Three years ago, we started Spendesk to answer a simple question: How could we make workplace expense management a little less awful?
Now, we’re helping thousands of businesses around Europe manage their company spending in the most pain-free way possible. With our help, these clients have more time for the fun stuff, and can focus on providing great customer experiences.
Because we’re a growing company ourselves, we also need to walk the talk when it comes to clear, simple, and effective expense management.
That’s why every single Spendesk employee gets a company card to manage their expenses. Combined with our simple spending policy, these cards give all Spendeskers full autonomy to take care of business expenses whenever they arise.
I’m convinced that this is essential for businesses, and I’ll explain why.
Employees need to spend
To do their job well, every employee needs access to the right resources.
No matter whether someone is in finance, sales, marketing, product, customer success or another team altogether, they need the right inputs to add value and create outputs.
Sometimes, these inputs don’t cost money - they might be ideas, knowledge, or know-how. But often these inputs do involve spending. And when they do, people should have the tools they need to manage them.
Rather than resisting the idea of employee expenditure, companies should empower employees to make the decisions they need to make. This is a question of trust and organisation - if you trust your people, you should let them make these decisions.
This requires a shift in mindset, but it’s key to taking advantage of opportunities for growth.
Good expense management is a question of balance
But on the other hand, responsible businesses can’t just throw open the company vaults. Good expense management is a balance between trust and control.
As a manager, CEO, or CFO, you need to trust your people to do the right thing when managing their workplace expenses. At the same time, you also need to exercise the appropriate level of control.
By setting guidelines and systems, you can make it easier for employees to comply with best practice guidelines. For example, establishing spending limits for common expenses like travel and accommodation will help you provide certainty for your people.
This way, your team feels empowered to make expense decisions. Even better, you won’t have to feel like the workplace parent looking over everyone’s shoulders!
But enough preamble. Here’s what this looks like in practice.
The Spendesk expense guidelines
First things first: we don’t actually think of our expense policy as a policy. Instead, it’s a set of guidelines. These guidelines are brief and simple, and aren’t intended to be exhaustive.
We’ve built our expense guidelines on five principles which come directly from our core company values. They reflect our trust that team members will make the right decisions, and the idea that employees should be empowered to make calls for themselves.
Let’s take a look at these five principles one by one.
1. Our people are owners
At Spendesk, we recognise that everyone is an owner of the business.
That’s why we give everyone autonomy to make the right choices, while also making sure they’re accountable for these choices. And it’s the main reason why every team member gets a card. Because owners need to make company purchases.
To help guide employee spending, we provide examples of good spending behaviours, and we use a feedback loop to correct behaviours if needed. If any expense decisions are unacceptable, management will step in and let people know.
2. Manage expenses with company interests in mind
This is a simple concept: when managing expenses, people should make decisions with company interests in mind.
Individual employees need to be able to explain why an expense is in the company’s best interests. This is about ownership - if our employees own the scope of their work and are committed to the success of the company, they’ll naturally make smart decisions.
We think this concept should be at the heart of every set of expense guidelines, no matter which country or industry you happen to be in.
3. Be smart - and be reasonable
As a startup, we still have an entrepreneurial mindset about company spending, and we expect our people to make sure every euro counts.
This doesn’t mean skimping on the important stuff, but we do expect people to be efficient in their spending.
For example, we don’t expect our people to take a three-hour bus trip instead of a thirty-minute taxi ride just to save €50. But where reasonable, we want people to consider sharing cabs and looking for more cost-effective alternatives.
This is a question of personal judgement. We can’t offer guidance on the precise decisions employees should make in every single scenario, but we do expect people to be sensible.
4. Trust is our default setting
As a company, we trust our people, and we empower them to make their own decisions about business expenses. However, we still exercise control and oversight.
Transparency is important to us. That’s why we log expenses in our platform so they’re visible to everyone. Our whole team has access to see how much has been spent, and on what.
We also conduct random audits from time to time to make sure everything lines up. We trust our people, but it’s important for them to live up to this trust. And because this is the expectation from the beginning, we don’t encounter many issues along the way.
That’s what good expense management is all about: trust balanced against oversight and transparency.
5. We walk the talk on expenses
Our mission is to help businesses spend smarter. This means we not only have to offer the guidance and tools people need to control their expenses, but we also need to set the best possible example.
That’s why we ask our people to get the basics right, including capturing receipts, filling out the required expense fields, and using our tools as intended.
After all, we couldn’t offer advice to others without getting it right ourselves first! And of course we learn a lot about user behaviour from our own team, too.
Every company is different
When it comes to expenses, there are some core ideas that translate across every company. Things like balance, autonomy, responsibility, and control will always be relevant.
However, each and every company is different, and businesses need to set their own guidelines and systems according to their specific needs.
For example, without the systems in place at Spendesk, our hands-off and trusting approach might be a bridge too far for some companies. If a business doesn’t have these controls, it might be more appropriate to keep expenses centralised in management or finance.
We can give people autonomy because every payment is tracked and we can set limits any time. If we didn’t have this capability, we wouldn’t be able to run the company the way we want to.
Deciding how much trust to extend to your employees can be a complex and demanding question to answer. If you have a dedicated and mature group of people, then our hands-off model should work for you.
Unfortunately, not every business can say this!
Workplace expenses badly need an upgrade
We started Spendesk to solve a pesky and persistent problem: managing workplace expenses wastes time for people with much better things to do.
Our spend management solutions are a great response to this problem. With prepaid expense cards and integrated dashboards, businesses have a real advantage when it comes to sorting their expenses, and can spend time on more of the fun stuff.
One other really useful exercise? Take the time to develop a tailored set of expense guidelines, and make sure every one of your employees knows these guidelines inside and out.
In this post, I’ve laid out exactly how we handle expenses at Spendesk, including explaining our high-trust approach where every employee gets access to a company card.
If this has inspired you to get started developing your own set of expense guidelines, be sure to check out our blog post dedicated to the process.
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