling. It’s based on actual facts and behaviours, immune from the public’s continually fluctuating opinions. Plus, it doesn’t cost you thousands of pounds to commission. If your company has a strong enough dataset that can tell a story or indicate a trend, it should absolutely be used.
Like all well-meaning initiatives, data-led PR doesn’t come without its challenges. Here, we tackle three.
- Getting buy in to go public
Sometimes, business stakeholders can be nervous about releasing data that may be deemed commercially sensitive, revealing market share or insight that competitors could take advantage of. In this case, it’s about considering risk versus reward. The marketing benefit for making yourself known could be offset by competitive intelligence that your rivals may have through other sources anyway. Ultimately, there’s often a compromise to be stuck and there may be some data that you can’t disclose. Bringing stakeholders on the journey with you from the start is often the best way to ascertain this.
- Organising reams of data
It can be overwhelming to organise complex data sets, gather trends from different silos, departments and platforms. Many finance companies have in-house data analysts and insight teams whose job this is, but for others, outsourcing to a specialist provider like Data Cubed or Beyond Analysis can be a helpful move. By building a dashboard that collates everything in one place, teams from across the business, and external PR or marketing agencies, can get access in real time.
- Not having enough data
It may be that your business doesn’t generate reams of data or lacks a large enough sample size of customers. In this case, you can partner with an organisation that does. In the Jobs Recovery Tracker developed with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, we partnered with EMSI to tap into their database of live job vacancies. This helped to track the employment market amid COVID-19, generating masses of media coverage, insight to inform its content marketing and talking points for its upcoming REC 2020 conference. This can sometimes be treated as a commercial arrangement but often considered a joint PR opportunity that’s win-win.
Data journalism is a growing discipline in the world of media, with news outlets dedicating talented people and resources to telling stories with numbers. The BBC and Guardian do it particularly well. With marketeers – particularly in data-rich industries like finance – waking up to the power it can hold for true thought leadership, the future is likely to be one ever more governed by data-led insight. How long before ‘data-PR’ becomes a discipline in its own right?
Advice for contractors closing down their contracting company
By John Bell is Director of insolvency firm Clarke Bell, which he founded in 1994.
Contractors with a limited company/Personal Service Company (PSC) have been going through more than their fair share of turbulent times recently.
In the last two years contractors/PSCs have been bracing themselves for the impact that the new off-payroll legislation (IR35) will have on their lives and livelihoods, as the Government ploughed ahead with its plans to roll out the reforms to the private sector; as it, wrongly in many cases, believed some contractors should be deemed as employees and not genuine self-employed contractors. Then came Covid-19 and once again those self-employed workers were dealt another blow as the pandemic left many without work overnight, albeit there was some relief as Off-Payroll was paused until April 2021. And let’s not forget Brexit and all the uncertainty around it which is having a huge effect on a lot of businesses in the UK.
It has been a bumpy ride for businesses of all sizes over the last few months and, despite the emergency measures announced by the Chancellor in an effort to keep the economy afloat, not every contractor will want to carry on trading. Some will want to retire earlier than they’d previously planned – to get away from all the turmoil and ‘cash in’ all their hard earnings. Others, however, will have seen their income falling to such an extent that they are now having cash flow problems and are unable to pay some of their bills. Some may be considering taking up a PAYE role for job security whilst others may be forced to put their retirement plans on hold and continue working until they feel confident that their pension pot will serve them well.
The combined effects of Brexit, Covid-19 and the new Off-Payroll tax have hit businesses hard and some company directors now think that closing down their company is the best course of action for them.
A Members’ Voluntary Liquidation is the best option for contractors
If a contractor is planning on moving into an employee/PAYE role, retiring or pursuing some other life or career plan then a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation (MVL) is likely to be the most tax-efficient way to close a solvent company – particularly if the assets of a company are more than £25,000.
An MVL is an HMRC-approved process and a licensed insolvency practitioner must be appointed. While it may have a negative-sounding ring to it – with terms like ‘liquidation’ and ‘insolvency practitioner’ – there is nothing negative about it. Quite the opposite, in fact. By placing a company into an MVL it is a clear illustration that someone has been running a successful company.
An MVL allows a contractor to draw any remaining profit as a dividend, paying income tax on the dividend amount. With the help of the licensed insolvency practitioner who will liquidate a company, the reserves can then be distributed as capital, which are then subject to capital gains tax (CGT) at either 18% or 28%.
Through an MVL, a contractor can also take advantage of Business Asset Disposal Relief, formerly known as Entrepreneurs’ Relief before 6 April 2020. If someone qualifies for this relief, this can mean that CGT will be paid at a rate of 10% on qualifying assets, which can translate into considerable tax savings. Each shareholder of the limited company could also benefit from a tax-free allowance of £11,000, the Annual Exempt Amount. If there are multiple shareholders, this can be highly efficient.
To ascertain eligibility for Business Asset Disposal Relief / Entrepreneur’s Relief, contractors should speak to an accountant and also look at the Gov.uk website.
Off-Payroll (IR35), Brexit and Covid-19 are all things that are likely to have a huge impact on contractors and their limited companies and most firms of Insolvency Practitioners will offer free and confidential advice.
My advice to contractors is to talk to their accountant and help decide whether an informal strike-off or an MVL is the best option. If a contractor is having serious cashflow problems then an insolvent liquidation might be the best option.
How we as female entrepreneurs can inspire and educate the next generation of female leaders
By Vaishali Shah, serial entrepreneur at Creativeid
There is tremendous enthusiasm and aspiration amongst the next generation of women who are passionate about being successful in their chosen career, whether it’s running their own business or rising to the top in the company they choose to work in. It is up to those of us who are already in the shoes they want to fill to be the role models and help them along the way. They need our support and guidance and access to tools and resources.
The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship found that only 39% of women felt they had the capabilities to start a business compared to 55% of men because they did not fully believe in their entrepreneurial skills. The Review also found that only 30% of women said they already knew an entrepreneur compared to 38% of men.
Here are some ideas and suggestions of how those of us who are successful women in business can help and support the next generation of leaders:
Mentoring – connecting the leaders of the future with experienced and established entrepreneurs and leaders in their industry who know the steps and have already overcome the challenges. Meeting on a regular basis (in person or via video technology), answering questions, offering resources and helping them to define their vision clearly while pointing out opportunities would be extremely beneficial.
Female only networks – most events, especially in the financial and banking sector, are attended by a majority of men. This can be a bit daunting for women who tend to feel isolated. Unfortunately, there are very few female-only business networking groups. We need many more. Women have a different networking style than men. A female only network can give members a safe place to network, build confidence and relationships, while sharing some of the challenges they are facing and ask for guidance and support.
Panel discussions – invite successful female entrepreneurs and leaders from different industries to share their journeys to success. Their challenges, how they overcame them, what kept them going and any nuggets that could inspire the leaders-in-waiting. This could be run around International Women’s Day in March, for example.
Workshops/seminars – offer a seminar or workshop on topics that give valuable information on various aspects of running a business for entrepreneurs. In the workplace, have a system in place for ongoing training, development and engagement. Providing support, tools and resources will help to develop female talent. Make the workshops free or low cost so there is no barrier to entry. Help them to formulate a clear vision and a strong ‘why’ for their vision. This vision and ‘why’ will carry them through the tough times and be an important reminder and motivation to stay the course.
Recommendations – emphasise the importance and benefit of continual learning. Suggest podcasts, webinars or books to listen to or read. Being open to others’ experiences and ideas will help to educate and inspire them. People who achieve great success have a thirst for knowledge and are eager to learn from others.
Confidence and encouragement – give the next generation of leaders a sense of their own value and the value they bring to their market by the products and services they offer. They fill a need – they bring value. Help them understand that setbacks are a part of any business, but they should not be considered failures, rather, as gaining experience. Using setbacks as stepping stones towards their goal is what differentiates those who achieve great success from those who let setbacks define who they are, thus diminishing their chances of success.
Time for them – running or working in a fast-paced business can be all consuming, demanding and overwhelming at times, especially if they’re ambitious and want to get ahead. Teach women in business the importance of taking time out for themselves every day and to celebrate even the smallest success. Taking time out may seem counter intuitive, however it gives the mind time to relax and be open to inspiration and creativity and therefore being more productive.
Dame Karren Brady says – “If you have passion, drive and an entrepreneurial spirit, being female shouldn’t prevent you from getting where you want to be, and sometimes we must have the determination not to let it”.
Whether the next generation of female leaders are students about to embark on their business career, already running their own business or those in employment, we who have the experience and knowledge can play a crucial role in their climbing the ladder of success.
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