Filing expense reports is not unlike filing tax returns: Even people who are getting money back will put off the task as long as possible.
Eric Sikola says a change in company culture and a smartphone can go a long way to changing that.
Mr. Sikola is general manager and founder of ExpenseCloud, one of the cloud-based expense reporting companies that allow users to create, submit and approve expense reports online or by mobile app.
The theory is that by reducing the hassle of filing expense reports, employees will embrace -- or at least not avoid -- the task.
Other solutions have been tried.
Corporate credit cards were a first step toward helping companies to monitor and control expenses, but they have a downside.
"The problem is that, if I'm not floating the company the money, I'm superlazy turning in expense reports," Mr. Sikola said.
Allowing an employee to submit receipts digitally -- which meets IRS guidelines -- streamlines the process, Mr. Sikola said. With the ExpenseCloud app, an employee takes a smartphone picture of a receipt and files it with a manager who can approve the expense and forward it along to payroll.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based ExpenseCloud, which launched in 2008 and serves 5,000 companies, has both a free model and a pay model with more integrated features that ranges from $4 to $10 a month.
But technology only goes so far. The corporate culture also has a lot to say about how employees handle expenses.
Generally speaking, the IRS sets a $75 threshold for expenses without a receipt, although companies often lower that bar to $15 to $20.
But Mr. Sikola said for major expenses a receipt alone is not enough and he recommends that companies require itemized receipts, in particular for hotel bills and meals. "If you are going to pay for a meal, who were the attendees and what was the purpose?"
Corporate culture also sets the tone for employees who file expenses past the given deadline, which in most cases is 30 to 45 days.
"It all boils down to a policy where we won't pay you back if you don't file on time," Mr. Sikola said. Doing that just a few times makes a statement about how seriously the company takes the deadline, he said.
Of course, companies wanting to enforce the rules should make sure the reimbursement policy is communicated effectively and shared online in a formal document that is adaptable as circumstance warrant.
Even with all the tools available, employees still submit some crazy expenses.
ExpenseCloud's list of the Top 5 Wildest Expenses that have come through the system are -- starting at No. 5 -- men's clothing, $10,000 in wine, parking tickets, Victoria's Secret clothing and strip clubs, especially in Texas. (Maybe those strip clubs serve a killer steak.)
"We know where they are spending the money; we don't know what they are spending the money on," Mr. Sikola said.
For more information on ExpenseCloud, go to www.expensecloud.com.
Brian Hyslop: email@example.com or 412-263-1936. First Published October 28, 2012 4:00 AM