Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dante's Quadruple circle of hell - The Expense System

I have a fervent dislike of expense systems. It's not that I have particular dislike of an expense process but it's the systems themselves that always get me.

First, a good example (as in one I like) of an expense process.

The company gives me a company credit card which the company owns. There's a limit on the card. I spend as is required on a principle of trust. The company accountants receive the bill. If anything looks odd they come and ask me.

This is my favourite expense process, it's blissfully happy. It works on trust as in the company trusts me and gives me this right. It's hassle free and occasionally the accounts team might ask what this or that item was for. It works on an exceptions basis.

The few times I have experienced this process, I've been delighted.

Second, a bad example (as in one I hate) of an expense process.

The company gives me a company credit which I own (i.e. it's my money). I spend as is required, in other words I dip into my own pocket and spend on company stuff.  Ok, it's called a company credit card but it's actually my money.

Then after spending my money, I have to fill in forms to claim my money back. There are rules, usually lots of them and often discussions about whether this item is valid or not and of course I have to have receipts.

I usually have to fill in a horrendously detailed system, upload scanned images of receipts, comply with the rules, deal with any discussion - which all takes up my time. Along with this, there is often any number of other authorisation systems which have to be complied with in order to get back my money which I've in effect lent the company. Of course any late charges are my responsibility and there's no question of interest being paid.

The many times I have experienced this process, I've hated it.

In fact, I normally start to respond at a subconscious level by avoiding any expense. I start to realise that things I would normally do, I avoid. It's the equivalent of being invited to a pub by a friend, them asking you to pay for the drinks but they'll pay back later and when it comes to later they ask for itemised receipts and start questioning. The chances of me being available next time I'm invited drops quickly to zero.

I do find however some people love it because of some other benefit like they gain air miles on the card or some other point scheme. As someone who has taken a thousand flights in their life - the last thing I ever want is air miles.

So why am I mentioning this?

Well expenses for me can often be a time of increasing expletives, frustration and the thumping of a keyboard. But, it turns out my uncle enjoys the experience and even has an expense afternoon. A part of his week he sets aside for doing expenses routinely.

However, he does feel a bit guilty about this because he feels it's not proper work.  Well I agreed with him. In my experience filling out expense systems is not proper work, it's in fact hell and as such should count for quadruple time.

But I'm curious, do other people feel guilty about using work time to fill out expense systems? Why?


Anonymous said...

"But I'm curious, do other people feel guilty about using work time to fill out expense systems?"

Not at all - all work-related/initiated activity ought to be carried out during "work's time" as it is a consequence of doing what was requested of you to carry out your work.
You'd be a fool not to. What are the Opportunity Costs of doing such activities in your own time for your family or hobbies?

Moreover, should the employer make the consequential task (of claiming valid expenses) more arduous and time-consuming, then it is at their cost.

Does this make you feel better Simon?

Unknown said...

As Steve says, expenses are for work time. I know people find it unpleasant but leaving receipts to pile up for months on end doesn't make it any better.

As an aside, I can't recommend Expensify enough as a tool.
Using the smartphone app, you can't take a photo of your receipt, which then has OCR applied, add some metadata and your done. Just need to hit submit on the webapp at the end of the month. Really takes all the pain away.

Graham Chastney said...

I'm like you, I spend all of my time avoiding doing the expenses because it's too much like hard work.

Ewantoo said...

One of the single best things about being self-employed is that my expenses are my own responsibility, with some simple checks of them by my accountant.

If I need to spend $100 on an AWS cluster of servers for a week, I do it on my company card. If I have to travel to London to meet a client, I book the train ticket on the company card and know it's sorted.

Sometimes I think we should all have our own companies, just so we can all live in this blissful state of affairs :)

Yorkie71 said...

Filling out expense claims should be done in work time as they were incurred on work activities. There are definitely more productive activities though.

I wonder how the trust system you mention compares to the "non trust" system in terms of what it would cost the company in terms of dodgy claims versus the unproductive hours spent filling out the claims forms. It would be interesting to see some examples.