As part of our Modern Finance series, we asked ALPS Chief Financial Officer Sara Smith to talk about her approach to expense management. Sara enjoys challenges both in and out of the office. ALPS, a small business of 66 employees based in Montana, was created by attorneys in response to the insurance crisis of the 1980s and its adverse effects on the legal community. ALPS provides professional liability insurance to more than 15,000 attorneys across the US and manages more than $100 million in investments.
As a CFO and finance leader, one thing I have learned is that today’s employees want more than just great technology. They also want a workplace with an open culture, where leadership’s philosophy is clear—and tools are up-to-date and user-friendly.
By promoting transparency from the top down, we’ve created such a culture at ALPS. We’ve seen positive impact as it contributes to employee engagement and smart decision making, and helping optimize company spending. It’s truly a win-win.
Creating a culture of shared responsibility
When it comes to managing costs, we tend to be very transparent. We circulate the costs of things so that people have a good understanding of their impact on the organization. We also let them know that business travel is an investment for everyone, so let’s make sure we all get something out of it. As a result, most of them make good decisions.
This strategy works. Ninety-nine percent of ALPS employees follow company travel guidelines—and some have taken to developing creative solutions to their travel. One employee was going to be visiting a customer for a few weeks in a temperate climate, so instead of renting a car, she bought a bicycle and used it to commute to the customer site. It’s great for her—she’s happy, we save money, and when it’s all over, she gets to keep the bike! That’s the kind of win-win we like to see.
Employee satisfaction is key. A lot goes into keeping them happy.
From making sure processes are as clear and user-friendly as possible, to ensureing employees know we care about their experience. After all, if our employees end up in a horrible hotel, that can have an impact on the business. What if they’re meeting with a prospect and they didn’t sleep well the night before? We care about our employees’ health and safety, both on the road and at home, and we make sure they know that.
As a result, employees feel like they’re a part of managing good spend for the company. Keeping our processes up-to-date and simple is a big part of that. If you’re not sure what the policy is or how you should submit your expense report, then it can be challenging. But the system we use takes a lot of the noise out of it, so our employees know what to expect. If your expenses are clear and your messaging around business travel is transparent, you have far fewer problems.
Tech delivers more from your data
Keeping up with the changing needs of the workforce is another part of the challenge. Migrating to a new GL system has enabled ALPS to streamline expense processes and connect with other line of business applications, like Concur, for the first time. We’re making the most of our investment, and we’re already seeing it pay off in terms of business value.
The system consolidates ALPS expense data into a single view of all types of spending. So while employees get a more efficient process, leadership gains access to flexible, dynamic reporting that provides answers to just about any question. It really helps us establish a baseline for costs, which lets us do a better job of budgeting and helps us set employee expectations, too. We know what the average costs are for going to various cities at different times of year. And we can track to a budget in a granular way. Our system lets us respond quickly when we see deviance from the trends.
The ALPS organization is pleased with the move, and so am I. Not only has it presented us with significant business value even in its early days, but it’s laid the groundwork for customer innovations, like paying electronically and self-management of accounts.
Stay tuned for more Modern Finance, and head to our hub page for more insight from the series. If you’d like to suggest topics or interview questions, please email email@example.com or tweet your suggestions @Concur.