Filing expense reports online has never been easier.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
May 24 2011 5:24 PM

Burn Your Receipts!

Finally, an online company has brought expense reports into the 21st century.

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But here's that one hitch. When you're done creating your report, you send it to your boss, who can review and approve it online, and then forward it to the accounting department. But if the accounting department hasn't adopted Expensify, you're mostly out of luck. You can still use this system as a way to organize all your receipts, but you'll still have to file the old way.

David Barrett, Expensify's founder and CEO, says that in many companies the people who process expense reports are overjoyed to discover that there's a better system than the one they're using. Because Expensify integrates with several popular accounting and sales programs—QuickBooks, Freshbooks, Salesforce, and any other accounting system that can import spreadsheet files—and it connects with bank accounts to allow for direct deposits, it lets accountants approve reimbursements in a matter of a few clicks.

The small and medium-sized businesses that make up Expensify's most fervent user base love all these features. "In a small company, no one has allegiance to their current system—none of the employees like it, the boss doesn't care, and the accountant hates it," Barrett says. "The only reason they use it is because it's all they know." As a result, Barrett says, Expensify has built up a user base of 300,000 people through "bottom-up adoption"—employees discover it, then introduce it to their bosses, who subsequently adopt it for the whole firm. The company has developed an ingenious pricing scheme to take advantage of this adoption curve. Expensify is mostly free for all employees, though the new receipt scanning feature costs 20 cents per receipt after the first 10. Companies, meanwhile, are allowed to have two employees submit reports for free each month; after that, it's $5 per submitter per month.

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Will your company go for this? It won't hurt to try. If you're one of the first two people in your firm to submit a report via Expensify, your bosses won't have to pay anything to approve it, so they may well join the system just to check it out. Then, when your bosses see how painless Expensify makes the whole expense process, they may decide to adopt it companywide.

Of course, the accounting departments at bigger firms are likely to fight tooth and nail to cling to the old system. These are people whose entire job depends on arcane expense-reporting rules, and streamlining the process is bound to upset them. On the other hand, haven't you suffered enough? Isn't it time you stood up to your receipt-obsessed overlords? How many more hours of your life are you willing to waste while filing all your purchases in triplicate? It's time to storm the barricades. And who knows—you may even be praised for fomenting an expense-report revolution.

Watch Farhad's Review of Eye-Fi, a wireless photo transfer app:

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.

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