How Movable Ink Built an Expense Policy That Balances Culture and Control

Movable Ink leveraged Abacus to set an expense policy that has helped the startup standardize and scale its expense management. See how they did it.

Ronalee Balog joined Movable Ink in 2016 to implement policies that would help the tech startup standardize and scale. One of the first on Balog’s list: the expense policy. 

Movable Ink — which helps digital marketers deliver personal experiences in email campaigns at scale — was operating in growth mode. The team needed financial controls that wouldn’t disrupt the speed of their startup operations. 

Balog knew that building an expense policy would help put guardrails in place that could further streamline operations. Building an optimized expense policy that’s customized to your business can: 

  • Help employees submit expenses faster
  • Spend less time reviewing employee expenses
  • Gain control over employee expenses
  • Glean more insights from employee expenses

But at the time, Movable Ink didn’t have any policy in place regarding expenses. “We didn’t have a T&E [Travel & Entertainment] policy,” she recalls. “There was no formal guidance issued to employees who were traveling. There was no accountability with corporate card purchases. We had expenses without any support or justification.” 

In order to continue growing at its current rate, Movable Ink needed to build an expense policy from the ground up. Here’s more on how Movable Ink set their expense policy to support business growth. 

What to Include in Your Expense Policy

Balog developed an expense policy, as well as training and Q&A to drive adherence.

Generally, a business’s expense policy should clearly outline rules, policies, and expectations. It should also include language that anyone can understand. Use easy-to-interpret categories that map to your chart of accounts, especially if you use accounting jargon or naming conventions. Making them easy for someone outside of finance to understand will result in less guess work on behalf of the employee.

Rules and Requirements

Include limits for categories, per diems, and receipt requirements. Clearly list what can and cannot be submitted, especially for common expenses and categories. Be explicit about any timeframes for submitting an expense, as well as anything else that may be specific to the company. 

Exceptions and Discretionary Circumstances

Cover rules for tips and gratuities, and what to do if employees need to do something that falls outside of the policy. 

Expectations for Submissions and Reimbursements

Set expectations for how expenses should be submitted (whether you use expense management software or a specific form) and when and how employees should be reimbursed. 

Processes to Follow

Outline the process for submitting expenses, whether directly to finance or to a manager. Also, if employees still have questions, how and whom to ask. 

How Movable Ink Built Their Expense Policy

After starting her finance career in two of the world’s largest organizations — the U.S. Army and General Electric — Balog looked to apply her enterprise-level experience without disrupting the speed of start up operations. She leveraged Abacus, the expense solution that Movable Ink had put in place in 2014, to help her do so. “My first reaction was that Abacus was an impressive solution. The UI was great. We just needed to use it to its full capacity.”

Automating Controls to Ensure Compliance

Balog used Abacus to set up and automate policy rules based on Movable Ink’s expense policy requirements. In doing so, Abacus helped Movable Ink prevent or warn out-of-policy expenses before they’re submitted by employees. 

Managing Corporate Cards

Balog also integrated the team’s corporate cards with Abacus and drafted budgeting rules in the expense policy. In doing so, Movable Ink was able to create a central view into spending on corporate cards — gaining better control over their corporate card program while eliminating time on monthly reconciliation. (Abacus also has a card issuing program through Emburse.)

Incorporating Industry-Standard Best Practices

Balog tapped Abacus Customer Support to provide industry best practices. “At that point, I knew what worked at the enterprise level, but I wanted to ensure our policy was in line from a cultural standpoint, for a company of our size in the tech industry. The Abacus team was critical in helping us dial in those controls. They even sent me best practices from similar companies.” Those recommendations, such as integrating Abacus with the messaging platform Slack, helped achieve wider buy-in for her policy. 

Want to see more Abacus integrations? Explore them here.

The Results: Control Becomes Automated and Easy to Understand

The feedback from employees was great from the get-go. “We’ve been very methodical in how we’ve rolled out our new policy. The team understands there’s been a lot of change going on, and we have an open line of communication. So far it’s been a positive acceptance.” 

Feedback from Movable Ink’s leadership team was just as positive. “Abacus provides insight into our T&E spend, which helps our leadership team better understand where our team is spending time and money. The streamlined submission and approval process provides visibility without adversely impacting operations.” 

Movable Ink’s Results With Abacus

Procurement control

Thanks to her new visibility into corporate card activity, Balog has been able to establish and enforce a procurement channel that goes through the CFO. 

Automatic compliance

“Abacus gives you a greater level of certainty that what’s coming into the system is accurate, because the system will give a hard stop if something doesn’t meet your controls.” 

Faster review

“Once a manager approves an expense, it comes into my queue so I can approve faster. It’s streamlined the process.” 

Happy employees

“The team likes the Slack integration for approving expenses, and they like the mobile app, which lets them just take a picture and submit immediately. People get paid back faster, which they appreciate.” 

Budget accountability

“Abacus allows us to push accountability onto the department heads for their team’s travel, and make sure they’re within their budget targets.” 

With Abacus, Movable Ink has a system that can ensure policy is enforced consistently and accurately. “We train individuals to adhere to policy, but we also want to use our tools to enforce it. That’s where I turned to the Abacus team,” says Balog. “We spent time creating rules and warnings, and now Abacus gives me a systematic and automatic way to enforce it.”
Want to learn more about Abacus? Schedule a demo with our team.

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