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Business Travel Strikes Back - Is Your Expense Team Ready?

by Penny Desatnik June 14, 2021

When it comes to the question of business travel, it’s clear a series of changes are on the horizon, and it’s time to prepare for action. Executives shouldn’t be asking if or when; the real question should be: how?

The pandemic left many business functions frozen in place, suspended as if they were Han Solo in carbonite, as we awaited the green light to go back to normalcy. We saw digital transformation accelerated light years beyond what was initially planned, and advancements in technology to ensure business continuity as offices emptied out. It was a dark time, as road warriors were grounded and in-person meetings came to a halt. After a reduction of 70% in corporate travel during the pandemic, as measured by Delta Airlines, we are finally starting to see an increase in travel. Are you ready to use the Force when it comes to your expense management system? 

Return of the Business Expense Report 

Before the pandemic, expense policies were pretty clear. Employees knew how much to spend and standard types of spend. During the pandemic, that changed, as expenses rapidly moved  from travel and entertainment to home internet and office equipment. Companies had to quickly change  their policies to accommodate a remote workforce, but coming back to the office will not mean they can or should flip a switch and return to the way things were, pre-pandemic. 

As more people dip their toes into the travel water with personal trips to see family or take long-awaited vacations, business travel is expected to be the next, much-anticipated opening. As noted recently in a Wall Street Journal, airlines are anticipating a bump in the coming months. Business leaders need to take steps now to put appropriate policies in place and communicate them to employees itching to get back out there. 

The Expense Audit Awakens

In the words of Shmi Skywalker, “You can’t stop the change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting.” According to a recent study by Chubb and Dynata, more than 50% of respondents said they would be comfortable flying domestically for business. Sales teams are ready to go, and even see in-person meetings as a competitive advantage, but we are not yet back to pre-pandemic conditions. Flights are more expensive and less frequent, meaning companies will need to weigh cost with convenience. What used to be a quick, direct flight might now require layovers and added expenses. Is your policy flexible enough to incorporate the changes? And can you easily enforce that flexible policy?

Meeting face-to-face will also require more effort and planning, especially where customers are not yet back in the office, which will lead to less availability by participants and potentially more time spent in one location. Will your policy cover more days with fewer meetings? Will it cover bringing the client a bottle of wine to take home instead of sharing one over dinner?

And what about your team members that prefer to stay grounded? Gift cards have traditionally been seen as a potential source of expense audit fraud, but what happens when your sales team wants to send a Doordash credit to a client instead of taking them to lunch? These are all questions that executives need to start asking themselves to understand what a return to business travel will mean to their employees, their budgets, and their bottom line.

Autonomous Finance, The Last Jedi 

Luckily, all is not lost. We have technology available that will restore a spark of hope. By implementing an autonomous finance solution through an AI expense auditing system, you can easily update and enforce your expense policies in real time, to reflect both current realities and your specific business needs. The system will read and understand reports and only flag those that need attention, meaning your finance team can focus on the bigger picture. 

With the right system, these adjustments are easier, and your business can take off, whether your team is up in the air or staying grounded at home. One thing is clear: change is coming once again. This is not a time to hesitate. Perhaps it’s best to keep in mind the wise words of one Jedi master: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Learn more by checking out AppZen’s Expense Audit, or reach out today.

Penny Desatnik

Head of Global PR