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 £350m worth of new facilities across its campuses, with plans for another £330m of investment between now and 2016.
Operating across Streatham and St Luke’s campuses in Exeter, Devon and Penryn and Truro campuses in Cornwall, the University hi storically managed its own expenses claims, predominately originating from UK and foreign travel, department by department. That meant that staff, both academic and professional services, would claim their expenses using a paper-based process. All staff were also required to fill in manual expenses claims forms, with accompanying receipts, then pass them onto their expenses team for approval.
Martin Henson, Finance Systems Manager for the University of Exeter explains more. “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.”
In 2012, the University looked for a suitable electronic expenses system and chose Software Europe’s Expenses cloud service. As a reuslt, expenses are now administered centrally by a small team, with each department dealing only with its own approvals of claims. On average, there are around 1,500 claims processed through the system each month.
“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," says Henson.
Meanwhile, 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.
That means a whole new paper-lite way of working, reports Henson. “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.”
So, what's happened since 2012? Henson and his team report that since the system came online, every department has a consistent three stage approval process that can be viewed online by the claimant. “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."
The package 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, he adds.
The University is also 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.
The reporting functionality of Expenses has enabled the finance team to produce specific reports for the University’s ‘carbon footprint’ co-ordinator who can use the reports to analyse the carbon usage of Exeter's staff associated with travelling to various conferences, events and meetings.
"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," he confirms.
The University of Exeter is also committed to continuing the roll-out of electronic receipts and the Expenses Mobile360 application during this year, he concludes.
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