How spend management can help your business bounce back after a crisis

Across SEA, businesses have seen a 30 to 40% drop in local demand due to the COVID pandemic. This puts many small and medium enterprises at risk as cash flows shrink and expenses continue to accumulate. 

While nobody can predict a crisis, there are ways businesses can cope and strengthen their bottom line. One tactic is to gain greater control over resources with spend management.

In this article, you’ll see how two companies – Grab in Singapore and Celcom in Malaysia – became crisis-resilient by digitizing their spend management with SAP Concur.

Grab – Focusing energies on what matter most

As early as 2017, ride-hailing company Grab decided that it needed a more efficient way of managing employee expense claims. It rolled out SAP Concur across the organization, resulting in greater employee satisfaction and productivity. 

“Expense recording used to take up hours of our time,” said Alex Tran, Head of Marketing and Operations at Grab. Grab employs over 2000 internal employees and more than a million drivers  across Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Tran and the company’s many employees used to collect paper receipts and file all his expense claims manually every month-end. The process was tedious and the experience frustrating.

Seeing how so many productive hours were lost in expense-related administrative work, Grab decided that things needed to change, especially when the pandemic drastically altered consumer behavior on the super-app. “We wanted a cloud-based solution that minimized the amount of time we spent on system management, took away all of our expense problems, and automated everything,” Tran said. Grab sought a partner that was equally innovative and cloud-focused.

To resolve the tedious reimbursements and spend management, Grab turned to SAP Concur Expense solutions. Grab’s IT team collaborated with Concur services to finish integrations in just three months. SAP Concur provided complete knowledge transfer and comprehensive documentation so that Grab drivers could get started on the service quickly. With the integrations in place, the company’s finance team can ensure that reimbursements are made consistently and promptly.


Why is spend management necessary in times of crisis?

  • Frees up valuable cash that can sustain the business
  • Identifies sources of redundant or extraneous costs
  • Digital spend management aligns with overarching trend towards digital


The spend management platform is available to employees on-site and outside the office. The SAP Concur mobile application, for example, enables employees to record expenses and upload receipts on the go. Hours spent on expense reporting were whittled down to minutes. 

Grab also implemented Expense Pay, an add-on service for reimbursements. This service was deployed for approved reimbursements within the Singapore office. With it, Grab was able to automate payments, reducing the risk of errors and ensuring that employees were paid on time.

Having an efficient, robust expense management system in place helped Grab focus on critical activities during the pandemic. As demand for ride-hailing services dwindled, the company had to double down on its logistics and financial services. Core operations were mission-critical, and administrative tasks needed to be as painless and efficient as possible. 

Having an intelligent expense management system gave employees one less burden during an already stressful time. “We were all able to save many hours with Concur Expense – and stay focused on work,” Tran affirmed.

Celcom – Getting a better picture on company-wide expense, anytime, anywhere

Malaysian telco Celcom used to manage expense claims manually, which were collated and filed by 60 secretaries on behalf of hundreds of employees across the organization. As part of its digital transformation, Celcom rolled out SAP Concur—including its Expense, Request, Intelligence, Audit, and Budget products—to cover its expense management processes. The adoption resulted in more compliant expense submissions, with only 8% of expense claims being non-compliant.

The move also brought in cost savings. Celcom estimated that SAP Concur enabled the business to cut RM3.4 million (US$833,000) from operational spend in the first year. 


Food for thought

The redundant costs identified by spend management are undesirable during a normal year; in a crisis, they can spell the difference between business survival and closure.

Process automation further boosted operational efficiency as two full-time equivalent (FTE) staff were reassigned to other more important tasks.

“Concur has transformed our expense claims processes—removing human error, giving hours of lost productivity back to personnel, and cutting non-compliant claims to less than 8 percent while reducing costs,” said Dr. Hari Nair, Head of Human Capital Transformation at Celcom.

Being cloud-based, SAP Concur also supported work-from-home arrangements that the company adopted in compliance with movement control orders. The platform allowed employees the flexibility of uploading expense claims from anywhere, at any time. The finance team can also verify transactions from the cloud. 

More than that, all the expense data is collated in one place, making the company’s expense information more accessible to key personnel. Finance now has a better understanding of the business’ spend patterns and can draw insights from the data which has been collected over time. This information helps management figure out how to best adjust budgets and control expenses—which is critical during periods of financial turmoil and uncertainty.

The shift towards cloud solutions is becoming more and more important during this period. As Celcom expands its network and services to meet its users’ needs during the new normal, it focused many of its initiatives toward digital and cloud-based services. Having adopted cloud-based services like SAP Concur, Celcom is in a position of strength to help Malaysian MSMEs cope with the pressures of operating in a low-contact, high-digital world. Because of its healthy financials, Celcom was able to offer a three-month free subscription to SMEs under its Celcom Business Suite.

Building resilience into your business

More than ever, businesses need to plan ahead and build resilience into their systems. Having automated processes—including those in expense management—saves employees time and relieves them of unnecessary stress. As companies navigate the new normal, enabling your employees to do more meaningful and revenue-generating tasks will be critical for business continuity in a crisis.

Having a robust spend management system is also good practice for lowering risks during crises. Good visibility over expenses across the organization can help finance lower costs in strategic areas. A key priority is keeping the business afloat, and having smart spend management helps you get there.

Finally, solutions that are cloud-based provides flexibility, agility, and data visibility that are critical in a crisis. As seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to work from anywhere, at any time gives companies a much-needed edge during a global financial crisis. 


For more on our #BusinessSpendManagement series, click here

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