Spendvision: A Clear Vision - Robert Kirby

A small change in the way company expenses are managed can yield big results in the productivity and efficiency of its accounting function. Robert Kirby of Spendvision tells CEO about how its accounting practices add up.

The economic downturn is asking many difficult questions of business leaders. Hopefully none of them will be from auditors asking if letting your employees make calls on their corporate mobile phones at 3am on a Saturday night is a ‘justified cost’.

Cost control and tight discipline around expenses are easy things to assign as corporate objectives, but harder to make work in practice.

With so many high-profile fraud cases, can a board ever be sure that expenditure is managed along controllable lines? Or that everyone in the organisation understands that the money they spend is not theirs, but belongs to the company’s customers and shareholders?

One solution is that only when full visibility of employee fiscal activity is a given can such confidence be won.

For Robert Kirby, founder and chief executive of online statement and transaction management provider Spendvision, the issue is not so much about enforcing some notion of authoritarian compliance but about maximising organisational efficiency and transparency.

‘More than ever, companies need cost-effective ways to monitor and manage business expenditure. This can be expenses and travel claims, day-today equipment purchases, or whatever it takes to do business and make deals, as organisations are still doing, even in the downturn,’ he says.

Organisations such as Anglian Water, National Australia Bank, Foster’s Group and Vodafone provide clear examples of how companies can meet the challenges around issues of control, as well as satisfying customer demand for billing solutions. In each instance, Spendvision provided the right tools for the job.

Expense management solutions are not exactly the latest innovation in software, and suitable systems are readily available if you have the resources and commitment to integrate them into your back office and accounting systems.

However, improving a standalone, inflexible expenses tracker that is resistant to becoming a global platform is where a solution such as Spendvision – which offers consulting and auditing best practice – can really start delivering for the CFO, CIO and CEO.

‘We can manage 90% of the discretionary spend your employees are making,’ Kirby says, ‘and it’s worth bearing in mind that, according to MasterCard and Visa, company credit card purchasing is still going up, and so still needs managing.’ Spendvision enables customers to access state-of-the-art, internet-based corporate expense management solutions as an on-demand service that can automate the way employees process their expense claims.

This gives the company’s leadership better control and visibility of their indirect expenses. Employees can reconcile their expenses, have them approved online and sent through to the company’s accounting systems, all with a few clicks.

However, a cost control system, no matter how useful, could be seen as less than dynamic in its contribution to the bottom line. Are benefits such as visibility around employee travel, purchasing and other expenses really that important? For the numerous global banks that have partnered with Spendvision, the answer is a most emphatic yes.

These Tier 1 financial organisations are starting to offer customised, own-branded, web-based expense solutions to their own corporate customers by taking advantage of the functionality of Spendvision's product family. Examples include the company’s many telecom partners, which are looking to Spendvision to build ‘one-stop shop’ solutions for their corporate customer’s finance departments.

‘In some cases this is literally the only way a multi-national company can finally start to see a unified, holistic account of what is often a multi-country, multi-region and multi-supplier mobile phone contract expenditure,’ says Kirby.

In addition to being a multi-national company, Spendvision also offers multi-device solutions. There is growing interest in making the link between the chip in your company credit card and the SIM card in your phone work for you as a consumer.

How do these processes help business leaders in such challenging times? ‘Our primary point of contact for our solutions is the CFO or FD, who never take long to recognise the value in this way of looking at total employee expenditure,’ says Kirby. ‘And the CIO can also see great payback in terms of ease of use, which means minimal training costs around deploying this system and the straightforward way we can link to his core accounting and enterprise software suites.

‘There is also a major addition for the CEO here. Once all this stuff is nailed down and the company is running tightly and efficiently on a day-to-day basis, the CEO can have a different conversation with the chair, directors and auditors. It’s all about control, visibility and security.’

Empowering employees, satisfying customers

Regarding security, and the recent warning signs that governmental tolerance for light regulatory environments is on the wane, organisations need to prepare themselves not just for a few rocky economic quarters but for a sea change around how compliance and accounting practices are going to be imposed.

Smart business leaders are looking to frameworks such as expense management to empower their employees to meet with company policies such as supplier compliance, travel, purchasing and tax policies, coding requirements and Sarbanes-Oxley needs.

A solution provided by Spendvision could prove vital in today’s pressurised economic and regulatory environment, ensuring adherence to approved organisational and business processes. It could also minimise the risk of non-approved spending, while giving staff the freedom, flexibility, confidence and control of such a vital area as expenses.

Just as retailers, gearing up for things such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, will want to know that their suppliers can meet these requirements, so the company president will want to know that every cent or penny being spent by their representatives is being done prudently and sensibly. Spendvision has locked on to a real business need, which has fuelled the firm’s rapid growth from a handful of employees in 2004 to over 60, working on a global basis and serving customers in Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.

The company has attracted strong business in three target markets: travel (online travel booking services integrated with expense management), telecoms (online phone statements, integrated to expense management) and banking (for commercial card holders who can better manage statements and change transaction limits).

‘What our customers ultimately come to us for help with is a way to make their relationship with their own customers and employees as positive as possible,’ says Kirby.

The message is clear: the CEO who wants to have the right tools to answer even the most potentially embarrassing questions from an auditor can only do this if they are confident that they have the best system in place to help them.’

Robert Kirby, founder and chief executive of Spendvision.