Chrome River – How I did it: Building an integrated card and expense program
Dealer Tire has been a U.S. Bank customer since 2012. In 2015, we began to look for ways to shift from a burdensome paper process for expenses to an automated solution that would better align with the rest of our business systems.
The solution would need to support expense reporting and card reconciliation, providing end-users with a simple and efficient process while supporting management’s need to expand into global markets with enhanced visibility and control. We also needed the reassurance that the card program would support domestic and international travel needs as well as B2B repair and maintenance expenses incurred in the field and at our distribution centers.
Our solution with U.S. Bank and Chrome River gives us automation and mobility along the entire expense report process, including Chrome River STATEMENTS, a feature that groups transactions based on the cycle date, eliminating cardholder guess work. This significantly reduces the time our team spends on the expense process every month, and shifts work to end users without burdening them, freeing up management to focus on spend analytics to grow the business. At last we have a streamlined process that works for all of us, from end-users to approvers to the CFO; the process is easy and delivers so much more control and visibility. This, coupled with a card program that can span across all our purchasing needs, gives us the insights and confidence we require to expand the program with our business.
To make this program work, we made some very forward-thinking decisions as we implemented it. Given the magnitude of the changes, we first migrated to the U.S. Bank card program, then introduced Chrome River online expense reporting. We needed to take baby steps with the existing manual process and both partners accommodated us.
We launched a pilot on Chrome River EXPENSE several months before the launch. A true cross-section of cardholders was identified — both early adopters and those who would struggle with the change — in order to detect and resolve issues before the full launch.
As part of the initial setup, default expense categories were automatically assigned to transactions based on the MCC (merchant category code) allowing users to edit and augment prior to submission. This made it easy and fast for users to review transactions, updating only those requiring a modification. In addition, management can now more accurately predict GL expense totals based on the pre-assignments.
An ad hoc reconciliation report was defined out of Chrome River EXPENSE to provide us with a way to balance every month and recognize any transactions not yet submitted for approval, freeing up accounting staff time for value-add work.
Comparing the processes before and after the change, the cumbersome manual expense process is replaced with a streamlined flow. We are saving lots of time, paper, and tape by ditching the old “arts and crafts” process of submitting taped receipts in exchange for automation, insights, control, and happy associates. End-users can complete their work on the go with greater accuracy, while management and administration can make more informed decisions.
To illustrate this, here’s how the process changed for us, from both cardholder and administrative perspectives:
Before Chrome River and U.S. Bank, paper receipts needed to be attached to a single sheet of paper. Separate monthly expense reports were created for card and cash transactions: cash was keyed manually to a spreadsheet and card activity was accessed online with key-in expense entry. Both of these required a printed report and receipts attached. End-users had to send expense reports via FedEx first to one or more office locations for approval then to the corporate office for final approval and filing. Following this, administrative staff had to manually track expense report compliance, reconcile card statements, and chase users for details.
Now with U.S. Bank and Chrome River, cardholders capture and upload receipts electronically either via their mobile phone or laptop. Automatic transaction matching is then done using optical character recognition (OCR) based on five different fields. This leads to a single online expense report. Chrome River STATEMENTS match-up feature eliminates the need to add transactions manually, and allocations can be pre-assigned. There is also an easy online expense template for submitting cash transactions.
For expense administrators, a reconciliation report provides us with spend and compliance visibility. It identifies un-submitted expenses with twice-weekly alerts and also provides an audit approval process and early fraud detection for non-business expenses. We are also able to leverage Chrome River’s data analytics capabilities, which enable us to deliver insights across the business.
The migration to a frictionless process has provided us with wide ranging benefits. We’ve have halved the time spent by the administrative team on expense reports, allowing us to focus on value-add activities. We have also eliminated costly courier expenses to route paper expense reports for approval (plus, of course, the time, paper and tape we used to use!) The data integration and automation have led to increased control and compliance for management, and well as increased accuracy, efficiency and mobility for users, delivering a significantly improved cardholder experience. The combined solution offers a holistic view to better understand all spend activity, delivering data analytics for strategic planning and decisions. We have also achieved a best-in-class employee-to-card ratio (greater than 90%) with an almost 70% usage rate.
We’ve also been able to implement a number of best practices as a result of this relationship. We now employ alerts and management “audit” report to identify outstanding expenses, approvals and even fraudulent activity. We also incorporate a strategy to maximize s
pend on cards across travel and indirect B2B spend, and can leverage experienced supplier negotiating skills now and in the future as more AP spend is considered.
By combining spend types, we can limit our end-users’ expense requirements to a single report per statement cycle for card and cash spanning across trips. On an operational basis, phasing the implementation and include a pilot to ensure the program meets our end-users’ needs. We also provide detailed, frequent training and communications during the launch and with ongoing updates, to ensure staff are trained on the solutions.
The immediate next steps are to continue to expand the current card program with a focus on travel and distribution centers; however, we aren’t losing sight of the potential to reduce checks and increase automation across accounts payable, to create a streamlined end-to-end process. We’ll be addressing this next challenge in the same thorough way we have with our travel expenses, making sure we consider all stakeholders in the process and leveraging automation tools provided by our innovative partners.