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Business-travel recovery demands data-led budgeting

CFOs and finance teams need to embrace digital transformation to plan and manage business expenses more effectively in the coming downturn

As organisations adapt to the post-pandemic era, business travel is booming again. In the first six months of 2022, companies recorded 82 million miles of business travel expenses, almost double the amount recorded in the first half of 2019, according to data published by Webexpenses.

“There’s been a huge bounce back in travel, so while the shape of working has changed, people’s need to go and interact with people face to face hasn’t,” says the company’s CEO, Adam Reynolds. “Video calls have been a huge benefit to certain industries, but they are not a replacement for business travel.”

Often companies may still use video conferencing tools for short meetings or introductory calls but will revert to in-person meetings to close sales or for detail-rich conversations where a more personal communication style is better suited.

“Video calls are fine for 20 or 30 minutes, but, after that, your concentration starts to drift a little bit, so when you’re doing something that might last a couple of hours, face-to-face is easier,” says Reynolds.

Hybrid working has also brought a new layer of complexity to video conferencing. When some decision-makers are in a room together, and others are dialling in, conversations can quickly be thrown out of kilter.

While companies are eager to get back on the road to see clients, the tougher economic backdrop means organisations need to be more efficient with their business travel usage. That also requires CFOs and finance teams to budget and plan more effectively than they might have been able to in previous downturns without access to dynamic data.

Now we’re seeing dynamic finance teams provide an ongoing summary of their company’s position and what that looks like in the future

“Historically, finance teams would have provided figures at the end of the month as a summary of what the business has done,” Reynolds explains. “Now we’re seeing dynamic finance teams provide an ongoing summary of their company’s position and what that looks like in the future. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that things can change at the drop of a hat, so you’ve got to have that dynamism in terms of understanding what’s happening right now and how to react to that.”

The pandemic also highlighted the need for CFOs and finance teams to embrace digitisation and dispense with legacy paper-led processes. “A lot of organisations were coming to us and saying they can’t process their invoices because they’re coming in manually, and we’ve got no one in the office,” says Reynolds. “That’s a very simple one we can practically solve because that process can be digitised.”

Tech can also help organisations be more efficient by automating administrative tasks such as filing expenses that delay people from doing their jobs, a particularly pertinent concern during a downturn. A quarter of workers said they struggle to do their jobs effectively due to outdated processes and a lack of appropriate technology, according to Webexpenses’ Covid-19 Technology Report.

“Anytime an organisation is asking someone to do something that’s not helping them do their job is detracting from their potential to grow or survive,” says Reynolds. “If you’re sat at the end of the week for a couple of hours doing your expenses, that’s not what the organisation really employs you to do.”

Using expense management and invoice processing software like Webexpenses allows businesses to automate tasks and operate more efficiently while also using AI technology to proactively spot spending trends and patterns more effectively than someone manually combing through an Excel spreadsheet.

“We are a tool to help support the finance team, not drive the finance team,” says Reynolds. CFOs who are not embracing digital transformation are ultimately putting their organisations on the back foot at a time when they need to be agile and hyper-alert to shifts in the operating environment.

“Anyone that’s not proactively providing information is not servicing the business as it needs,” Reynolds continues. “What technology can allow you to do is free your employees and harness them to do their jobs.”

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