The University of Exeter is a Russell Group University in the top one percent of institutions globally. In the last few years it has invested strategically to deliver more than £350 million worth of new facilities across its campuses with plans for another £330 million of investment between now and 2016.
Annually, there are over 2,600 claimants across the University. Historically, each department managed its own expenses claims, predominately originating from UK and foreign travel.
The University’s staff, both academic and professional services, would claim their expenses using a paper-based process. All staff was previously required to fill in manual expenses claims forms, with accompanying receipts, and pass them onto their expenses team for approval.
Martin Henson, Finance Systems Manager for the University of Exeter explains, “The main problem with a paper based expenses system was that you never knew where a claim might be; it could be sitting on someone’s desk or in a tray waiting for them to approve it. Consequently, the approval process would take longer than was necessary.
Any claim also required a signature from a team manager, so claims might be delayed if that person was unavailable or on leave. Members of the finance team would need to check the authorising signature on the claim adding more time to the process.”
Software Europe’s cloud-based expenses system
In 2012, the University of Exeter looked for a suitable electronic expenses system and chose Software Europe’s Expenses cloud service.
Expenses are administered centrally by a small team and each department deals with its own approvals of claims. On average, there are around 1,500 claims processed through the system each month.
Martin says, “We chose the Software Europe Expenses system as it is straightforward to use, easy to deploy, flexible in terms of its reporting tools and it can administer purchasing cards which is very useful to our claimants.”
Due to confirmation of HMRC guidelines in the past year, the University no longer needs to keep original receipts for expenses claims if they’re stored correctly within an electronic system. Instead, any receipts can now be scanned and attached electronically to a claim, which dramatically reduces the amount of paperwork, associated filing and storage for expenses claims.
Martin says, “The University is striving to become more efficient and streamlined. Expenses is helping in this transformation process by simplifying a formerly complex and slow paper-based process. By reducing the paperwork, each of the departments has benefited and saved on administration time.
Expenses has definitely been beneficial in saving administration time for the finance team. Before Expenses, the finance staff would have to input paper forms together with the relevant expenses details. We are saving staff time, giving the team more time to work on other tasks and helping us to be more efficient.”
A transparent approval process
Since the Expenses system has been adopted by the University, every department has a consistent three stage approval process that can be viewed online by the claimant.
Martin explains, “The transparency of the approval process has been well received by the staff as they know specifically what is required of them in order to submit a claim and they also know exactly where their claim is in the approval process.
Expenses is currently being used by all permanent staff at the University and the finance team plans to extend the online system to other temporary staff and post-graduate students who currently still use a paper-based process in the future.”
At present, the University is trialling Software Europe’s Expenses360 mobile application so that its staff can record, track, process and approve their expenses when away from their desks by using a smartphone, or other mobile device. This will avoid any issues with forgetting to include details in a claim or a misplaced receipt.
Martin says, “We are currently rolling-out the Expenses360 app which will speed up the claims process even more, ultimately benefitting the staff who will get paid even quicker for their expenses”.
Reducing the staff carbon footprint
The reporting functionality of Expenses has enabled the finance team to produce specific reports for the University’s ‘carbon footprint’ coordinator who can use the reports to analyse the carbon usage of the University’s staff associated with travelling to various conferences, events and meetings.
Martin says, “The reporting tools of Expenses are invaluable and can be used in various ways to support department managers and the finance team in analysing claims and spend on expenses. We are able to create our own reports which help us to increase efficiencies where ever possible.”
Martin concludes, “Customer support from Software Europe is excellent. The team is always quick to respond to any support calls and there is also good guidance in their support site which is kept up to date with helpful information.”
The University of Exeter is committed to continuing the roll-out of electronic receipts and the Expenses Mobile360 application during this year.