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A Modern Take On The Ancient Pain Of Expense Reporting

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Expensify announces today (Sept. 6) that it’s opening new offices in Australia. It may seem like global expansion for the expense management company, but according to CEO David Barrett, it’s simply a reflection of the already globalized operation of the company.

In fact, he says, expense reporting and accounting management has always had to be capable of supporting international corporate spend. And while globalization may be on the rise, the challenges of international expense management have always been present.

Barrett told PYMNTS about what those challenges are and how the biggest change in expense management today isn’t that it’s going global but that it has the technology to ease friction in a setting already filled with cross-border corporate transactions.

 

A Move Down Under

Today, Expensify announces it’s opening doors in Australia, just six months after the company made a similar move to open offices in the U.K. Barrett explained to PYMNTS that this is hardly Expensify’s first step into the country, however. Rather, the company has had a lot of customer interest in Australia, and the new offices are a way for Expensify to more adequately meet their needs.

For Australian businesses, a lot of those needs are the same as those in the U.S. and U.K. But Barrett said the three aren’t one and the same.

“Our existing customers [in Australia] have revealed how open the market is to a lot of the concepts that are struggling to gain traction in the U.S.,” he said, referencing cloud technology and electronic accounting.

Sure, these may be well-known topics in parts of the U.S., like Silicon Valley, but “there is a substantial part of the U.S. where there is still a lag in recognizing the value of online accounting.”

The modern banking systems in Australia, however, make businesses there more receptive to these tools, he said. And in contrast to the U.K., where businesses are exposed to the differing markets across Europe, Australia and its neighboring New Zealand are a bit more zeroed in on their own market.

“It’s very straightforward,” Barrett said of the Australian market. “It’s more accommodating. Whereas, for a U.K. customer, they have complexity as being a part of the EU. An Australian customer, on the other hand, is very homogenous.”

 

Globalization Is Nothing New

Opening offices in Australia may give off the impression that Expensify is building up an international operation. To the contrary, explained Barrett, globalization for Expensify — indeed, for any corporation — isn’t new.

“It’s always been the case,” he noted. “It’s possible that globalization is becoming more common, but I wouldn’t say there’s been a sharp increase in, say, the last two years or anything like that. It’s just that borders are blurring.”

International travel is easier, and technology has made global trade easier, too, he added.

But the business trip is as old as business itself, and that means expense management is an age-old problem.

“Expense management is a universal need. It’s your very first accounting problem, even before getting Xero or QuickBooks. You need a way to track your receipts,” the CEO said. “It’s sort of the world’s first accounting problem. It affects all business sizes, and it effects everyone within the business. It’s a very universal problem.”

So, what are those problems? Some of the multinational corporations that call themselves customers of Expensify have given insight to the company about what it means to transact globally.

“They’re operating in a huge range of jurisdictions,” the CEO said. “I would say we have a lot of experience dealing with multinational companies.”

And the biggest challenge, historically, has always been receipt management for business’ expense management needs, Barrett stated. That’s because of what he calls “regional quirks” — the varying policies and regulations regarding invoice and document management, taxes and other reporting standards across national borders.

 

More Intelligent, Less Visible

Globalization may be nothing new, but technology is and it’s enabled cloud-based corporate finance solutions, like Expensify, to tackle the challenges of international spend management and accounting with automated tools.

Barrett said that, for Expensify at least, the goal is to use technology to push expense management in the background.

“We’re pushing to make expense management disappear,” he stated. “No one wants to think about doing an expense report.”

Expense reports are critical, of course, but they aren’t a strategic, value-adding process within the enterprise, the executive explained.

In this effort, Barrett said the company has adopted a “you do you” mentality, using technology to heighten automated solutions so employees can make their purchases and Expensify can manage transactions, reimbursements and reporting with as little human intervention as possible.

And as the technology advances, Barrett said there is growing room for artificial intelligence in expense management as well. “We’re gathering a tremendous amount of data,” he said, explaining that all of this information can be used to more intelligently identify employee and corporate buying habits and preferences and to predict purchases that need to be made.

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