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4 ways the role of finance teams is evolving

4 ways the role of finance teams is evolving — takeaways from the Navan for Finance event

Ed Brooks

5 Mar 2024
4 minute read
Navan for Finance event in London

How has the role of finance teams in managing business travel changed in recent years, and what does the future hold? These themes were explored at the recent Navan for Finance event in London, where finance leaders connected over Navan signature cocktails and heard from panellists Julia Jansen, Navan’s VP of Finance, and Alex White, Finance Director at Zuora on how their roles have taken on new significance since the pandemic shook up the industry. Here are the evening’s main takeaways.

More focus on spending wisely

Despite predictions at the beginning of the pandemic that business travel was set to decline, the industry has bounced back strongly in the years since. This uptick has come with a change in approach: “Companies are now travelling more strategically for business by making sure trips have a clear business objective, stay within budget, and that travellers are supported to do their role effectively while on the road,” said Julia.

It’s increasingly about striking a balance between allowing your teams to do high-value tasks such as sales visits while keeping costs in check and “ensuring the travel budget is meaningfully spent. Finance teams are scrutinising how much their company spends and what represents good value, as well as where they can cut or save on spend,” added Julia.

For Alex, the return of business travel prompted an overhaul of the company travel policy, which was previously US-centric and not globally suitable. Because of the shortcomings of Zuora’s legacy travel provider, SAP Concur, Alex undertook the task himself. Underpinning the new policy is the request that travellers “spend the company’s money like it’s your own.”

Giving travellers a great experience

Zuora’s new travel policy addresses another transformation that Julia and Alex agree has occurred over recent years — the growing focus on traveller experience. When building the policy, Alex made sure it was consistent for employees across the company — no matter where they’re based — as well as flexible. This flexibility makes it easier to support and empower travellers when companies expand into new markets or scale.

Julia agreed that “financial compliance processes often used to come at the expense of the user experience,” something that has changed in recent years. Now, there is a need to make business trips seamless and enjoyable for travellers through better technology and a large inventory that mirrors a consumer travel experience. 

From a financial perspective, travellers benefit when companies use prepayment methods for trip bookings as they don’t have to front personal money for a trip. When on a trip, Navan’s solution has customisable spending policies for each travel and expense category so travellers can easily track their daily spend per category in real time in the app. Another way to improve the experience is by encouraging employees to add personal days to business trips to promote wellbeing.

The growing role of automation

Technology has transformed how finance teams manage expenses. “Where travellers used to staple receipts to expense reports after a trip, they now spend company money with smart corporate cards that check policy in real time and help do the expenses on the fly,” said Julia.

This saves travellers from submitting time-consuming expense reports and Julia’s team from chasing employees for missing receipts or information. Julia said automation “makes my team’s work more impactful rather than tying them up with busywork which technology can do.”

Using technology to replace manual processes is especially important when a company grows or enters a new market and needs a localised policy. On modern travel platforms, policies are automatically implemented, helping companies achieve consistency across the company. Any required policy tweaks can also be made in real time with minimal fuss, all from within the platform.

Striking the human–tech balance

The rise of automation isn’t to say that finance teams can take a backseat as some situations will always require a human touch, Julia and Alex agreed. Rather, the ideal outcome is that technology replaces routine tasks that don’t require financial expertise. Finance teams can then focus on more rewarding tasks that generate value for the business.

This is particularly true for companies that are scaling. During this process, Julia says, companies should grow and optimise the company’s tech stack to automate tasks where possible, for example auditing.

Looking to the future

As overseers of company spend, finance teams play a vital role in ensuring companies get the most value out of business travel. With cost control and the traveller experience two themes that are here to stay, finance teams should embrace automation to simplify processes and future-proof their company’s business travel programmes.

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