Finding the Errors

While recent announcements of hacking and cyber theft at large companies have become commonplace, one organization is helping companies identify and prevent fraud by taking a closer look at their travel and expense (T&E) data and reports. By applying forensic analytics to expense report data and delivering instant access to specific insights that translate the findings to plain language actions, Oversight Systems is able to help non-technical financial executives and their teams prevent, pinpoint and reduce fraudulent activity, as well as correct inevitable, innocent errors.

According to the analyst firm, IDC, only a small fraction of business people use powerful analytics tools as part of their decision making today. Oversight intentionally designed its sophisticated analytics to be easy to acquire and use, and a good place to start seeing immediate results is in the area of T&E.

In a recent benchmark report, the company conducted an analysis of billions of dollars worth of travel and expense reports from clients amounting to roughly 10 million individual T&E expense line items. From this data, Oversight Systems' Insights on Demand found .75 percent duplicate items across the analysis. 10 percent of the 160,000 travelers analyzed for the report had at least one duplicate item on an expense report.

“Certainly a portion of the activity we uncover is innocent mistakes,” said Oversight Systems' CEO Patrick Taylor. “We will find with any company, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of duplicates, even when some are unintentional,” Taylor adding, “of course if we see a pattern, if it happens more than once, it's probably worth digging into to see if there is something there – and, at the very least this encourages employees to change their work habits and creates an environment of accountability.”

Taylor warned that at other times, finding errors in expense reports could mean that something nefarious might be happening. “It's very often a smoking gun for other issues,” Taylor told The Suit Magazine. In one case, Insights on Demand pointed to an employee submitting a number of expenses, while further investigation showed he was also stealing goods from company loading docks.

Beyond T&E, Insights on Demand currently analyzes financial data in two other areas: purchase cards and accounts payable. Companies can choose one area or all three. Insights on Demand then looks at company data under the microscope to identify trends, patterns and suspicious claims.

“We look for fraudulent issues, for example, suspicious out-of-pocket expenses and/or duplicate submissions,” said Taylor. “We encourage clients to think first about which of these are the most meaningful and if acted on, could positively impact their organizations and often after they get started they realized just how expensive it is for them to not monitor expenses on an ongoing basis. Our hope is that companies can leverage this type of analysis to make a difference at their organizations.”

Data are typically analyzed monthly. Originally, Oversight Systems wanted to analyze client data more frequently, such as weekly or daily, but found that typically, clients' time constraints dictated monthly time allotments for reviewing expense claims made by employees. Recognizing that monthly reports fit the cadence of business life, Oversight Systems then integrated the time frame into Insights on Demand.

“Historically we would have been pushing the point of using the analysis continuously and saying, ‘Let's go find real-time; let's nip that problem in the bud,’ ” said Taylor. “All of that is intellectually correct, but when we went to an on-demand, cloud-based analysis model meaning zero software is installed, we found that it made the most sense and fit better into their business for our customers to get analysis once a month.”

Getting started with data analysis, no matter what the frequency is or how much data exists, isn’t as intimidating and difficult as people think. With the right tools, data analysis is easy and can quickly provide insights that can be used to identify fraud, save money and impact positive change in an organization.

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