Business travel seems to be one enormous headache, with the long security lines, the new fees for luggage, and the unrelenting crush of people on cramped airplanes. But perhaps the worst aspect of business travel is what happens after your return to the office: the dreaded expense report.
As an independent consultant, I don’t have to file expense reports for all business travel. I do have to consolidate expenses to invoice my clients, however, which accounts for more than half of my travel. Over the years, I have developed certain techniques to decrease the pain of gathering expenses after the fact. For example, at the time that I book travel, I capture the charges and put them in my invoice tool of choice, Blinksale. Still, this only works for the big ticket items, and the majority of my expenses can’t be captured this way, like meals, taxis, and hotel charges.
I have looked at various tools that work with scanners, such as Neat Receipts but my experience suggests that they are too error prone and fussy, and that particular solution is Windows/Vista only. I have a five megapixel camera in my cell phone and a scanner, so capturing copies of the actual receipts is easy. I can snap pictures of receipts while on the road, and throw away the originals. But the process of entering in the expenses is still a manual one, and I am sure that I miss expenses every once in a while.
I recently came across a new service that could really end run this whole process. Expensify.com takes a completely novel approach to automating expense reporting. You sign up with the service and provide your credit card information. They send you a brand new Visa debit card, which you then use for all your expenses that you’d like to automatically track. They pass through the charges to your original card, so you can continue to earn points. But Expensify captures the expenses and accumulates them at their website, so you can go there and turn them into an expense report with a few clicks. You can also attach images of receipts to expense reports after emailing them to Expensify where they automatically put them in your account for you.
Here’s a screenshot of a bunch of expenses:
And once they are associated with an expense report:
The business model is simple: Expensify charges 3% of the funds that you pass through the card. This may seem a bit steep — $30 on a $1000 business trip — until you consider what the hour you might otherwise spend fooling with a spreadsheet is actually worth to you. My bet is that to the people most likely to file expense reports — serious road warriors — the $30 will look like pocket change. They also allow you to enter expenses into your account manually, so I am likely to continue my practice of putting the big charges directly on my regular card — airfare, for example, or the base room charges for hotel reservations — and capture that at the time I make the reservations. But now, when I am in New York, London, or Copenhagen, I will simply charge everything else — meals, taxis, and additional hotel charges — on my Expensify card, and snap pictures of the receipts.
Expensify offers some additional benefits that make it even more attractive. You can forward the expense report electronically, and the recipient can pay directly by credit card. Expensify will credit the money to your original card. This could save me weeks of wait time, since my clients often cut a check or set up a bank transfer. In either case, I might be waiting weeks.
There is a short delay when you sign up, since it takes a week or so for the new credit card to make its way through the mail. I can’t wait for mine to arrive.
As of 9:00 a.m. eastern time, the Expensify site seems to be down. It says that it is down for maintenance, but hopefully it gets back up before the end of the day so all of you can check it out for yourself.