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Three Expense Policies You Should Consider Revisiting

Three Expense Policies You Should Consider Revisiting

“Are you reallygoing to reject that expense report because of that?” We ask our customers this question all the time — and guess what, they usually say “Nope.” They’re just adhering to their company’s travel and expense (T&E) policy without really considering the context of the expense. Many T&E policies we’ve seen are outdated. More often than not, these policies were either put in place when the company only had a handful of employees traveling or they were based on industry standards that haven’t been revised in over a decade. With business travel on the rise, it isn’t just the overall reimbursement amount that has increased, but also an increased burden on employers to audit these expenses.

From our experience implementing our AI-powered expense audit solution for over 1,000 companies, we’ve identified three expense policies your company should seriously consider revisiting.

‍Don’t be too strict on meal spend

$10 limit for breakfast, $15 for lunch, and $25 for dinner – this is the standard policy most companies have around meal expenses, but how often do auditors truly follow this? It’s becoming increasingly common for auditors to approve expense reports that don’t stick to these strict guidelines, as long as employees don’t go over the overall daily limit of say, $100. We recommend setting an overall daily meal limit or per diem rather than a meal-based one. This change will ensure that your auditors are paying attention to the expense reports of employees whose behavior they actually want to address, rather than focusing on someone who spent $5 extra on lunch, for example.  

Give your employees more time

T&E policies usually require expenses to be submitted for reimbursement within 90 days of incurring the expense. Let’s say an employee submits a receipt that’s older than 90 days. It’s likely that this expense just slipped the employee’s mind or they just found it while cleaning out their suitcase. Are your auditors really going to go through the trouble of asking the employee why they didn’t submit the receipt earlier? Probably not. There are various reasons for delayed submission, but usually, the employee is given the benefit of the doubt. We recommend increasing the permitted expense age to 180 days to give employees more time to submit their expense reports and decrease any potential back-and-forth between employees and auditors.

‍It’s okay to enjoy a glass of wine once in a while

Sure, no one wants their employees getting drunk on the company dime, but it isn’t uncommon for employees to sip a glass of wine at dinner – especially when they are traveling on business, away from their families, and eating all by themselves in the hotel lobby. Okay, I didn’t mean to paint such a dampening picture, but it’s quite true! Expecting companies to pay for a drink used to be a complete no-no in the business world, but today, companies are more flexible about alcohol. So, either allow it up to a certain dollar amount, say $100, or track an employee’s behavioral trends over time without interrupting the reimbursement process.

Those are just a few of the ways you can change your expense policy to help reduce the stress on both your auditors and your employees. For more ideas on how to best structure a T&E policy that promotes a healthy expense culture, download our whitepaper.

Cauvery Mallangada is an Implementations Manager at AppZen, the world’s leading solution for automated expense report audits that leverages artificial intelligence to audit 100% of expense reports, invoices and contacts in seconds.

Why is there so little expense report misconduct in China?

Recently, I wrote a data-driven piece revealing which countries are home to the most expensive report misconduct. Several of the results were extremely interesting, but the most fascinating piece of data was redacted because it needed to be looked into more thoroughly.

That data point was this: only 1% of expense report items flagged for review by leading automated expense report audits AI software, AppZen in China are ultimately rejected by the client company.

This 1% figure sits at the very bottom of the international list; no other country is even close. For example, Japan, only a few hundred nautical miles away across the East China Sea, ranks in the bottom half of flagged expense dollars rejected, with a much more robust 18%. Here’s the data from the last blog post, but with China put back in.

So what are the explanations for this oddly-low Chinese rejection rate? The answers are somewhat dubious and connect to transfers of wealth. 

Like most nations, China has its unique accounting complexities and one example is the country’s Fapiao system, in which receipts and invoices are actual official tax documents printed on the spot. The goal of Fapiao was to create a transparent system spitting out real-time tax documents at points of purchase across the country, but that hasn’t stopped enterprising folks from coming up with schemes to take advantage of it. 

For example, imagine taking 40 expo guests to dinner after a conference. In America, the hosting employee would simply receive a receipt for the pricey dinner which he would then expense for reimbursement upon returning from the trip. The company submits that receipt as part of its tax return at the end of the year.

Now let’s say some out-of-policy behavior takes place at this dinner; maybe the host employee decided to order several $200 bottles of wine, easily exceeding the $50 bottle company policy limit. AppZen would catch the out-of-policy misconduct on the expense report in this example. 

But in China, Fapiao are actual tax documents and business-related expenses are sometimes used to offset revenue, which allow companies to bring down their corporate income tax. Accordingly, managers subtly encourage their staff to collect Fapiao, and turn the other cheek instead of scrutinizing the documents.

In other words, Chinese corporations can lower their tax bills by indirectly transferring a fraction of those funds to employees via liberal unwritten expense report oversight thereby making them happier, at the expense of The Party’s tax revenue.

The less cynical explanation picks up the same thread of employee satisfaction without looping in Fapiao: the Chinese are, in general terms, lax in their enforcement around expenses; they turn a blind eye to most expense ambiguity to help incrementally raise employee take-home pay. In other words just as Silicon Valley companies are happy to supply their employees with millions of dollars in free meals and snacks at the office to supplement incomes, many Chinese companies are similarly, indirectly liberal outside the office, around expenses.

Either way, the title of this article is somewhat misleading. The Chinese have an average number of expense items flagged for potential conduct by AppZen relative to other countries. The difference is that Chinese companies are choosing to reject these flagged expenses at an unusually-low rate of 1%. The reasons for this are Fapiao loopholes and cultural norms around allowing employees liberties with their work expenses. 

Josh Anish is Senior Directing of Marketing at AppZen,the world’s leading solution for automated expense report audits that leverages artificial intelligence to audit 100% of expense reports, invoices and contacts in seconds.