How tech companies are fixing the expense process mess

Company expense processes are messy and time-consuming. Here’s how some clever startups are fixing this with embedded cards and payment control features.

Sarah Wachter
February 24, 2021
6 min read

Company expense processes are still a mess.

True story from a Swan colleague:

“At my old company, I used to spend around 2–3k€ a week on business expenses with my own money. At the end of the week, I had to take pictures of all my receipts, transform them into a PDF, upload them onto a crappy software, detail what I spent, with whom, and for what reason. Then I would wait for a week for a random guy to check my receipts, who would ask questions because one of the PDFs is illegible. When expenses were finally approved, they were sent to an administrative employee, who would execute a transfer to reimburse me a few days or even a few weeks later…it was hell.” 🔥

☝️This scenario should not be happening in the 2020s. Companies today, whether they’re startups or established corporations, have technologies to make everything easier. Why should expenses be such a pain?

A lot of smart, innovative companies know this. Some are already addressing the problem. For example, receipt-scanning apps let employees snap a photo of their receipts into the app. Then they’re automatically paid back at the end of the month. Not bad.

But they can do even better. 🙂

Here are some issues companies are still dealing with:

Expecting employees to advance payments with their personal cards.👎This isn’t the best option to accommodate everyone on payroll — not all employees are able to or want to advance their own money for work expenses.

Wasting time trying to figure out every single euro spent in a company — by who, what, where, when, and why.❓No one needs these questions clogging their thoughts. Companies should be able to manage and control all spending in one place.

Fraud (internal and external) — when employees get access to company money, there can be a real temptation to buy personal stuff. 😬 This is especially the case in big companies. It should be easy to remove the temptation to misuse funds by making it practically impossible. Companies need to be able to shield themselves from fraud in their expense processes.

So what’s the best way to solve these issues?

Smart company cards to the rescue!

With the right tool, it’s easy to create smart company cards for employees, regardless of their rank or spending needs.

Smart company cards can be set with spending limits and expiration dates, so employees can be trusted to make the payments they need — without risking internal or external fraud.

And the right tool will let companies track everything they spend, in one place.

At Swan, we have all the bricks needed to build the perfect expense card solution.

Provide long-term use cards.

💸Set spending limits — both the amount and what type of payments can be made.

Example: A design firm gives employees 150€ to spend each month and lets them spend exclusively at Peter’s Paper and Inga’s Ink. If an employee tries to buy a McDonald’s cheeseburger, the payment will automatically be refused.

Spending limits can be assigned to a group of people, rather than an individual.

Example: A sales team is allotted 2,000€ this month. Person 1 might spend 1,500€ all at once, leaving the rest of their team just 500€ to spend for the rest of the month.

👀Payment control. (We’re currently building this.)

When you pay by card in a shop, the register takes a couple of seconds. What’s happening is there’s a communication to your bank. The bank has to answer, “OK. This payment can go through” or “Nope. Block this payment”.

There are 2 ways to handle payment control with Swan:

  1. With Swan’s pre-existing dashboard. It lets you set rules.
    Example: Block payments by Chrysten’s Company’s cards on Saturday and Sunday, and limit them to payments at bookstores. You can set up limits on the amount, Currency, merchantID, Mastercard Merchant Category Code, City, Country.
  2. If you want to make your own system, you can go further with our APIs. Swan will request authorization for every single payment. This is a rare and special feature. 😉 If you want to do this, you’ll need to respond with a fast and reliable server.

Provide single-use cards for online payments.

Single-use cards, also known as “dynamic virtual cards” are exclusively for virtual e-commerce payments. They let companies minimize internal and external fraud risk.

When we generate a single-use card, we ask “how much money is it for?”. The person generating it performs a strong authentication (3DS SCA), giving the card permission to make one single payment up to that amount. This means the payment is validated as soon as the card is generated. So we won’t ask again for a code by SMS code, even if the merchant requests it at the time of payment. (FYI single-use cards with Apple Pay or Google Pay aren’t available yet, but hopefully one day! We’d love to build that.)


  • Every time your customer has a new employee, they give them a 1-time use card to purchase the equipment they need to get started.
  • The intern needs to buy a birthday cake🎂. Your customer generates a card worth 50 euros. After buying a cake for 45 euros, the intern tries to order a burger and the payment is rejected.
  • A company needs an assistant to purchase a luxury car for their company. They can just generate a single-use card for the assistant, with two limits: a payment limit of 40,000€, and an e-commerce limit — they’ll define which dealership can take the payment. This massive, stressful payment becomes easy to manage!

Any company can easily start issuing both plastic and virtual cards with their brand. They just have to connect with Swan.

20 years ago, if you reached for your payment card it was always a plastic card. It had a name, a card number, a chip, and a magnetic stripe on the back. If you lost it, you had a no good, very bad day. Today, cards are going virtual. These are simply a digital representation of the physical card you are used to. They’re identified by their number and kept in a digital wallet — so they can’t be lost.

Most of us still have at least one plastic card, but the virtual version is starting to take over and it has a lot of perks!

  • Instant issuing, instant use (you don’t have to wait for delivery)
  • Easily make online purchases anywhere that accepts Mastercard
  • Can’t lose it!
  • No production cost (no printing, no shipping)

To start supplying cards with Swan, you just use our dashboard to upload your logo and pick your color. It’s honestly really easy. We’re proud of that. If virtual, customers will receive their cards instantly upon order. If physical, they arrive by snail-mail just a few days after being ordered.

In short, there are still some tools missing to do expense cards really well. Swan’s ambition is to supply those tools so that innovative companies can create the best possible expense management systems out there.

Some players, like Spendesk and Pleo, are doing a good job with this today, but the market is far from saturated! Tons of customer-tailored examples can still be built, and connecting to our APIs makes this easy.

Sarah Wachter
February 24, 2021
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