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  • Writer's pictureSpeedsters

The 5 W's of Card Spend Management

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The five W's of journalism - Who, What, Where, When, and Why - help a reporter tell a complete story. They remind the author to cover off the fundamental questions an article needs to answer. In addition, answering these questions helps the reader follow the story effectively. They give insight into setting and motivation. Context and rationale The first four are objective, and the last holds the keys to piecing it all together.

Similarly, the 5 W's of your spending tell a story - the story of your business operations. They assist the consumer of the information, the reader if you will, understand context and reasoning of corporate spend. That consumer can be accounting, executives, business unit leaders, P&L owners, and auditors. Can your existing tools and processes use spend data to tell a story? Most can't.

Let's take a look at the 5 W's of spend management....


This one sounds simpler than it really is. Most companies assume that the "who" behind a given purchase transaction is the name on the front of the card. But that isn't always the case. Sharing the "office Amex" in smaller companies is a pervasive practice. In larger companies the "who" is assumed to be the person submitting the expense report. But did you know that the name on the card is not transmitted through the payment processing chain? The card number and other data follow the transaction but not the name on the card (that's not a bad thing given privacy concerns). It is the limitation that we all live with. It's up to your team to reconcile the transaction to the person.

Your spend management system must be able to link a card number to a verifiable (and authorize) human. This is the only way to place a card in the proper context. Business rules are never stated in terms of a card number. They are always stated in terms of a person, in a role, in an organization. Just imagine a policy that state "card number 123 5678 9123 is authorized to make purchased up to $2,500 without approval." That's silly. It has to be in CONTEXT. For example, "Senior managers may authorize purchases up to $2,500 without approval." If you really want insights, your spend management platform must link transactions to verifiable humans to provide context.


What was purchased with a card is also not always obvious. Many companies rely solely on receipts to understand the line item detail behind a purchase and even those can get misplaced, duplicated, or forged. In this approach, a receipt is the only evidence of what was purchased. A modern spend management platform should support multiple additional attributes of transaction data to capture what was purchased with minimum user input.

In a B2B context such as a transaction with a purchase card for a larger item, your spend management system should be able to accommodate line item details, tax, quantities, and other descriptors made available on the card networks.


You may be thinking "we know exactly where our cards are being used. The merchant name is right there on the receipt." Three problems with this thinking. First, as mentioned before, receipts are extremely easy to forge and easily misplaced. Second, "where" not only refers to a merchant name, but the type of merchant in in what geography. Third, Is this type of

Map with Pins

merchant even allowable under your corporate policy? A liquor store? A movie theater? A home furniture store? Wilder and weirder things have happened.

Imagine if you had data about where your teams spend over time. What if you understood that your employees have a fondness for doughnuts on the third Wednesday of every month? What if you learned you were spending with an unapproved vendor 60% of the time? What if your drivers in the field were consistently buying gas at the same location? You could prevent card spend at certain merchants or you could offer incentives for purchases at approved locations. The possibilities to improve operations and employee experience are nearly endless once you have the data at your fingertips.


Not to sound like a broken record, but "when" can mean different things base on context. Most organizations rely on the expense report and date on receipts to gauge when money was spent. But that data can be weeks or months in the past. Reconciliation becomes slow and arduous. Your accounting team may not be able to categorize expenses in the correct financial period fast enough. A modern platform should pull spend data right off the card network allowing for near instantaneous reconciliation. Knowing funds were spent 45 days ago isn't helpful at all. You need to be able to see spend in real time.

You also need to think beyond just the expense report date when answering "When". For example, was the transaction on a weekend or outside of approved business hours? Was the expense generated during a time when we were under a mandated "expense freeze"? Was the expense time in the distant past? All of these are important contextual elements of running an efficient business.

But these data points are all backward facing - they help tell the story of what has happened. They don't tell the story of what is going to happen in the future. Imagine if your systems could predict what's coming. Imagine your accounting team had signals that indicate you were likely to go over budget this month, next month or next quarter? What would you do with that clarity? Your spend platform can only facilitate accurate predictions if it has real time access to the rich data ecosystem of the card networks. You won't be able to get meaningful predictions from expense reports - the categorization is not granular enough and it takes too long to to reconcile.


This is the hard one. "Why" gets at motivation and supported rationale. Why was money spent? For what purpose, client, or job? Who approved it? Your expense system may have a required field for expense reasoning but it is most likely free form text and not validated in any meaningful way. It can also be impossible to determine who approved an expense - especially smaller ones. On the surface, it is very difficult if not impossible to divine the true "Why" behind a given transaction, and it can be expensive to try to figure it out manually. Your spend management system should provide an immutable audit trail of approvals that allows for documenting spend rationale with minimal human input and time. It may seem impossible to figure out the "Why" all of the time, but if you have automation and predictability around the other 4 W's the "Why" will come to light more easily.


Most spend management systems and processes don't answer the 5 W's sufficiently or quickly enough. Speedchain offers a new kind of spend management approach that provides meaningful context to help run your business. Contact us today to learn more!


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