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AI-powered finance: Transforming travel and expense management

Last updated on March 25th, 2024 at 01:37 pm

Brian Veloso, Managing Director at SAP Concur

The increased availability of artificial intelligence (AI) tools for the general population has catapulted the technology into the mainstream, sparking widespread speculation and enthusiasm regarding its potential impact.  

In the business world, the tightening of budgets and unprecedented challenges mean that leaders have had to streamline processes and optimize inefficiencies. In this environment, finance leaders are welcoming the potential of AI in solving problems. In fact, nearly one in five of Canadian professionals (22 per cent) surveyed by KPMG are currently using generative AI in the workplace. 

As in-person meetings and business travel resume, the question of streamlining travel and expenses becomes increasingly pertinent for finance teams. Here, AI emerges as a promising solution, offering innovative ways to manage these costs more effectively and accurately. By automating expense tracking, analyzing spending patterns, and optimizing budget allocation, AI can significantly reduce the administrative burden and enhance decision-making in this critical aspect of business operations.  

Using AI helps meet compliance requirements   

Submitting travel and other expenses can often be a time-consuming and complex process. Yet, it is a necessary byproduct of the strict compliance needs of finance teams that ensures the accuracy of expense reports that control end costs.  

Business travel and its related expenses generate a tremendous amount of data. Traditionally, more data means more time and effort by finance leaders to identify trends and ensure accuracy. For example, some data points can get lost when a single pair of eyes pores over them, and this can have damaging repercussions for the business. Another example, an honest human error can be perceived as fraud come audit season, which has costly implications. SAP Concur’s fraud research found that almost half (44 per cent) of global finance teams know of someone who has been a victim of accounts payable fraud in the last three years. 

The research highlights that many public sector organizations are struggling to tackle fraud due to a combination of technology and processes. Only two thirds of decision makers (66 per cent) surveyed have seen their organization act against an employee that has submitted a fraudulent claim, whilst less than one in two public sector organizations (45 per cent) provide fraud awareness and prevention training for employees.  

Better technology has a key role to play in helping tackle those issues. By having the right tools in place to streamline data gathering and analysis, finance teams spend more time ensuring the data is compliant with corporate and regulatory policies, identify anomalies and potential fraud, and tackle them early to avoid penalties during audit season. 

Leveraging AI to navigate the new world of work 

Technology has made remote work a reality for millions of people by enabling virtual collaboration and communication, making it possible for employees to access information and perform tasks regardless of where they are. Interestingly, 85 per cent of Canadian workers and managers are interested in hybrid or fully remote positions. Additionally, a quarter of them are willing to take a pay cut for the ability to work remotely all the time. 

While employees are demanding the ability to work from anywhere (WAF), HR and finance teams are concerned current processes often do not cover remote workers, particularly those who prefer to travel and work from different locations. In fact, finance executives started to contemplate the need to modify financial processes, including tax and compliance adjustments, to facilitate work from anywhere.  

This is where AI becomes crucial in ensuring accurate expense filing and compliance adherence among employees in a WFA setup. In addition to this, AI assists finance professionals by eliminating mundane and arduous tasks, freeing them up to focus more on value-added work that advances their area of expertise. 

Looking ahead   

The integration of AI into travel and expense management will be a game changer for businesses looking to enhance their data processing, policy compliance and streamlined workflows. 

However, it’s important that businesses adopt AI responsibly and stay mindful of potential concerns around its use, such as ethics, security, copyright, and bias. Finance leaders can’t sacrifice values for the sake of progress, so staying committed to data privacy and only implementing reliable and secure solutions is paramount. 

Innovation has already had such a core role in many processes involved in the finance sector, and it’s exciting to see the AI-driven breakthroughs that today we can only begin to imagine. The possibilities this technology present are truly endless, and AI is essential to achieving the world where travel and expenses practically manage themselves, giving finance leaders space to focus on more value-driving and transformational elements of their

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