Expense Management

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence to Power the Future of Travel and Expense Reimbursement

June 7, 2024

7 min read

Leveraging Artificial Intelligence to Power the Future of Travel and Expense Reimbursement


The world of T&E is rapidly transforming, thanks to advances in AI and machine learning. Learn how Emburse's data science team is driving our innovations to improve the expense process.

    Artificial intelligence has recently experienced a dramatic paradigm shift, expanding the capabilities of what was thought possible and enabling tech-savvy individuals from all backgrounds the ability to build AI-driven applications that leverage enormous pre-trained large language models (LLMs), such as ChatGPT.

    While these LLMs can be incredibly helpful in creating chatbots to answer questions, the key tasks required to process travel and expense reimbursements require awareness and execution of custom customer spend management policies. These tasks center around document understanding, expense classification, and risk mitigation. Successfully automating these tasks with AI requires proprietary company data rather than generally available public information used to train most LLMs. Although efforts to reduce LLM training and production inference costs continue to escalate, currently Emburse prioritizes responsible AI solution architectures that minimize cost while maximizing accuracy and reliability.

    Traditionally tedious and time-consuming, these essential expense processing tasks are being revolutionized by the power of AI. Emburse now uses AI to automate travel and expense reimbursement workflows, ensure policy compliance, detect anomalies, and safeguard against fraud - for up to 25,000 transactions per hour.

    Here’s how Emburse’s AI innovations are streamlining and improving the accuracy of our expense management solutions:

    Document Understanding

    Gone are the days of manual entry and tedious data extraction from receipts and invoices, but for automation to reach its full potential, it’s essential that expense solutions can extract and categorize data with extreme accuracy. For this to be achieved, the most important aspects when processing documents and expenses are accurate categorization and context (e.g. which trip they belong to). AI-driven entity recognition and parsing models built on top of state-of-the-art techniques in optical character recognition (OCR) enable customers to retrieve and auto populate relevant information from these documents seamlessly. Emburse is also extracting extra data points like from/to date to better understand trips for automated report and trip creation

    By automatically capturing data like transaction amounts, dates, merchant names, and even itemized details, AI streamlines the reimbursement process, eliminating the need for manual input from users. Emburse has also developed deep learning models trained to detect potentially inappropriate purchases on receipts, such as alcohol and tobacco products.

    Expense Classification

    The foundation of any successful AI application is the underlying data model. To automatically create and process an expense and assign it to the appropriate accounting code, it must be precisely classified using an enterprise data ontology where different expense types are handled based on customer specification.

    Additional attributes required for entry for particular expenses such as “airline class” for airfare expenses or “meal attendee count” for meal expenses can be more effectively anticipated when an expense has been fully described using Emburse’s spend management knowledge graph. A knowledge graph is a data model similar to a spider web, that takes in any data coming into the system and helps organize it in relation to other data points. Different modules and features in our system can then access that data web (and their relations to each other) to infer information we would have otherwise not been able to populate for the user.

    One example could be two employees attending a dinner. Using this technology, the system is easily able to detect that employee A may have joined the same meal as an attendee that employee B is trying to expense, or if a meal is associated with a sales trip for a particular customer.

    Risk Mitigation

    Ensuring compliance with company policies and detecting potentially fraudulent or risky expenditures is crucial for financial integrity. Emburse uses AI algorithms trained to analyze expense data against predefined policies and prior experience, detecting anomalies and patterns indicative of potential fraud and abuse. By continuously monitoring expense transactions and user behaviors, Emburse uses AI to identify suspicious activities such as duplicate submissions, unusual spending patterns, or unauthorized expenses. This enables timely intervention and mitigation of risk by the customer or available extended services such AI assisted human audit (which I’ll talk about in another blog post).

    Whether it's identifying unauthorized vendors, excessive spending, or non-compliant purchases, Emburse partners with our customers to deliver AI-powered systems providing real-time insights, enabling proactive risk mitigation and policy enforcement.

    Responsible AI

    While the benefits of AI in automating travel and expense workflows are clear, responsible implementation is paramount at Emburse. Privacy and security concerns must be addressed to safeguard sensitive financial data. Implementing robust encryption techniques, access controls, and anonymization practices ensures data protection and regulatory compliance. Additionally, adopting transparent, human-centered AI models that provide users with clear data use insights and assurances, such as minimization of bias, fosters trust and accountability.

    The integration of AI into travel and expense reimbursement workflows offers unprecedented efficiency, accuracy, and risk mitigation capabilities. By automating data extraction, ensuring policy compliance, and detecting anomalies and fraud, AI-driven solutions streamline processes and enhance financial integrity. However, responsible implementation, data security, and cost-effectiveness are critical considerations, especially for high-volume SaaS solutions handling vast amounts of transactions. Embracing AI responsibly and judiciously selecting the right approach empowers organizations to unlock the full potential of automated expense management while safeguarding against potential risks.

    If you’re looking for a smarter T&E solution for your organization and are curious how Emburse’s next-generation products can help, reach out and take a look for yourself. We’d love to hear from you.