Reducing Electrovision’s Travel and Entertainment Costs Here is the report you requested January 30 on Electrovision’s travel and entertainment costs. Your suspicion was right. We are spending far too much on business travel. Our unwritten policy has been “anything goes,” leaving us with no real control over T&E expenses. Although this hands-off approach may have been understandable when Electrovision’s profits were high, we can no longer afford the luxury of going first class.
The solutions to the problem seem rather clear. We need to have someone with centralized responsibility for travel and entertainment costs, a clear statement of policy, an effective control system, and a business-oriented travel service that can optimize our travel arrangements. We should also investigate alternatives to travel, such as videoconferencing. Perhaps more important, we need to change our attitude. Instead of viewing travel funds as a bottomless supply of money, all traveling employees need to act as though they were paying the bills themselves. Getting people to economize is not going to be easy.
In the course of researching this issue, I’ve found that our employees are exceedingly attached to their first-class travel privileges. I think they would almost prefer a cut in pay to a loss in travel moderation. One thing is clear: People will be very bitter if we create a two-class system in which top executives get special privileges while the rest of the employees make the sacrifices. I’m grateful to Mary Lehman and Connie McIlvain for their help in collecting and sorting through five years’ worth of expense reports. Their efforts were truly Herculean. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to work on this assignment. It’s been a real education. If you have any questions about the report, please give me a call.
This report analyzes Electrovision’s travel and entertainment (T&E) costs and presents recommendations for reducing those costs. Travel and Entertainment Costs Are Too High Travel and Entertainment is a large and growing expense category for Electrovision. The company spends over $16 million per year on business travel, and these costs have been increasing by 12 percent annually. Company employees make roughly 3,390 trips each year at an average cost per trip of $4,720. Airfares are the biggest expense, followed by hotels, meals, and rental cars.
The nature of Electrovision’s business does require extensive travel, but the company’s costs appear to be excessive. Every year Electrovision employees spend more than twice as much on T&E as the average business traveler. Although the location of the company’s facilities may partly explain this discrepancy, the main reason for Electrovision’s high costs is the firm’s philosophy and managerial style. Electrovision’s tradition and its hands-off style almost invite employees to go first class and pay relatively little attention to travel costs. Cuts Are Essential
Although Electrovision has traditionally been casual about travel and entertainment expenses, management now recognizes the need to gain more control over this element of costs. The company is currently entering a period of declining profits, prompting management to look for every opportunity to reduce spending. At the same time, rising airfares and hotel rates are making travel and entertainment expenses more important to the bottom line.
Electrovision Can Save $6 Million per Year Fortunately, Electrovision has a number of excellent opportunities for reducing its travel and entertainment costs. Savings of up to $6 million should be achievable, judging by the experience of other companies. American Express suggests that a sensible travel-management program can save companies as much as 35 percent a year (Gilligan 39-40). Given that we purchase many more first-class tickets than the average company, we should be able to achieve even greater savings. The first priority should be to hire a director of travel and entertainment to assume overall responsibility for T&E spending.
This individual should establish a written travel and entertainment policy and create a budget and a cost-control system. The director should also retain a nationwide travel agency to handle our reservations and should lead an investigation into electronic alternatives to travel. At the same time, Electrovision should make employees aware of the need for moderation in travel and entertainment spending. People should be encouraged to forgo any unnecessary travel and to economize on airline tickets, hotels, meals, rental cars, and other expenses. In addition to economizing on an individual basis, Electrovision should look for ways to reduce costs by negotiating preferential rates with travel providers. Once retained, a travel agency should be able to accomplish this.
Finally, we should look into the alternatives to travel. Although we may have to invest money in videoconferencing systems or other equipment, we may be able to recover these costs through decreased travel expenses. I recommend that the new travel director undertake this investigation to make sure it is well integrated with the rest of the travel program. These changes, although necessary, are likely to hurt morale, at least in the short term. Management will need to make a determined effort to explain the rationale for reduced spending. By exercising moderation in their own travel arrangements, Electrovision executives can set a good example and help other employees accept the changes. On the plus side, cutting back on travel with videoconferencing or other alternatives will reduce the travel burden on many employees and help them balance their business and personal lives much better.
Electrovision has always encouraged a significant amount of business travel, believing that it is an effective way of operating. To compensate employees for the inconvenience and stress of frequent trips, management has authorized generous travel and entertainment (T&E) allowances. This philosophy has been good for morale, but the company has paid a price. Last year Electrovision spent $16 million on T&E–$7 million more than it spent on research and development. This year the cost of travel and entertainment will have a bigger impact on profits, owing to changes in airfares and hotel rates. The timing of these changes is unfortunate because the company anticipates that profits will be relatively weak for a variety of other reasons. In light of these profit pressures, Dennis McWilliams, Vice President of Operations, has asked the accounting department to take a closer look at the T&E budget.
Purpose, Scope, and Limitations
The purpose of this report is to analyze the T&E budget, evaluate the impact of recent changes in airfares and hotel costs, and suggest ways to tighten management’s control over T&E expenses. Although the report outlines a number of steps that could reduce Electrovision’s expenses, the precise financial impact of these measures is difficult to project. The estimates presented in the report provide a “best guess” view of what Electrovision can expect to save. Until the company actually implements these steps, however, we won’t know exactly how much the travel and entertainment budget can be reduced.
Sources and Methods
In preparing this report, the accounting department analyzed internal expense reports for the past five years to determine how much Electrovision spends on travel and entertainment. These figures were then compared with average statistics compiled by Dow Jones (publisher of The Wall Street Journal) and presented as the Dow Jones Travel Index. We also analyzed trends and suggestions published in a variety of business journal articles to see how other companies are coping with the high cost of business travel.
This report reviews the size and composition of Electrovision’s travel and entertainment expenses, analyzes trends in travel costs, and recommends steps for reducing the T&E budget.
Although many companies view travel and entertainment as an “incidental” cost of doing business, the dollars add up. At Electrovision the bill for airfares, hotels, rental cars, meals, and entertainment totaled $16 million last year. Our T&E budget has increased by 12 percent per year for the past five years. Compared with the average U.S. Business’s travel expenditures, Electrovision’s expenditures are high, largely because of management’s generous policy on travel benefits. $16 Million per Year Spent on Travel and Entertainment
Electrovision’s annual budget for travel and entertainment is only 8 percent of sales. Because this is a relatively small expense category compared with such things as salaries and commissions, it is tempting to dismiss T&E costs as insignificant. However, T&E is Electrovision’s third-largest controllable expense, directly behind salaries and information systems. Last year Electrovision personnel made about 3,390 trips at an average cost per trip of $4,720.
The typical trip involved a round-trip flight of 3,000 miles, meals and hotel accommodations for two or three days, and a rental car. Roughly 80 percent of the trips were made by 20 percent of the staff–top management and sales personnel traveled most, averaging 18 trips per year. Figure 1 illustrates how the travel and entertainment budget is spent. The largest categories are airfares and lodging, which together account for $7 out of every $10 that employees spend on travel and entertainment. This spending breakdown has been relatively steady for the past five years and is consistent with the distribution of expenses experienced by other companies.
Figure 1 Airfares and Lodging Account for Over Two-Thirds of Electrovision’s Travel and Entertainment Budget
Although the composition of the T&E budget has been consistent, its size has not. As mentioned earlier, these expenditures have increased by about 12 percent per year for the past five years, roughly twice the rate of the company’s growth in sales (see Figure 2). This rate of growth makes T&E Electrovision’s fastest-growing expense item.
Figure 2 Travel and Entertainment Expenses Exceed National Averages Electrovision’s Travel Expenses Exceed National Averages Much of our travel budget is justified. Two major factors contribute to Electrovision’s high travel and entertainment budget:
•With our headquarters on the West Coast and our major customer on the East Coast, we naturally spend a lot on cross-country flights. •A great deal of travel takes place between our headquarters here on the West Coast and the manufacturing operations in Detroit, Boston, and Dallas. Corporate managers and division personnel make frequent trips to coordinate these disparate operations. However, even though a good portion of Electrovision’s travel budget is justifiable, our travelers spend considerable more on travel and entertainment than the average business traveler (see Figure 3).
Figure 3 Electrovision People Spend Over The Dow Jones Travel Index calculates the average cost per day of business travel in the United States, based on average airfare, hotel rates, and rental car rates. The average fluctuates weekly as travel companies change their rates, but it has been running about $1,000 per day for the last year or so. In contrast, Electrovision’s average daily expense over the past year has been $2,250—125 percent higher than average. This figure is based on the average trip cost of $4,720 listed earlier and an average trip length of 2.1 days.
Spending Has Been Encouraged
Although a variety of factors may contribute to this differential, Electrovision’s relatively high T&E costs are at least partially attributable to the company’s philosophy and management style. Because many employees do not enjoy business travel, management has tried to make the trips more pleasant by authorizing first-class airfare, luxury hotel accommodations, and full-size rental cars. The sales staff is encouraged to entertain clients at top restaurants and to invite them to cultural and sporting events. The cost of these privileges is easy to overlook, given the weakness of Electrovision’s system for keeping track of T&E expenses:
•The monthly financial records provided to management do not contain a separate category for travel and entertainment; the information is buried under Cost of Goods Sold and under Selling, General, and Administration Expenses. •Each department head is given authority to approve any expense report, regardless of how large it may be. •Receipts are not required for expenditures of less than $100. •Individuals are allowed to make their own travel arrangements. •No one is charged with the responsibility for controlling the company’s total spending on travel and entertainment.
During the past three years, the company’s healthy profits have resulted in relatively little pressure to push for tighter controls overall aspects of the business. However, as we all know, the situation is changing. We’re projecting flat to declining profits for the next two years, a situation that has prompted all of us to search for ways to cut costs. At the same time, rising airfares and hotel rates have increased the impact of T&E expenses on the company’s financial results.
Lower Profits Underscore the Need for Change
The next two years promise to be difficult for Electrovision. After several years of steady increases in spending, the Postal Service is tightening procurement policies for automated mail-handling equipment. Funding for the A-12 optical character reader has been canceled. As a consequence, the marketing department expects sales to drop by 15 percent. Although Electrovision is negotiating several promising R&D contracts with nongovernmental clients, the marketing department does not foresee any major procurements for the next two to three years.
At the same time, Electrovision is facing costs increases on several fronts. As we’ve known for several months, the new production facility now under construction in Salt Lake City, Utah, is behind schedule and over budget. labor contracts in Boston and Dallas expire within the next six months, and plant managers there anticipate that significant salary and benefits concessions may be necessary to avoid strikes. Moreover, marketing and advertising costs are expected to increase as we attempt to strengthen these activities to better cope with competitive pressures. Given the expected decline in revenues and increase in costs, the Executive committee’s prediction that profits will fall by 12 percent in the coming fiscal year does not seem overly pessimistic.
Airfares and Hotel Rates Are Rising
Business travelers have grown accustomed to frequent fare wars and discounting in the travel industry in recent years. Excess capacity and aggressive price competition, particularly in the airline business, made travel a relative bargain. However, that situation has changed, as weaker competitors have been forced out and the remaining players have grown stronger and smarter. Airlines and hotels are better at managing inventory and keeping occupancy rates high, and high occupancy translates into higher prices because suppliers have les reason to compete on price. Last year saw some of the steepest rate hikes in years. Business airfares (tickets most likely to be purchased by business travelers) jumped over 40 percent in many markets. The trend is expected to continue, with rates increasing another 5 to 10 percent overall (Phillips 331; “Travel Costs Under Pressure” 30; Dahl B6). Given the fact that airfare and hotel costs account for 70 percent of Electrovision’s T&E budget, the trend toward higher prices in these two categories will have serious consequences on the company’s expenses unless management takes action to control these costs.
By implementing a number of reforms, management can expect to reduce Electrovision’s T&E budget by as much as 40 percent. This estimate is based on the general assessment made by American Express (Gilligan 130-140) and the fact that we have an opportunity to significantly reduce air travel costs by reducing or eliminating first-class travel. However, these measures are likely to be unpopular with employees. To gain acceptance for such changes, management will need to sell employees on the need for moderation in travel and entertainment allowances.
Four Ways to Trim Expenses
By researching what other companies are doing to curb travel and entertainment expenses, the accounting department has identified four prominent opportunities that should enable Electrovision to save about $6 million annually in travel-related costs.