The monthly receipt-chase no more: AI and ML for finance teams

30 June 2023 | 15 Shares

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Twenty years ago, the advent of the internet led many to worry about their job security. Yet the rapid digitisation that ensued created millions of careers that didn’t exist before. By 2018, digital jobs accounted for 7.7% of the UK economy.

History does tend to repeat itself, and right now, there are scores of headlines popping up every day about the latest ‘threat’ borne of Silicon Valley; artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Thanks, in part, to a new wave of freely available AI-powered chatbots, businesses and consumers alike are becoming aware of the technology’s extensive capabilities.

While this has opened up fierce discussion about regulation even among the brightest minds in tech, there is also optimism about how AI could revolutionise the enterprise. Rather than fearing it may replace everyone’s jobs – there are many examples of why this won’t happen in both technical and creative roles – it is easy to see how it could make work more enjoyable by automating dull, repetitive tasks.

This is particularly true in growing businesses, where higher-level employees may be bogged down by mundane tasks instead of focusing on strategy and other complex responsibilities.

For instance, no one wants to dig around their desk or car footwells for crumpled-up receipts when submitting expenses. Similarly, most CFOs don’t want to be stomping about workstations, chasing staff for paperwork. Dedicated expense management apps enable employees to take a photo of their receipt as soon as they get it, automatically drawing out the relevant data to start a pain-free submission process.

An example of this can be found with Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, which recently automated its expense management processes with Concur Expense, a solution from SAP Concur. The council wanted to ‘eliminate manual processes and create digital workflows [to] provide the highest possible levels of service to residents’. After installing Concur Expense, mobile teams (like social workers) could input expenses on the go through an app. The time saved in expense entry and the reduced number of human errors thanks to AI-powered automation decreased the average reimbursement time from six weeks to three days.

Implementing a T&E management software powered by AI has also helped Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council focus on its sustainability. The data allows it to better monitor its ‘grey fleet’ – the personal vehicles being used for business purposes – and therefore its carbon footprint too. The council can now make more informed decisions about its travel policy, and appropriately encourage employees to make use of public transport.

David Robinson, Service Director at the council, said: “We want to adopt modern ways of working to give people the right work-life balance and attract the best talent. Concur Expense is a great example of how we can increase support for digital initiatives among employees by making sure they’re not out of pocket while we process claims.”

Integrating AI into workplace software is nothing new, of course. But travel and expense management has been under-explored, despite being a data-rich area and, therefore, perfect for machine learning. There is also demand; research from Forrester Consulting has shown that 59% of decision-makers say that employee frustration with their expense process had a large or very large negative impact on the entire company.

Advanced algorithms can analyse and categorise expense data by recognising patterns and using natural language processing techniques. They auto-approve low-risk claims, eliminating the need for manual entry and reducing errors. As these algorithms process more expenses, they get better at knowing what is safe to approve without human intervention.

Automation reduces the chances of anything slipping through the cracks. Research has shown that 62% of finance leaders find that digital tools help them manage expenses more effectively across their organisations. Studies have also shown that over half of companies implementing an integrated travel and expense solution increase their scalability and flexibility.

Moreover, AI can defend the company against fraud by comparing the expense data against predefined rules and benchmarks and flagging any potential violations. It also helps organisations follow all compliance and regulatory requirements, something that’s often only an afterthought. From a business intelligence perspective, too, technology can highlight cost-saving opportunities, generating reports for decision-makers from collated travel and expense data.

The minds at SAP Concur know that implementing AI and ML into finance processes can be intimidating. However, its software is well tried and tested, having been adopted by over 48,000 businesses since the early 1990s.

Expense management has been undergoing optimisation with AI and ML since long before other areas of corporate finance. Indeed, automating small, repetitive tasks – like using Concur Expense to submit and approve receipts – is a good starting point.

In the future, we can expect AI to completely transform expense management, resulting in increased company efficiency, savings from better financial management and minimised environmental impact. Its widespread implementation is expected to result in a 7% increase in GDP over the next ten years.

If you want to learn more about automating your expenses with SAP Concur, visit this website.