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CFOs are eager to modernize their core finance department tech stack, with more than half saying that their departments have adopted technologies that apply automation to AP/AR (56%) and reporting/analytics (53%). But the same research also shows that CFOs may be overlooking other ways to modernize processes that weigh down teams with manual work. In this conversation, TravelBank joins the CFO Leadership Council to discuss the state of digital transformation in the finance function.

Webinar Transcript:

Emily Boissonnault:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s CFO Leadership Council Program, Accelerating Finance Transformation: The CFO’s Path to Automation. We are honored that you’re connecting with us today and of course, a special thanks to our exclusive webcast sponsor, TravelBank, the expense and travel solution that syncs with any card.

It’s my pleasure to introduce today’s speaker, Lindsay Hudnor, the customer success manager at TravelBank. Lindsay, over to you.

Lindsay Hudnor:

Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for taking the time to join me today while I chat about accelerating finance transformation at the CFO’s path to automation here today.

I am a customer success manager at TravelBank. I’m a member of the customer success and implementation team over at TravelBank. And the primary focus of my role is to really ensure the fact that you are seeing time and cost savings with your travel and expense management software. But some background on me is I have been in the T&E space for about six years. I’ve worked with very small clients such as small nonprofits to large enterprise companies as well. And something that really gets me excited and thinking about is the ability to teach people new things about their business. When it comes to T&E, I would say that has a lot to do with being able to deliver time savings with that cost savings as well as developing policy.

But the other piece of that is empowering managers to understand and to be able to identify policy violations, but establishing solutions that users enjoy using as well. Twofold, win-win in terms of cost savings as well as providing a delightful user experience. But I really just want to dive into things today. Also, I’d like to keep this as interactive as possible, so please feel free to utilize chat and questions. I’m here for you and I hope that you find this to be helpful.

On a high level, this is what we are going to be discussing today, the finance processes that other CFOs are prioritizing. We gathered this from a variety of different sources. I’ll take a deeper dive into that on the next slide. But just getting on the same page of understanding where CFOs are spending their time in terms of adding automation to their finance teams, common challenges that come up when trying to tackle automation and ways to address them, and then tactical tips for piloting automation. Thinking about just easy takeaways to get started to measure your success. And then some examples of success stories of clients that I’ve worked with in adding automation. My hope is that they resonate with you. But again, we’ll have polls peppered throughout and then we’ll have a Q&A section.

Taking a deep dive in understanding where this information came from in order to form this presentation. TravelBank is really centered on the idea of automation, so automating travel and expense management processes as well as adding your credit card into that process. We were able to gather a lot of data through our app and user data in addition to that because client feedback is really important in terms of running a business. You’re ensuring the fact that you’re not only meeting their needs but having a positive user experience. It helped informed this presentation as well.

And then the last piece is in April of 2023, TravelBank had a partnership with Strategic CFO in order to create a survey and there were 133 CFOs surveyed in order to generate the results. My hope is that a lot of these will resonate with you and you’ll see that your experience is in line with them, but also it may spark some ideas of maybe where to get started or low-hanging fruit and just getting that automation process kicked off.

Let’s talk about those high-level key findings associated with the TravelBank data, the client interviews, as well as that CFO 360 survey. The high-level takeaways are the CFO’s involvement in technology is definitely on the rise. I have experienced this definitely in terms of the implementation process, but also in the evaluation of the success of T&E software as well as AP software. They are much more hands-on in making sure that gaining efficiency as well as being able to see that return on investment is present. They’re also facing some common challenges in implementing automation. We’re going to take a deeper dive into what those implementation challenges are and then provide some advice as to really how to combat those or just get started.

Two thirds of CFOs report positive return on investment for their automation so far. Understanding what success looks like, where that return on investment may lie, and also how to measure success is something that we’re going to dive into today. And then the last piece, and if this is the only thing that you really take away from this presentation, it should be this, that most companies haven’t fully completed their finance automation journey. It’s really important just to think of this as a great place to start and simplifying your processes and then from there expanding. These are the key findings and then from there we can just talk about what those priorities are in terms of automation.

To just jump right into this data, and this is from that CFO 360 survey, is that most companies really haven’t completed their finance automation journey. Only 28 and 27% have fully automated payroll and expense reporting. If you haven’t tackled some of these tasks such as payroll, your ERP automation, AP automation, you’re not alone. I think something that is interesting to sort of take a closer look at here would be what processes are CFOs fully automating. Top one being payroll, kind of low-hanging fruit, general ledger, accounts payable. Number four, I was happy to see expense reporting and reimbursement. Working at TravelBank, that’s really my bread and butter in focusing on those things. But also in looking at this comprehensive list including accounts receivable, the reconciliation process, financial planning and budgeting, it’s an easy and tactical place to start when thinking about where to begin in automating your processes.

With that in mind, again, as I had mentioned, I want to make this really interactive. We have a poll question for you here. And with that, that poll question is, “Has your finance function started automating any of the following processes? A, expense reporting and reimbursement; B, financial planning and budgeting; C, performance reporting and analytics; D, reconciliation; or E, none. There’s no wrong answer here, but I’d love to learn a little bit more about what the baseline is with the audience so I can cater my presentation to your needs today.

Emily Boissonnault:

We do have a question from the audience while people are answering and the question is, “Do you think finance teams need to fully automate processes? Example, payroll expense reporting, reconciliation in order to see a good ROI on automation?”

Lindsay Hudnor:

Honestly, and I may sound like a broken record, I think simplicity is best. No, you don’t have to automate everything all at once. I would say start with the simple processes, maybe where you’re spending a lot of time or that are daunting for your team. For example, if you’re thinking about expense management, approval routing would be a really great place to start. I’ve worked with clients that literally have mailed their expense reports with their receipts into their manager and then from there the manager sends things into the office. We see that a lot with the remote work environment. Thinking about being able to automate that process, A, would save time, costs, get greater visibility into spend, and then from there you’re seeing this data and you’re able to make more informed decisions in where to automate elsewhere. The answer for me is, no, you don’t have to do everything all at once. Start small with something that really is a challenge for your business and then expand from there.

Emily Boissonnault:

All right, you can go ahead and look at our results.

Lindsay Hudnor:

Okay, so in looking at the poll, it looks like the vast majority are really focusing on expense reporting and reimbursement. Some haven’t started at all. And you know what? I can highlight that as well and hopefully we’ll be able to provide resources for you on this call today. And then performance reporting and analytics. And I think that analytics actually ties into all of these processes. For example, if you have disparate systems, so if your data lies in different locations on paper, in spreadsheets in your ERP, it’s really hard to get a comprehensive view of all of your finances. Being able to automate those processes, have everything all connected, I think will provide a lot of benefits and then the reconciliation process. Okay, this is super helpful and I really appreciate all this feedback and I’ll keep it in mind in future responses here within the presentation.

Let’s just talk about some common challenges. The CFOs surveyed report facing a number of challenges. One is integrating and communicating with other organizational systems. The idea, for example, would be connecting your HRIS system to your ERP or connecting your ERP to your travel and expense management software. A really good analogy that I’ve heard in talking about the challenge associated with that, it’d be like having a three-prong plug, say that three times fast, and trying to plug it into a two-prong outlet. Understanding the mapping between the two systems and being able to connect them successfully.

Other challenges are pushing through legacy systems, like working with antiquated or outdated processes or softwares. Creating and updating reporting. It seems like you as an audience have challenges with that as well and being able to have all that information in the same place or sometimes even knowing what to measure.

Hiring skilled talent to support and conduct implementation. This is something that I wanted to take a minute to expand on a little bit because I can see this being a bit of a twofold challenge as well. Making sure that you have the right implementation team in place to spearhead a project such as an expense or travel or AP automation project. One thing is your finance team may be strapped for time, but also understanding that you want to create an implementation team that includes people that will actively be using the software and testing it and then providing feedback in order to create the solution that fully captures your process. Other things with the implementation process to keep in mind is understanding upfront the time commitment and what sort of deliverables are required on your side.

Something that I like to share with clients in implementation is that we’re partnered in your success. So being able to understand perhaps where your biggest goals are is a really easy place to start. At TravelBank and other organizations in working with an implementation specialist, they’ll be able to provide you with some great resources such as an implementation workbook that will guide you step-by-step in being able to translate your manual or previous processes to be able to fit into the system a little bit better. The other piece of that with implementation I will say is to document everything. Keep that implementation workbook. Something that I know that I’ve experienced in the workforce and I’m sure you have as well is that there’s been a lot more turnover post pandemic. Being able to have those documents readily available to train your staff is really important as well.

Maintaining an ongoing IT support is another piece. I see this a lot especially in terms of automation and being able to understand how to go from a manual process to a more automated process, especially when it comes to output files or API integrations, again, that HRIS integration. Being able to connect those systems, having an IT team on board is certainly very helpful, but also there are other resources available to assist you and kind of make that a little bit more smooth for you as well.

Training staff. One thing that I think that may be helpful to consider as well as you’re looking at software or resources to automate is taking a look at a company’s help center or their Q&A or resources available for training and then making sure that you’re training your users and your staff early and often and also customizing some of those communications specifically to your processes.

Other things, getting buy-in from staff. Tthis also comes hand in hand with the training piece. If you’re communicating and have a clear understanding of your processes and the move from going from a manual or a different process to an automated process, if you are very clear about the expectations, whether it be fully submitting all of your expense reports through your new T&E software or about your policy, there are going to be less surprises. And then also communicating the benefits and the fact that this is going to save you time or another benefit could be you’re going to receive your reimbursement a bit more quickly or if you’re combining travel expense and cards is the fact that all of your credit card transactions are going to flow right into the system. Thinking about the reasons that you’re buying and making things easier will also delight your users.

Other important top of mind things are managing cyber exposure and data security. You can never be too safe. Thinking about understanding the overall data security or security audit of a company that you’re partnering with. We’ll speak a little bit more to security as well as fraud later on in this presentation too.

And then with other, this slide expands on this too, so challenges that we’ve heard within that other response. The frustration of having the time or bandwidth to be able to do that implementation well, fixing upstream processes, finding the right system to implement. Something to comment on this is during the sales process, I think the most important thing with finding the right system is to have an understanding of your needs upfront. Being able to shop around and aligning your needs or your pain points with the solution in place.

The cost of implementation. I may be a little bit biased considering the fact I’m on the customer success and implementation team here at TravelBank, but in understanding the fact that you’re not just paying to get this software or automation set up, it’s a matter of utilizing a level of expertise within the network and being able to understand that within implementation you have your implementation workbook, you have training resources, you learn some business acumen surrounding automating those processes. Understanding the total cost of that, but also, A, time to value, but the return on investment that you’ll see within your business.

And then understanding that many of you and then also within that survey that there’s so many needs and limited resources that you just don’t even know where to start. That’s a big challenge that really seemed to be a common theme throughout those results, but also in hearing that from you. My hope is to be able to have some feedback here as a place to start, and then we’ll also give the email for the customer success team from TravelBank. If you do have further questions, you certainly can reach out. Again, feel free to pop those questions into the chat bar in the question section as well.

With that in mind, I don’t want to do all the talking, I want to hear from you. Have you faced any of these common challenges in your finance automation journey? You can select all that apply. Pushing through legacy systems, again, so if your systems are outdated, clunky, being able to obtain support for implementation or ongoing maintenance. In understanding once you’ve built this automation and you’ve started simply if you have some sort of organizational changes or want to take on some new automating tasks, are you able to be able to get the resources associated with that? C, successful adoption with staff. D, creating or updating reporting, or E, integrating with other organizational systems.

Emily Boissonnault:

Another question is, “What’s the difference between integrating/communicating with other organizational systems and pushing through legacy systems?”

Lindsay Hudnor:

The difference between the integrating with other systems versus the legacy systems is the ability to connect the systems that you’re automating in a comprehensive sort of way. The example, again, of connecting your HRIS system with something like TravelBank. Here’s the benefit of doing something like that is the fact that you’re able to actively send a file with your employee directory to automatically update or terminate users within the system. You’re not in the system making updates and changes all the time. It’s seamless and easy to manage and it’s, again, you’re seeing time savings but also you’re not seeing those errors. Whereas pushing through legacy systems, and I see this a lot, especially working with clients that are growing and changing is that they may have antiquated systems or softwares that no longer fit their needs. As companies grow, their needs change and the need to maybe upgrade or switch to a new ERP that better captures their needs would qualify as a legacy system.

Both are important in terms of automation. One is, I would say, the legacy systems would be something that would be perhaps step one or something you could do simultaneously while implementing a travel and expense solution, AP automation, payroll automation. Whereas the other pieces are understanding how your automated systems in place work and being able to create connections to drive efficiency. Just wanted to make sure to that participant that that makes sense or if it’s something I should expand further upon.

It looks like we’re kind of all over the board here in terms of the poll. The biggest one would be integrating with other organizational systems, which is definitely a sticking point and challenge that I see in implementation with clients, but also post-implementation as we’re continuing to add an enhanced focus on automation. Pushing through legacy systems is another top one. Creating and updating reporting, oh, these are all pretty split, support for implementation or ongoing maintenance, and then successful adoption with staff. It’s really pretty evenly split with the heavier emphasis on integrating with other organizational systems.

I think a key piece of this is understanding the systems in place and what key pieces of data need to flow from one to the other. In providing an example of travel and expense management, what information do you need to flow into your ERP? For example, user data, receipt images, credit card transaction information. And from there, once you have an understanding of that and can outline it, you can work with the implementation staff to be able to develop a file or a custom integration to think what information exists within your expense management tool to flow into your ERP in a way that it can easily digest or be formatted. Again, a true benefit of that is working cross-functionally with your IT team or just really thinking simply about, again, what information is in system A and how does it need to flow into system B.

Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. And speaking with clients, especially that are brand new to adding automation, I love to ask the question is, “What is your primary goal in purchasing the solution?” And sometimes their response is, “I just want to get started. I just want to move from being in a manual process to automating or I want to get a system that my users are in and they’re using and then I can make changes from there.” None of those answers are wrong.

With that in mind, I’d like to provide some tips for piloting automation. Along with this, I am going to be providing some examples as well from clients that I’ve worked with. High level, and we’re going to take a deeper dive into these is targeting the pain points. Where within your business are you having the biggest challenges? And then from there, what would be the answer in terms of automating them? Two, getting started and thinking simply with a basic model. From there, once you’re live with your basic model, layering on customizations that suit your business needs. Four, measuring improvements. In understanding your pain points and the goals associated with those pain points, how are we measuring success? How are we growing to meet those needs of your business? And then once you’ve reached those, celebrating the fact that you’ve reached those and then thinking strategically about what next you want to automate.

Five, finding new stakeholders. I will say that one of my favorite things about my job is the fact that I work very cross-functionally. I will work with CFOs, I’ll work with finance teams, I work with HR, I work with IT. And the fact that automation touches so many different areas of your business, it’s important to make it a team sport. Six, expanding that. Once you’ve achieved that goal and you’re live with that automation, thinking about where else within that solution or your processes, you can find time and cost savings in delivering automation. But really the thing to think back to in making it a lot more simple is your why. Why are CFOs choosing to automate?

This is based upon our survey results. The biggest one would be driving efficiencies. Time is money, right? The fact that if you have your teams spending so much time on a certain task, whether that be going through paper, comparing expenses to receipts, reconciling credit card statements. When I worked in higher education many years ago, I used to have to collect all my receipts, print off a spreadsheet, put all that information in intercampus mail, mail it in intercampus mail, and then wait about two to three weeks for my reimbursement. In thinking about that poor AP team waiting for that intercampus mail to trickle in, I can think about a lot of different ways that they would be able to drive efficiencies through that process.

Better data and visibility. If you have a bunch of receipts, a bunch of spreadsheets, paper filing cabinets, how are you able to get a better understanding of where your spending resides and taking a closer dive into that, there are benefits in, A, being able to identify opportunities to enforce policy, but also negotiate rates with frequently spent vendors or even identify risk for fraud. And then the other piece with all of these and it ties in is operating cost savings. Time being money, if you’re driving efficiencies, your team is not spending two weeks on the reconciliation process, maybe they’re down to 10 hours and they can tackle new projects that they’re passionate about. They have greater satisfaction in their work, but they’re also saving money because they’re more productive.

Risk mitigation, again, being able to highlight that fraud piece and having all your information and data in one place makes it a lot easier. But also utilizing reports to key into some of those risks. Not being able to have great talent is another one of those. There are a lot of whys and I think that really being able to focus on the why and understanding your challenges will help you establish clearcut goals.

Again, I want to hear from you. With that, what has been your biggest motivator for automating your finance processes? And understanding some of you haven’t yet, what is your biggest motivator maybe for attending this webinar and what you’re hoping to learn? The first would be operating cost savings; B, driving efficiencies; C, better data and visibility into that data; D, risk mitigation; E, other. I know that there isn’t an area within the pole to add into others, so feel free to add that into the chat because I’d love to recognize it and, again, happy to expand on this. This time is yours and you’re earning your credit for it. I definitely want to serve as a resource for you during this hour here.

Emily Boissonnault:

Another question is, “What kind of risk might finance teams be trying to mitigate with automation?”

Lindsay Hudnor:

Okay, this is actually a really good one, and when I had started in the T&E space, I really hadn’t given this a lot of consideration until I feel like I’ve seen a lot and some good examples of this would be just starting really simply. If you have a manual process and your AP team is keying in data into your ERP as opposed to having any sort of integrations or automation, you have a very large margin for error there. But also some other risks could have to do with fraud. The ability to get away with fraud is a lot easier essentially in the fact that if you’re completely on paper, there’s no system of record, you don’t have your data altogether, and there may be a little bit less of a scrupulous eye on the approval process, people can get away with stealing funds from your business and committing fraud.

Some examples that I’ve seen especially are executive systems do wonderful work, so this is not meant to be a put down, but I’ve seen in some cases executives’ assistants submitting expense reports on behalf of their supervisor and getting the reimbursement or other examples of reusing receipts because there’s no system of record documenting the use of that receipt. Being able to track those and highlight the use of duplicate expenses, duplicate receipts would be something that could be a benefit.

But the other piece of this in terms of risk, and it is really been a top of mind conversation with clients recently, is the ability to create a policy and enforce it. When you don’t have a consolidated or automated process, oftentimes there isn’t a lot of visibility into that process and policy. With that being said, if someone goes on a trip and they violated their GSA per diem or they’re spending too much on their flight or they have spent money on things they’re not allowed to on their trips such as alcohol and they submit that receipt, if they don’t have a lot of clarity into their policy, they may get feedback from their manager that they can’t get a reimbursement, A, which is frustrating, or B, the manager doesn’t want to play the bad cop and just passes that through the approval process and gets the reimbursement, which is a policy violation and your organization is spending money on things that are against the policy.

Whereas in automating that process, you have the ability to build in policy and clarity into that policy. The user has an understanding of what is out of policy as soon as they submit that expense. They don’t even have the ability to move forward with that expense submission or the manager will get an alert that, okay, my direct report has submitted an expense, it’s outside of policy, so I need to take a closer look at that. You can control spend before it occurs, being able to stop fraud dead in its tracks and also just avoid errors in place. And those are the biggest risk factors I think associated with not automating.

This seems very in line with our survey results too, but this is helpful in terms of key priorities are associated with driving efficiency, better data visibility, cutting down that level of risk that we expanded on just a few minutes ago, and then operating cost savings. And honestly, all of these things really tie together in the automation process and you’ll see it’s almost like a domino effect. Once you’ve tackled one of them, the others are easy to address as well.

With that, I’m going to take a closer look in terms of giving some advice on piloting automation. The very first step, thinking simple, what are your business challenges? You want to start with quick but meaningful wins. Thinking about the tasks where your team spends most of their time, and also in understanding feedback from your team where they’d like to spend time elsewhere. For example, if they are spending hours upon hours on the credit card reconciliation process, maybe that’s your low-hanging fruit and where you need to automate or it could be the expense report approvals. I’m going through these spreadsheets and these papers and spending all of this time. Okay, so this is where we can find some cost savings.

And also in understanding those pain points, being able to understand the impact in the time spent and also the money spent in addressing these pain points and then aligning that with a solution in place. Once you found your solution, start simple. Get started with a basic model. Keeping that initial implementation simple. As I had mentioned before in working in implementation, there are a lot of tools in the toolbox to get you set up for success such as an implementation workbook. It’s an easy incremental way to digest your current manual process and translate it in a way that is easy to use and execute.

The other piece of that is if you’re working with a vendor to automate that process, ask for examples. Do you have an example of policy recommendations? Do you have examples of ways that we can control costs associated with certain policy violations? What is an easy way to route approvals? Utilize those experts, you’re paying for that time and we want to make sure you’re seeing time to value. They’re there to help. And honestly, that’s really what motivates these teams of people is understanding client needs and aligning them with the solution and being able to have those quick and easy wins and really starting simple and making sure that we’re able to execute with that. Whether that be, can I have an example of a training for my users, training for my managers and an enforcing policy. The ability to measure my success with a dashboard or certain reporting within the system. Thinking really basically, but strategically tying it back to your current needs.

And then to reiterate, so pick something small, it’s easy to find. Don’t pick something that is very obscure. Just say, okay, well, this is where we’re spending most of our time, so this is where we’re going to get started and this is going to have the greatest impact on my team and in my organization. And understanding the fact that it may not be a home run at the very beginning, you may have to make some changes as you go, and that’s okay.

The idea of where to get started, so I’m biased a little bit in the fact that I work in travel and expense management, but a great place would really be in spend automation. Getting a deeper dive or understanding of your team’s needs, but also your organizational needs. And thinking back to the drastic change that we’ve seen in the workplace in recent years due to the pandemic with a forever remote environment for many of us, and I am curious as to if a lot of you are remote or in the office, because that does impact your processes, is thinking about getting started.

Again, identifying those pain points with tasks that are really tricky or where most of the work is focused on, processes that are deeply rooted in spreadsheets to expand on this, not just spreadsheets, paper or maybe things that are in paper spreadsheets, filing cabinets. You want to be able to have all of your information in one place in order to get that data piece that you’re seeking. Being able to gain insight into your business, whether that means being able to establish cost savings, identify policy violations, heck, even develop a policy, and then moving manual processes and mind-numbing tasks.

The thing that we did touch on when it came to implementation is assembling a team that is able to carry through that task, but also an understanding that there’s turnover, well, you need to document that. In thinking about your team, you don’t want to have turnover, you want to make sure that your team is feeling successful and well-equipped do their job. And one way of doing that is adding automation instead of chasing down receipts, going through all of those papers. The really kind of a tactical and smart place to start would be with spend management. That’s something that TravelBank really does focus on in terms of automating not only our financial processes, we also do business travel with dynamic budgeting, and then we have a full integration between expense and then corporate work card agnostic. It’s an easy way to get started. Even if it’s not with TravelBank, it’s really a smart and strategic low-hanging fruit area to start. And I could see that you also agree based upon those survey results.

Piloting automation, so this comes into play with the implementation. Once you’ve implemented, you’ve thought simply, you’ve been able to translate your manual processes to automated, I would really recommend getting a test group in place to get into the system and start using it. Meaning, if you have frequent travelers or people that would really benefit the use of using automation within your financial process, ensure the fact that they’re in your test group. It doesn’t need to be a large test group, but it’s important to have them explore the system, explore what you’ve built, and then be able to provide feedback that, A, this is easy to use, B, I like using this. For your managers saying, “Okay, this is easy to approve reports, I can manage policy effectively.” And then, C, for your finance team to be able to say, “Okay, I have a very good view into spend. Being able to fully process, this was easy and I have all the reporting at hand to be able to measure and chart my success.”

With that, it’s okay if you miss the mark, right? You have this test group and you’re saying, “You know what? This doesn’t work.” From there, you can take simple add customizations in order to meet your organizational needs from just having a system configured to be more customized to your processes and needs. You’re taking something that was highly manual to being automated and being able to essentially capture your business needs in a thoughtful and bespoke fashion.

The last piece, and this is something that I think is super important and I really want to emphasize, is the fact that you need to measure your improvements. With that, benchmark those. Understand that pain point, where are you currently? Okay, so credit card reconciliation, sometimes this takes me up to two weeks and I spend eight hours a day for two weeks. Okay, there’s your baseline. Now let’s start measuring the time spent. First credit card reconciliation cycle, okay, you’re down to 20 hours. What are ways we can improve processes? Great, okay, so maybe we can streamline this. 60 days, okay, so we spent two weeks, 20 hours, now we’re down to 15 hours. Being able to chart those successes and refine your processes is a great way to determine ROI, but also strategically determine your next step.

All right, so this is something that I’m really passionate about and as a customer success manager, my goal in working with clients is to ensure the fact that they’re seeing a return in investment on those solutions. And understanding that automation, as you know, can be challenging to implement, it can be challenging to get started, I want to make sure that I’m providing you with the right tools in the toolbox to see the success in your solution and aligning the fact that you may have had these pain points and we are able to use our solution in place in adding automation to alleviate those.

I want to tie it back to the survey results. According to this survey, 29% of CFOs believe they’ve achieved positive return on investment on their finance automation projects, but they don’t have an estimate of what that really is, which is really interesting to me in terms of being able to see success. You’ve automated your processes, but you’re not really sure how to articulate it, and that’s sort of where something like a customer success manager comes into play, but also you’re your own greatest advocate in purchasing automation tools. If you’re able to benchmark current state, present state, 30 days in, 60 days, 90 days, you’re able to justify your purchase in adding automation, but also be able to free time up for your staff. Thinking about being able to align data to chart your success.

In thinking about this, I want to hear from you, have you achieved a positive return on investment on your finance automation projects? A, yes, you’ve seen a positive and measurable return on investment in adding automation. B, yes, you’ve seen a positive return on investment, but you’re not really sure how to measure it and you don’t have an estimate. C, nope, you have not. And then D, NA because you haven’t conducted any automation projects in finance yet.

Emily Boissonnault:

We do have an audience question. The question is, “Is it typical to expect vendors to help you measure and track the ROI of an automation project?”

Lindsay Hudnor:

Yes, a very enthusiastic yes. I think that that is a reasonable expectation and I think you should be upfront about that in the sales process or working with teams there to support your account and saying, “I’ve purchased this software to automate my processes, how am I able to measure this success?” Again, some of it, because we’re partnered in your success is based upon your information and being able to share the time spent or the pain points associated with that. But the other pieces is really making sure, A, you’re getting heavy adoption. With that, relying on the implementation support or CS teams to equip you with support documents. All of your users are actively using the system, so that data’s in there. Then you may have the tools in the toolbox to utilize dashboards, reporting to chart your success there.

There’s nothing wrong with asking the question of, “I’ve purchased this software, how would I be able to measure the success of my goals? Can you help me do that?” In working with clients, some clients also I meet with very regularly and we do a quarterly business review, and the real purpose of that is taking a look at their system and aligning where they were and what their goals were and being able to use data within the system, which is why adoption is so important to track those goals, and then we can recalibrate. As I mentioned before, you may not get it right the first time and that’s okay, it’s a work in progress, but utilizing that data will help you be able to chart your return on investment and also maybe make some organizational changes with an informed perspective.

The results are in, and this is interesting. Yes, positive return on investment, but we don’t have an estimate. I have something that I think that may be a helpful place to start here in a future slide for you. Yes, positive and measurable return on investment, no at 11%, and then NA, haven’t conducted any automation projects in finance and that’s okay too. The no I’m kind of curious about and would love to learn a little bit more about that or perhaps an understanding that it may make sense to kind of go back to square one and focus again on those goals and using data to be able to better chart those.

High level, in talking about TravelBank briefly, we deliver better business benefits when it comes to spend optimization. Whether that be in managing your travel program, so we have an online booking tool with dynamic budgeting, it ties directly into your expense reporting, which is really helpful. We also have direct integrations into ERPs, credit card tools. I’ve talked a lot about credit card reconciliation because I speak a lot with clients about challenges associated with that. We save on average five to 10 hours per month on credit card reconciliation as well as a goal of that is the fact that we’re providing great support in customer satisfaction. This isn’t meant to really be a sales pitch. It’s more so thinking about the fact that in optimizing your spend management process, adding that automation, you are able to reduce costs, you’re able to maximize productivity, and then in turn, which is super important because we want people to be happy at work and be able to spend time in areas that are important, strategic and satisfying, it’s improving overall employee experience too.

The other steps in terms of piloting automation, find new stakeholders. As I mentioned, this should be a multithreaded sort of event in working with the different key people within your organization in order to make sure that you’re building out a process in automation that is not only easy to use, but it’s strategic, especially when we’re thinking about integrations into other systems. Teamwork makes the dream work when it comes to this. Ensure the fact that if you don’t have cross-functional leaders on your initial implementation team, have it built in your project plan once you’ve gotten those quick and easy wins to expand on that and it will help build bridges within your organization.

The last one is really important. I love when working with clients and they’ll say, “My number one goal is just adoption within the system.” Okay, so we have all your users in the system and now we have all of your data here. Okay, so let’s think about this. We’ve achieved this goal, so let’s expand our goals. Now we want to build in policy. Okay, so how are we going to chart policy? Where’s the return on investment there? The fact that this sort of snowballs and you’ll see your success grow in just starting simple when that task initially seems insurmountable, once you get the hang of this, you’ll find that in creating partnerships, being strategic, utilizing your data and ensuring that your employees are happy and have the right tools in the toolbox, you’re going to see success in piloting automation.

Then here are some takeaways and I’m hoping that these resonate with you and they’re examples of clients that I’ve worked with in the past in ways that we’ve used automation to help them win. Here is the scenario before automating processes. They were processing paper receipts, they had printed spreadsheets and they submitted them by mail. The feedback that I heard was the reconciliation process could take weeks at a time, and sometimes it was even longer than that because they were missing receipts, missing expenses, and then with that it was, well, easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact. They had no ability to proactively enforce policy or gain visibility into employee spend when that really took place after the fact with the finance team going through those spreadsheets and papers.

The short wins and the initial goal of this client was really just moving from paper to virtual processes. No more mailing papers, no more going through all those papers one by one and keying them into the ERP. They were able to have their expense data all in one platform for really fast reconciliation and then a quick and easy sync into their ERP. Then after that, they were able to digitize their travel policy and expense and they had it all within one platform. Without having visibility into spend, this client actually didn’t even have a real policy in place. But in having that data in the system, having user adoption, they were able to identify areas where they were either having policy violations or cost saving opportunities based upon overspending in certain areas and they could tighten those controls within the platform. As you can see, moving just from paper to virtual and then being able to think more strategically is a way that this client won.

This I also see often in the fact that sometimes finance teams don’t have a really great understanding of how to better support their workers who are not in the office, they’re out in the field or travel frequently. In this scenario, field workers really needed a simple way to upload, track and submit expenses for reimbursement as opposed to sending them in or emailing them, especially when they only had a phone with them out in the field. Quick and easy takeaways for this client was employees could track expenses easily in the field. They can take a picture of their receipt. They also had a credit card integration. Those credit card transactions flowed into their expense management software, paired directly with the receipt, submitted their expense report. They also had the ability to have a better understanding of the expense policy and it was easily enforced by their managers.

The other piece was they’re not sending things in and waiting to be reimbursed. They had really quick reimbursements because they incurred the expense. If it was out of pocket, they submitted it for approval to their manager and received a quick reimbursement. And then the other piece of that was they were manually keying information into NetSuite. Utilizing a NetSuite sync, the integration was instantaneous. Once that expense report was fully processed and reimbursed, that information was pushed over into NetSuite.

This is a challenge that I’m seeing more and more often, especially as clients expand globally. This client was in manufacturing and they had many different locations and with that, because they grew by acquisition, the company had different policies in place, the approval processes were different, and then they also had different accounting systems. This client specifically had NetSuite, Sage and QuickBooks. They had different GL structures. In thinking very simply, their goal was we just want to get everyone into this system and have one system of record for expense reporting. So we developed expense policies pertaining to the location, got them into the expense management software. Once that data was in, they could actually undertake a pretty significant ERP project and being able to move to one central ERP, have universal GL coding, so their expense categories were all uniform, and that made the expense process in turn easier. And then last, they had a unified travel expense and reconciliation process that was the same across all the company, and that made being able to manage their finances a lot more simple and streamlined.

All right, another one would be working with those in the medical field. There was an issue with continuing medical education credits where medical professionals would have a certain credit, but sometimes they would spend outside of that credit or the budget or they would spend before they were eligible. There wasn’t a lot of control surrounding these medical education credits. Providers would also book travel and submit expenses outside of policy without even realizing it. They’d say, “Well, I have these continuing medical education credits and you’re denying my reimbursement.” With this, we were able to automate that process and we created special category limits surrounding the medical education credits so they knew upfront if they were overspending and what they had readily available to them. The other success for them was being able to reconcile their credit card expenses more efficiently using the platform.

Top takeaways, because we are at the top of the hour, the CFO’s involvement in technology in implementation is on the rise. And as you can see based upon all the information that we shared today, it’s important to have a hands-on position in this because you can drive the strategic direction of your team, but also this is a cross-functional exercise in working with different leaders within your organization. Many finance teams are in the midst of their automation journey in terms of finance. This is something that it’s okay to start small, it’s okay to be in process. I think as long as you have understanding of your challenges, your baseline, how you’re going to measure success, you’re able to develop a project plan with an implementation team in order to reach it, celebrate, and then establish new goals.

And then also thinking back to that, what is your goal and being able to understand your why and really where the greatest pain points are or time spent in your organization would be. And then last, tackle common challenges by starting small and then expanding and then measuring the return on investment. The measuring piece is super important in order to understand where you’ve been. Also, it’s a great feather in your cap to say, “As a leader of my organization, I’ve delivered the following time and cost savings in utilizing automation within my processes.”

I did share that, especially for those that are struggling with being able to chart return on investment and getting better visibility into your data, we’ll be providing some follow-up information through email and TravelBank’s marketing team made a beautiful lookbook of a variety of different dashboards and reports that can be used in order to gain greater visibility into your overall spend management process. Even for those that are not TravelBank clients, I think it’s a really great place to start in thinking about areas that you need to measure in order to chart success in automation.

And then last, I want to thank you so much for your time, your thoughtful questions, and your participation. I hope you found this to be helpful. It looks like we have maybe a couple of minutes for a last minute question if anyone wants to pipe up here, but I really appreciate your time.

Emily Boissonnault:

We do have one audience question. The question is, “How long does it take to automate a finance process typically?”

Lindsay Hudnor:

That is an excellent question. I think that really depends on the process at hand and identifying the scope of the project. Again, if you are exploring adding automation, it would make sense perhaps during the sales process or in implementation, be upfront about the timelines that you have associated with it. But also just to drive home this point is starting simple and then expanding from there. It really can vary based upon that task. But being able to target the amount of time perhaps that you’re wasting or spending on your most arduous or tedious, repetitive kind of tasks, you’re going to see a return in investment in just taking the time of getting started.

Emily Boissonnault:

All right, and that does bring us to the top of the hour. Thank you everyone for connecting with us today, and a very special nod to Lindsay and of course, the entire TravelBank team. Don’t let the conversation end here. If something piqued your curiosity today, don’t hesitate to reach out. Also, look for a post event email from us with a link to the recording, this slide deck, and more information on TravelBank. This does conclude today’s program. Until next time, stay well and stay connected.

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