By Andrew Foster, VP Consulting EMEA, AppZen
One of the positive things to come out of 2020 has been the rapid digitalisation of traditional and digital businesses alike. The health crisis has only amplified the world’s need for digital transformation, exposing, in many cases, the large gaps in organisations that have previously been hesitant to adopt new technologies. Digitalisation of processes and systems is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity for organisations to stay afloat and agile.
Corporate finance teams are increasingly under pressure to deliver better and faster results using fewer resources. We are now seeing the evolution of “modern finance teams,” where cutting-edge technology is extending to back-office operations like finance.
Two areas known for lengthy and tedious manual processes are spend management and invoice processing, both areas where small but powerful changes – like implementing AI – have been proven to provide real-time results. Adopting AI can empower finance leaders to take a proactive approach, freeing up their time for more strategic tasks that can’t be automated. Below are a few examples where AI-powered processes allow companies to eliminate fraud, increase efficiency and reduce spend.
Don’t rely on your sample size
Most companies are only able to audit between two and ten per cent of invoice and expense reports every month. It’s usually infeasible to audit every report manually, given the hours upon hours it would take, but this crucially leaves 90 to 98 per cent of submissions unassessed. AI allows finance teams to audit 100 per cent, automatically checking all incoming invoice and expense submissions prior to payment. It also detects any high-risk items, flagging reports that may contain violations. This frees up precious time, reduces error and risk, and makes processing reports much faster.
Find the blunders – and the fraudsters
AI can identify duplicate invoices or expenses and identical line items even across two or more systems, such as peer-to-peer and T&E. Not only can AI spot innocent errors, it can flag discrepancies and dubious spend that would often go undetected by the human eye. For example, an employee submits an expense claim for an ergonomic desk chair for working from home, which is completely in line with corporate expense policy. However, AI can draw from thousands of online data sources and instantly identify that the model number for the fancy, ergonomic chair listed on the invoice is actually a new gaming chair – complete with multi-colour LED lighting and bluetooth speakers. Because all expenses and invoices are assessed, singular instances of fraud like this are highlighted, as well as repeat behavioural patterns.
Automate policy enforcement and approvals
AI can analyse invoices and enforce payment terms, identify missing discounts and eliminate overcharges, as well as catch suspicious activity and flag compliance issues. What’s more, implementing AI into the expense management process eliminates the need for managers to approve expenses manually before sending them onto the finance team. By automating the approval of low risk expense reports, AI speeds up procedures, meaning that employees are reimbursed faster, whilst ensuring each expense approved is aligned with corporate policy.
Stick to the rules
When it comes to corporate expenses, companies are subject to many different kinds of rules and regulations. For instance, under the UK Bribery Act, whether an employee commits bribery knowingly or unknowingly, the business is automatically at fault and could incur huge fines, as well as irreparable damage to its reputation. Therefore, it is crucial to be able to detect instances that flout internal corporate policy. However, as discussed above, with manual expense management, the vast majority of claims are not audited.
AI can evaluate the reasonableness of ‘wining and dining’ expenditures, and even identify the names of high-risk foreign public officials on expense claims, flagging them for further investigation. AI can also be tailored to spot problematic payments in specific industries – like healthcare – that are subject to payment transparency regulations, like the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations Code. Recent scrutiny of whether government ministers improperly awarded billions of pounds in NHS-funded pandemic-related contracts to their cronies is a stark reminder of the importance of compliance controls.
Paint a clear picture
AI-powered processes provide clear insight into employee and company spend habits across an organisation. Finance chiefs are delivered a data-powered bird’s eye view of behaviours, enabling them to identify any problematic patterns. This can be used to address persistent issues or gaps in a business and help form corporate policies. Currently, many businesses have outdated procedures and policies, many of which have not been updated as things have changed over the last year. For instance, organisations may have disallowed all room service and minibar charges in the past, but with employees sometimes stuck abroad in quarantine, they may need to update their policies to reflect current circumstances. Using spend intelligence, finance teams can quickly and effectively implement new policies, and distribute the budget to reflect the workforce’s evolving requirements.
AI ingests data and reviews it intelligently at a volume and rate impossible to match manually. It is also constantly learning from usage. This streamlines accounting processes, enabling finance leaders to focus on high-risk matters, which in turn, reduces fraud and spend and strengthens regulatory compliance. During these challenging times, introducing transformative technologies like AI will equip modern finance teams with the tools they need to grapple with an evolving and distributed workforce.