How Cirque du Soleil uses expense automation to ensure the show always goes on

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Real-time reporting with Concur Expense drives greater budgetary control and compliance

Reinventing the circus

Delivering extraordinary live entertainment experiences to 215 million spectators in 450 cities across 70 countries has earned Cirque du Soleil the moniker of the largest contemporary circus producer in the world. But it’s the staggering logistics behind the Montreal-based company’s touring and permanent productions that make it a truly global force. With a staff of nearly 4,000, including 1,150 artists from 76 countries who speak more than 35 different languages, quick, convenient and reliable travel and expense solutions are crucial to ensuring Cirque is able to maintain its mission of transcending languages, countries, and cultures on time and on budget.

“Expense reports are filed, approved and processed every day,” explains Chantal Périgny, head of accounts payable. “So it’s essential that all employees have access at anytime, anywhere in the world.”

With help from SAP Concur solutions, Cirque du Soleil has the visibility and peace of mind to ensure its productions function with the precision of a world-class trapeze act.

Big solutions for big tops

When a small troupe of Quebecois performers formed Cirque du Soleil in 1984, they surely could not have imagined the international behemoth the company has become today. Likewise, when Cirque began expanding its business operation in the 1990s and 2000s, it quickly discovered the traditional ways of doing business could not keep up the precipitous demands of its global ambitions.

“At the time, Cirque du Soleil was quite a small company, but we were experiencing rapid growth,” recalls Martin Côté, senior director of finance. “In other words, we were rapidly becoming a big company with high complexity and international transactions.”

Prior to automating their spend management with SAP Concur, Cirque’s expenses were administered manually using a mix of credit cards and petty cash paper reports, a situation that led to a laborious and cumbersome approval process – multiple verifications, physical receipts, the printing of various personal and professional cheques and up to 700 reports in audit each month.

As Cirque looked to produce more shows in more locations with more performers, the logistics became tenuous. With the implementation of Concur Expense, Cirque employees were able to submit their work expenses from anywhere using their mobile device, which helped employees be reimbursed faster. It also helped ensure purchases were confidential and within company policies. And, crucially, automated the expense management process, giving Mr. Côté, Ms. Périgny and their team a real time view into how and where the company spends its money, driving greater budgetary control, forecasting and policy compliance.

Over a decade later, Cirque du Soleil still relies on SAP Concur solutions to manage expenses around the world. “SAP Concur solutions provide us with comprehensive efficiency and visibility,” says Ms. Périgny. “With the number of employees we have today, it would be difficult to imagine using anything else.”

Calm in the face of crisis

For Cirque du Soleil, March of 2020 were some of the darkest days. As governments looked to curb the spread of coronavirus, Cirque was forced to close all of its productions and repatriate its cast and support staff. Less than a week later, the company temporarily laid off 95 per cent of its workforce. And late June, the vast majority of them were permanently laid off. “It was a huge crisis,” says Mr. Côté. Almost overnight the company went from over a billion dollars in revenue to zero, carrying on with a skeleton administrative staff of less than 200.

To ensure employees were properly reimbursed before being let go, Cirque relied on Concur Expense to process all expenses quickly and reliably. “Having Concur Expense [during the global pandemic] had a huge impact.” 

Just less than a year later, Cirque began reopening operations, rehiring many of their employees in a very short time period. As head of accounts payable, Ms. Périgny says using Concur Expense made the relaunch process “seamless.” “It’s so user-friendly,” she says. “It easily integrates with our HR system, so updates are reflected automatically. And we barely had to spend any time on training.

Presenting an integrated, data-rich future

As its productions continue to go beyond expectations, Cirque du Soleil’s finance teams are set to gain greater and control and insight with the implementation of SAP Enterprise Resource Planning later this year. “For us currently, there cannot be a bigger priority,” Mr. Côté explains, citing ability to streamline mission critical processes and controls.

For Ms. Périgny, the visibility provided by SAP Concur solutions mean she can continue to work as a keen-eyed financial ringleader. In particular, further integrating machine learning into Cirque’s Business Intelligence functionality. Such a data-rich future, she says, means the finance team can keep the company running at its most fiscally efficient, ensuring Cirque du Soleil can continue to push the outer limits of imagination and generate deepest emotions for millions of fans the world over.

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