Having grown up and worked in a fair number of different countries, I’m always fascinated by the variety of perspectives that I get to encounter. Often, those perspectives bring into greater focus the things that we ourselves might be missing – our blind spots, if you will. This is especially relevant in business, where those blind spots can be worth millions of dollars…not the sort of money you want to overlook!
In the US, for example, every CFO keeps Travel & Expense (T&E) management in his or her field of vision. Granted, it’s probably not at the centre – more like the periphery, where you can turn your focus to it if you spot any movement. But in Asia, many of the CFOs we talk to – including those from some of the region’s largest companies – don’t really “see” T&E management. Their organisation will undoubtedly have some sort of solution to deal with it, but it typically doesn’t have much visibility unless something dramatic goes wrong.
Many US companies view T&E as being up there with ERP, CRM, and email— something deserving of its own dedicated management platform. In Asia, not so much. Businesses here tend to view it as a cost centre rather than a generator of value, not requiring a lot of day-to-day oversight as long as it gets the job done. And as the saying about being out-of-sight goes…
Anyone who’s played cricket knows that what you don’t see can really sting you. Many of the CFOs I’ve talked to in Asia are shocked to find out that Concur’s platform generates not thousands, but millions in savings for big companies like theirs. But what really gets them thinking isn’t the sheer size of cost efficiencies, but the fact that their overseas competitors have been enjoying them for years!
This wake-up call usually spurs CFOs to start treating T&E management as a serious financial priority. Ideally, it comes from someone like me talking to them about a product or solution…rather than from auditors tasked with slashing costs, or consultants brought in to resuscitate the business. Fortunately for most Asian companies waking up to T&E, they have plenty of overseas perspectives which they can learn from.
My own experiences of T&E, both in Asia and abroad, have shown me three things that CFOs should try not to lose sight of:
1. T&E transformation can take time.
If you already operate in numerous countries with T&E systems in each one, don’t expect to overhaul everything overnight. Our work with Mitsui & Co. took 2 years to complete, but it’s now delivering huge returns for their operations in 10 countries around the world. Do your best to demonstrate quick wins, but remember that any multimarket change requires patience to get it right.
2. Keep T&E in context.
Remember that T&E is just one part of the bigger picture. The corporate policies and processes on claims and expenses can also influence (or enhance) what you get out of platforms for ERP, tax, and non-financial functions like HR. The more cohesively you can integrate it with the rest of your business, the more money you’ll pick up off the table.
3. Find partners with global perspectives.
Work with partners who’ve applied T&E to overseas companies, particularly the multinational Western corporations which pioneered its use. They’ll know how to elevate your organisation to the level of your competitors – but make sure they also understand the nuances of how businesses (and people) work in Asia.
What’s your perspective on T&E in Asia? Are we taking it seriously enough compared to the rest of the world, and if not what should we do? I’d love to hear your thoughts and share them with our team – after all, we need our perspectives to be as broad as possible too.
Madanjit Singh is the Regional Director – South East Asia at Concur Technologies Inc., based in Singapore