A few years removed from the pandemic, worker shortages still affect many organizations all over the U.S, up to and including in procurement and AP departments in marquee organizations, administrations, and universities.
Low staff often means that card program and finance managers, administrators, and auditors are having to do more with less. This opens the door for important tasks to slip through the cracks. It also invites new challenges and risks while turning up the pressure on the remaining team members.
In late 2023, a high-profile example of this occurred when an employee for the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL allegedly embezzled over $22 million dollars from the team. According to a report from The Athletic, “…the team’s finance department was understaffed. And turnover in key positions and a switch to a new credit card system created an opening that [the employee] exploited.” If a pro football team that Forbes estimates is worth approximately $4 billion has an understaffed finance department, it can happen just about anywhere.
With lower staff numbers being the new normal (at least for now), it’s important to make sure your team is adapting to this change and card program goals are still being pursued and met.
Here’s what you need to know about how normal operations are impacted when there are fewer workers. In addition, we’re sharing common challenges associated with this, and some practical solutions to start implementing.
Challenges Brought On By Lower Procurement Staff
Reduced Efficiency in Card Program
Lower staff can lead to a direct reduction in your card program’s efficiency. It starts with the remaining team members experiencing a time crunch.
Suddenly, there is more to get done, and not enough hands or resources. This leads to some tasks being regulated to the backburner and eventually falling by the wayside. Or maybe you’re unable to review 100% of the card spend each month. Many of us have experienced seasons where work seems to get ahead of us. However, the longer these issues exist, the harder it can be to recover and get back on track.
Managing Costs During Inflation
Building relationships with suppliers is important as well as ensuring cost savings. With inflation being at an all-time high right now, managing costs and strategic sourcing is even more important.
Staff shortages may make it harder to thoroughly monitor how much you’re spending with each supplier. This includes monitoring whether contracts are being optimized by employee cardholders.
For example, if you have a contract with Home Depot and an employee uses their P-Card to purchase items from Lowes, this could unnecessarily increase costs.
Expense Audit Slow Down
The saying many hands make light work can definitely relate to the expense audit process for your card program. Fewer workers extend the expense review process or there isn’t enough time to assess each cardholder’s business reasons or receipts.
Unfortunately, falling behind or not having enough internal controls could lead to an increase in fraud and card misuse.
Weakened Internal Controls
Perhaps the riskiest result of understaffing is a lack of time and attention dedicated to internal auditing and strengthening of internal controls, opening the doors for embezzlement and expense fraud. An unfortunate but obvious reality, especially to perpetrators, is that when there are less people responsible for keeping an eye on an organization’s spend, it’s easier to get away with expense fraud.
How to Continue Making Progress Despite a Smaller Team
If you feel like your team is being spread too thin, you’re not alone. Many are experiencing the challenges mentioned above. Thankfully, there are a few actionable steps you can take to continue making progress and grow your card program – even with a smaller team.
Restructure Team Roles and Ensure Oversight
As the workforce shifts at your organization, be sure to introduce a conversation about restructuring team roles. Some positions may have to be merged or other team members can be brought in to conduct specific roles.
For instance, you want to make sure the person carrying out the P-Card transaction audit is not also holding a P-Card themselves. Restructure and establish a realistic chain of command.
That way, each person knows their role and there is plenty of oversight to increase visibility and improve communication (even between departments).
Outsource Cardholder Training
Cardholder training is essential to make sure employees are up-to-date with the latest card program policies and best practices. It’s too easy for an employee to say “I didn’t know” or “my mistake” when their purchase violates policy or costs the organization a sizable amount of money.
When the policy is updated or new supplier protocols are introduced, the idea of rounding up each employee to host a training class can seem daunting. A reasonable solution to this is to provide online training. That way, people can take an interactive course on their own time.
You can outsource cardholder online training to a third party like Card Integrity. We customize the curriculum to fit your unique card program and objectives.
Optimize Data Insights Using Technology
Tracking commercial card expenses ensures compliance, prevents fraud and misuse, and also uncovers trends and cost savings opportunities. None of this can be uncovered without collecting the necessary data. As more and more data is becoming available, organizations are steadily losing the staff to help assess it.
Consider utilizing technology and AI to help gather and sort all your spend data. Then, you can shift your focus from this tedious task to actionable insights as a result of the data. At Card Integrity, we provide seamless integration of data monitoring insights.
Our professionals establish key findings within your transactions and summarize these insights so you can establish clear next steps.
Shed Light on Supplier Insights with Automation
Worried about a particular supplier or just need more visibility? It’s so important to have a clear view of how commercial card spend and even invoices are progressing with certain suppliers. You may also be interested in competitive pricing and doing more business with a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE).
Such supplier insights can influence decision-making within the organization. The good news is that you can gain these insights even if you’re enduring a staff shortage. Thanks to automation and analytics, data reviews that indicate important supplier details don’t have to suck up too much of your time. This means less physical work by your internal team and a lighter and more sustainable workload and process.
Yes, Replace Staff, But Also Invite a New Partner In
Staff may very well need to be hired to fill in certain gaps depending on your organization. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that you can partner with a third-party expense monitoring service like Card Integrity to lighten the data-gathering workload and strengthen your internal controls.
We offer a range of services to improve spend visibility and protect against card misuse or fraud. When new and current employees see that you have up-to-date tools and resources to conduct a thorough expense audit each month, they will be even more encouraged and hopeful about their day-to-day workflow.
Begin with our flagship service, DataWISE. DataWISE monitors 100% of transactions each month to analyze trends, behaviors, and potential red flags that need to be addressed.
Consider pairing DataWISE with our Invoice Review service which reviews all your invoices to check for duplicate payments from commercial cards and the Accounts Payable side.
As you onboard new staff or publish policy updates, utilize TrainingWISE. This service provides new cardholder training and refresher training online courses for your employees.
At Card Integrity, we believe in partnering with organizations to help them gain the necessary insights to maintain and grow their card program. If you find yourself with low staff numbers to assist with your efforts right now, be sure to explore our solutions and set up a free demonstration.
That way, you can see firsthand how partnering with Card Integrity can help you uncover important data and meet your goals.
Blog post originally published April 11, 2022. Updated December 13, 2023.