A unique combination of automation and human skills is the magic behind Serko Expense.

Last day of the quarter and you’ve got a small mountain of expenses to claim. Lost some of your receipts? Can’t remember the details of half of the remainder? Absolutely no appetite for filling in endless details – vendor, date, cost, tax, you name it?

Serko’s Tim Nichols

Welcome to Serko. This Auckland-based company’s cloud-based solution takes the pain out of managing business expenses. Users submit an image of a receipt via a mobile app. Serko strips out all the information you used to have to fill in manually, automatically matches the receipt with your credit statement , and presents it all to finance in a form that makes them happy.

The solution, known as Serko Expense, saves businesses hundreds of hours of expense reconciliation  and simplifies the claims process for users. For Serko, it’s a strategic and profitable addition to its core business of making sense of corporate travel.

Serko Expense relies on a unique combination of optical character recognition (OCR) and human verification to quickly and cost-effectively extract data from upwards of 60,000 receipts every month. Data extraction on that scale is far from Serko’s core competency. For that, Tim Nichols, Serko’s Chief Product Officer, brought in streamline.

“We moved into expense management in January 2014, when the market was starting to see that travel and expense were two sides of the same coin,” Nichols explains. “We went with streamline because it offers a service, not just a technology. It combines advanced automation with a manual team and can process vast amounts of data at 100 percent accuracy.”

That 100% accuracy isn’t hyperbole. The streamline solution returns a handful of claims for clarification, usually because the receipt image isn’t clear enough.  The rest, all of them, are uniformly accurate, day in and day out. That, says Nichols, is a night-and-day difference from manual expense systems, which inevitability produce mistakes and the hours of admin overhead that follow them.

Expense management in your hand: Serko Expense

“The biggest measurable saving for Serko Expense clients is in administration — the number of people they need to manage inbound expenses,” he explains. “What you also find is that employees love it. Submitting expenses is suddenly no longer painful. It means individuals no longer wait to the end of the month or the quarter to submit, they do it daily because it’s so simple. And that means they tend to make better expense decisions, stay compliant more often, and spend less.”

Speed is a strength of streamline’s solution. Using a follow-the-sun model, skilled staff verify each receipt as it comes in, typically within minutes. The result is a finely-grained, real-time management view of corporate expenses, something Nichols says businesses much prefer over the lumpy, end-of-month wave of reimbursement claims they used to get.

Serko sees streamline as a business partner. Together, as cloud technology and OCR mature, the two parties are developing the data extraction service that underpins Serko Expense. “The next step will be to enhance the OCR so it can take data from one field and apply it to another. For example, the system will recognise that a receipt comes from ABC Taxi Ltd, and will therefore automatically code the expense as a taxi ride. That will take us a big step closer to simply taking a photo of your receipt and pushing the button. That’s the holy grail of expense management tools.”

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