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Best expense management software: Perfect for small businesses

Best Expense Management Software
(Image credit: ShutterStock)

Tracking and managing expenses was once a hugely tedious process. Employees who travelled for business and spent money doing so had to carry around a wallet stuffed with crumpled paper receipts. There were no backups. Lose a receipt and you lost the cash. But now the best expense management software has helped change all that. Of course before that wasn’t the case.

At the end of the trip, all that information had to be laboriously typed into a spreadsheet. Only then could the approval and reimbursement process begin.

And guess what? That was a huge chore too. Managers had to manually check receipts against the amounts entered, check figures against company spending policy, check receipts against credit card statements, and so on. Or to put it another way, there was a lot of checking before any cheques got signed. If anyone spotted an error the whole process had to begin again. If they didn’t, the books didn’t balance and accountants got angry. 

All in all, expense management was time consuming, frustrating and prone to error. But no longer. With the advent of cloud technology and smartphones, a host of digital alternatives have rushed in to take the pain from receipt capture, expense tracking and reimbursement.

They generally do a very good job of simplifying the process at both ends of the expense management journey. Users are encouraged to take photographs of their receipts with a camera phone and prepare expense claims with the associated mobile app, which can be done in a matter of moments. Back at base, administrators and managers get to approve claims with a single click, unless the software alerts them to violations in company policy first. The software also reconciles claims against receipts and syncs with both credit card accounts and accounting software.

Given the sheer drudgery of manual expense management, any digital solution will save you time and money. But there are small - if sometimes significant - points of difference between competing packages. Here’s our pick of the best solutions based on various criteria and requirements. Click on the links to read the full review.

1. Expensify: best overall


(Image credit: Expensify)

The best overall expense management software

Free trial: 7 days (expandable to 28)
Software type: SaaSMobile: iOS, Android, Windows
PhoneSupport: Email, knowledge base
Reasons to buy
+A host of time saving automations+Nice auto-approval tool+Good travel integrations
Reasons to avoid
-A little daunting at first-No live chat or phone support

Expense management software is a hugely competitive market and solutions like Rydoo, Certify Now and Zoho Expense all make a convincing case for claiming the top spot. We’re going with Expensify because it does everything well, and includes a few nice touches that are unique. For instance, Expensify includes a simple but capable invoicing tool, which means you can easily turn an expense report into an invoice.  

Expensify is full featured, easy to use and very capable. It does a good job of automating everything it can, and making the life of admins and approvers easier as a result. A nice feature is Expensify’s automatic approval option. Turn the option on and Expensify will take away much of the heavy lifting of approving trivial and routine expenses, while being sure to alert you to anything it considers unusual.

Staff, meanwhile, will be thrilled at the software’s rapid reimbursement tool, that should get them repaid for their expense spending within 24 hours of submitting a receipt. Expensify’s SmartScan Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software (the technology that reads the details of a paper receipt and auto fills an online report) is also among the best available.

In other words, Expensify has thought of pretty much everything, making it the complete expense management package.

2. Rydoo: second best overall


(Image credit: Rydoo)

The second best overall expense management software

Free trial: 14 days
Software type: SaaS
Mobile: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Support: Live chat, knowledge base, email
Reasons to buy
+Excellent admin features+Competitively priced+Integrates well with Rydoo travel manager
Reasons to avoid
-OCR can feel a little slow-Some useful features not available at lowest price point

Both Rydoo and Certify lost out to Expensify by a whisker at most. Rydoo takes runner up spot by virtue of its excellent rule setting process and approvals routing, and easy set up.

Rydoo also integrates with its own travel booking service, which is great if you’re a regular business traveller (or have regular business travellers in your organisation). Using Rydoo’s expense and travel management solutions in tandem automates even more of the expense reporting process.

Rydoo supports automatic expense report creation, and it also lets admins run expense overview and reimbursement reports for analysis. Users can track miles using Rydoo’s mobile app, by filling in the start and end points for road trips manually or using Google Maps to work out the appropriate costings. Unusually, Rydoo also boasts a time tracking feature, allowing you to track hours worked on a particular project, with a rate attached.

It also features excellent mobile apps on all platforms, and a very reasonable starting price point. Taken together, it is clear that Rydoo is a very capable and full-featured expense management solution, and a worthy runner up in our list.

3. Zoho Expense: best connected

Zoho Expense

(Image credit: Zoho)

The best connected expense management software

Free trial: 14 days
Software type: SaaS
Mobile: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Support: Email, phone, forum, FAQ
Reasons to buy
+Excellent standard features+Good integrations+Part of the Zoho suite of connected small business tools
Reasons to avoid
-Not the prettiest-No auto-categorization

Zoho Expense is part of the Zoho family of small business applications, many of which are interconnected. Zoho Expense can be purchased as part of the Zoho One plan, which gives users access to a full range of Zoho small business solutions.

Zoho Expense is a very decent solution on its own. Add the rest of the family and it becomes part of a powerful financial and productivity software suite.

As part of the Zoho ecosystem, Zoho integrates seamlessly with Zoho CRM, Zoho Invoice and Zoho Books (accounting), to name just three. Integrate Zoho Expense with Zoho CRM, for example, and on-the-road sales teams can submit expenses tied to a specific customer or project.

If you already use Zoho Books or one of the developer’s other small business packages, there’s little reason to look elsewhere. Even if you don’t, it’s worth a look. Unusually, it also boasts a free version which, if you’re a freelancer or micro-business, might be all you need.

4. Abacus: most user friendly


(Image credit: Abacus)

The most user friendly expense management software

Free trial: 30 days (but you have to contact the company)
Software type: SaaS Mobile: iOS, Android
Support: Knowledge base, email (live chat and phone at higher price points)
Reasons to buy
+Excellent design+Well thought out admin tools+Quick reimbursement process will delight staff
Reasons to avoid
-No automatic mileage calculation-Only email support at the cheapest price point

One of the keys to good expense management software is getting employees to use it. Abacus is perhaps the best of the bunch in terms of excellent user experience.

Abacus has a clean, contemporary feel and a very gentle learning curve. Even less tech-savvy employees will have no trouble getting to grips with it. From setup onwards, Abacus is a joy to use.

Abacus has really been built for speed, which will also impress your employees no end. For users, the nice thing is that they can simply submit a receipt, without having to attach it to an expense report, saving time and hassle. Similarly, rules and workflows are designed to push expenses through the process in the shortest possible time. In theory, users can speed from receipt capture to reimbursement in just 48 hours. 

Abacus is a little better suited to smaller businesses with more straightforward requirements, if only because the software lacks some of the travel-related integrations and automations that some rivals offer. Nevertheless, Abacus is a very good solution with a user experience that is second to none.

Best of the rest

We wouldn’t claim that our top four is definitive. Expense management is an increasingly crowded market and there are some excellent solutions that are worthy contenders to the packages above.

One is Concur Expense. We were impressed with its (Zoho-style) extended family of apps, excellent OCR technology and detailed analytics. It is one of the best solutions for larger businesses, though smaller SME may find some of its functionality redundant. 

Small businesses may prefer Receipt Bank, which is not as full-featured as some others but is easy to use, features excellent integrations and makes capturing receipts easy. Another option is ExpensePath, which may be a good fit for smaller organisations because of its responsive and knowledgeable customer service team.

Finally, we come to Certify Now. Certify is a big name in expense management software and is considered the most complete package of all by many users. It is certainly powerful, with excellent OCR and a very handy geo-location service that recommends local hotels, restaurants and more. Its excellent analytics and reports give you a clear idea of who is spending what, where and why, providing valuable insight that can help reduce expense spending or target it more profitably.

Many users would put Certify and Concur up with the best in the sector, and we wouldn’t disagree. We simply liked using other solutions a little more. In truth there is little to separate the top four or five packages beyond personal preference.

Some are particularly useful for regular business travellers, while others are especially well integrated with other accounting, finance and productivity applications. Some give slightly more weight to admin features over user experience, and vice versa. All the packages in this roundup offer free trials, and our advice is to narrow them down to a top two or three and try them out

Hugh Wilson
Hugh Wilson writes about business and the interface of business and technology for a range of titles including The Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, The Times, BBC and MSN.