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Aiming to alleviate some of the pain of expense
reporting, several expense technology providers recently have announced
enhanced receipt imaging or new approaches designed to speed preparation,
approval and/or auditing.
Startup Abukai launched last year to "automate
the data entry into the back-end expense approval systems," said president
and CEO Philipp Schloter. Abukai's Android-, BlackBerry- and iPhone-compatible apps
allow users to take and upload pictures of receipts. Using optical character
recognition, global position locators and algorithms, Abukai auto-fills expense
Customers can upload expense data files to existing
expense or accounting systems. Abukai uses a standard CSV export format with
more than 30 transaction attributes, including date, amount, vendor name, city,
state, country, project codes and cost center. Value-added tax data also can be
parsed to allow companies to compile and identify receipts that must be
submitted for reclaim.
"Even with the most modern" expense
reporting applications, "sales team members often spend two hours a week
on expenses, and others spend at least one hour a month" on data entry, said
Schloter, a technology executive who sold an imaging company to Nokia before
starting Abukai. "That all goes away because you can submit it right away
and it's a lot more accurate." Even with credit card downloads automatically
sent to their Concur expense system, employees at one large customer "spend
an hour or two putting the expenses together," he said. "That's where
the time gets wasted today."
Abukai "is working with a couple hundred
companies, ranging from small to medium-size to a few subsidiaries of Global
500 companies," Schloter said. "In one case, a company uses SAP
globally and employees have to manually type everything into the expense
module. Instead, imagine employees just taking photos of receipts and that info
is pushed automatically into that console."
While some customers are using automated expense
reporting systems, "most still use Excel and import data into accounting
systems," Schloter added. Abukai charges a set-up fee based on the
complexity of the integration with credit card feeds and accounting or
enterprise resource planning systems, as well as an employee or seat licensing
fee of about $99 a year. To help companies estimate potential savings, Abukai
recently added to its site an ROI calculator.
Another startup, Certify, launched in January 2009
as a "personal, small business" expense solution, said founder and
president Robert Neveu. By mid-2010, "we decided to move to the
enterprise," yet continue to serve individuals with a free product called
Certify Wallet. Initially offered for $5 a month, Certify Wallet relaunched this
year as a free application to attract "contractors, freelancers and
independent sales reps to track expenses and billable time to clients,"
Neveu added. "They can use Certify Wallet to generate an invoice and send
online to their client."
The fee-based enterprise version includes Certify Wallet
for each employee to take images of receipts, enter data required by the Internal
Revenue Service and/or company travel policy and add each receipt to an expense
report. Companies can program data imports and exports. Pricing is based on
transaction volume—between $6 per report for companies with 500 monthly reports
to $4.25 each for those with more than 2,000.
"There are systems out there today—plenty of
them—where using the system is incredibly painful, extremely frustrating and
takes longer than filling out an Excel spreadsheet," Neveu said.
"There's where companies have struggled and say, 'We paid for this great
system; where's our ROI?' "
Certify doesn't rely on OCR, Neveu said, as the
application prompts users to enter a date, expense category and amount. Through
partnerships with Travelocity Business and nuTravel, some Certify clients flow
booking data into the expense application and "automatically create a
draft expense report and match booking, credit card and cash receipts" to
a trip, he added.
Concur this month launched a "receipt
store" that allows users to send receipt images via email, smartphone or fax
and later attach them to line items or a completed expense report. Users can
attach multiple receipt images and then parse them to specific reports,
according to a company spokesperson. Concur's receipt functionality doesn't
rely on optical characteristic recognition technology, so users must key in
receipt data. Concur said the new receipt functionality is available at no
additional cost to users of all versions of its expense tools. Concur said it
processes for clients more than 3 million receipt images each month.
InterplX Expense Management allows users to submit
receipts via fax, scan, email and a traditional mail-in service in which the
system not only scans the receipts but matches them to submitted reports,
according to president and CEO Chuck Buckner.
"We integrated payment, audits and receipt
imaging within the application so it's a fully integrated solution,"
Buckner said of the proprietary technology InterplX began developing in 2004
and launched in 2007. The firm was founded in 1994 as an expense service bureau
that relied on other third-party technology. "We couldn't be responsive to
our clients or control our own destiny and decided to build our own software
solution," Buckner said. InterplX now serves about 110 corporations with about 250 corporate
accounts and provides receipt imaging, payment processing and auditing for
competitor Infor, he added.
While its technology allows customers to use
smartphones to capture and submit receipt images, few actually do so. Buckner
said that during his career in expense reporting, which began at Gelco more
than 30 years ago, he has heard "plenty of OCR claims that don't work."
As smartphone use grows, Buckner and his firm's
competitors expect travelers to increasingly use them to not only capture images
of receipts, but access applications to create, submit and approve expenses.
Despite the technological innovations of receipt
imaging, more than half of 300 respondents to a 2009 T&E expense management
survey said their companies continued to review paper receipts. Conducted by
the International Accounts Payable Professionals, International Accounts
Receivable Professionals and The Association for Work Process Improvement, and
sponsored by InterplX, the survey included responses from companies across
various industries with revenues ranging from less than $50 million to more
than $10 billion. One-quarter of respondents said their companies had moved to
online receipt review, and 20 percent said their companies used a combination
of online and paper-based receipts. At the largest companies, those with more
than $5 billion in annual revenue, 42 percent of respondents said they use
Among respondents who said their companies reviewed
receipts online, 41 percent indicated the companies scanned receipts and
uploaded to an expense system, 28 percent faxed receipts, 25 percent scanned to
email and about 6 percent said their companies mailed receipts to a document
scanning company to digitize them.
While the IRS requires companies to retain receipts
for non-per diem meals, lodging and incidental purchases of more than $75, fewer
than 9 percent of survey respondents said their companies set the receipt
threshold that high. Sixty-one percent said their companies generally require
receipts for all reimbursements, 2 percent require receipts for purchases
greater than $50 and 28 percent require receipts for reimbursements greater