Abacus Puts a Dagger In Expense Reports

Oct 27th 2014
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Imagine being able to file a business expense, such as a cab ride or a meal with a new client, in real time from an app on your smartphone. Here’s the best part: Imagine being reimbursed for that expense in 24 to 48 hours.

No Excel spreadsheets are used, no envelope is needed for your pile of business trip receipts, reimbursement doesn’t take weeks, and no paper checks are issued by your employer’s accountant.

Seem far-fetched? Not if you use Abacus, an employee expense management and reimbursement tool.

Developed by a New York City-based startup company whose three founders – Omar Qari, Ted Power, and Joshua Halickman – have backgrounds building business-to-consumer web products, Abacus rolls the whole process of filing and approving expenses into one platform, which can be accessed via a mobile app or through a secure website.

“The big difference between Abacus and any other platform is that we don’t make an employee create that dreaded expense report. It’s a very clunky process that sucks for everyone involved. Employees have to hold onto receipts and wait to create the report, managers get delayed reporting that’s weeks overdue, and accountants have to sift through a lot of paperwork to understand what’s going on.” Dev Anand, head of business operations for Abacus, told AccountingWEB. “We believe that when you hop out of a cab, you should be able to file that taxi expense right then and there, instead of having to wait a couple weeks to create a report with that taxi as a line item.”

Once an expense is approved by an administrator, Abacus handles the reimbursement by issuing an automated clearinghouse (ACH) payment to the employee, who gets his or her money back in about a day or two. Expenses are also synced to the employer’s cloud accounting software. Abacus integrates with QuickBooks, Xero, and several other platforms.

“Our goal is to automate as much of the process as possible,” Anand said. “After an expense is approved, you shouldn’t have to worry about what comes next. You don’t have to cut a check, and you don’t have to do any extra expense coding in your accounting.”

Businesses only pay $5 per active user, per month for the service. Implementation takes roughly two minutes; you go to the Abacus website, click “Sign Up,” enter in your company’s information, and you’re up and running, Anand said. Employee onboarding takes under an hour. Employees receive email invites, create profiles, and link their bank accounts for reimbursements.

The mobile app is free and can be downloaded from the App Store for iPhone users or Google Play for Android users.

“We feel that transparent and fair pricing is the best way to go. We do not charge extra fees for the app, extra administrators, ACH, or accounting integrations,” Anand said. “Our customers have really appreciated that about us. We’re building the best expense tool we can, and every customer should have access to the same great product.”

How Abacus Works
Say you are on a business trip and took a $14.50 cab ride to a restaurant to meet with a new client. After opening the Abacus app on your smartphone, you enter the amount of the cab fare, take a photo of the receipt, and then tap on “Merchant,” which pulls in popular expense types and vendors nearby from which you can choose. You can then add a note about the expense, such as “cab ride to meet with a new client.”

Other features for employees include tagging clients and matching expense categories to their employer’s accounting software.

“We do our best to auto-categorize the expenses, so if you’re expensing something at Staples, we can attribute it to ‘Office Supplies.’ As an employee that’s all you have to do. When you’re done, you just hit send,” Anand said.

The platform and user interface is just as friendly for administrators, Anand noted.

“There’s that one person on the administrative side approving expenses, running reports, and doing a lot of heavy lifting,” he said. “We want to make sure the experience for that one person is just as good, if not better. If it’s not, they’re going to feel a lot of pain – and that’s not good for anybody.”

Administrators can go into an expenses inbox – via the app or the web interface – to review and approve the expenses that were submitted. They can add their own comments to a particular employee’s expense before approving it, create customized reports for individual employees or by expense category, or set rules, like requiring a receipt for taxi expenses over a certain dollar amount.

“Administrators want the best experience for their employees, but they also think about cost savings and time savings for their organization. We incorporate both by focusing on great product design and streamlining the workflow – from expense submission to accounting sync,” Anand said.

Customers of All Shapes and Sizes
Abacus customers range from mom-and-pop shops and small restaurants to companies with more than 300 employees. The Abacus team also works with several accounting firms to make the process easier for their clients.

“If you’re an accountant and you’re dealing with clients who aren’t paying close attention to their expenses, it’s going to be an administrative nightmare, having to sift through expenses or manage part of that process for them,” Anand said. “A lot of accounting firms really like us and recommended Abacus to their clients as a way to save everyone time and money.

“We invest heavily in customer success, and we work to make sure that every company that uses Abacus is happy and better off because of it,” he added. “We genuinely view our customers as partners, and they cooperate heavily on new features that we develop. Because of that, we have a lot of big fans out there.”

Related article:

How to Battle Expense Report Fraud


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