August 28, 2019

How to implement a spend pre-approval process that your team will love

Written by
Jessica Malnik
Jessica Malnik
How to implement a spend pre-approval process that your team will loveHow to implement a spend pre-approval process that your team will love

Sharing company cards makes it easy for employees to get the tools they need to get work done, but this practice starts to break down when you get to 50 or more employees and it becomes time-consuming to reconcile transactions and rein in employee spending. 

Most finance teams know that they have this problem, but they’re afraid of slowing employees down with a spend pre-approval process. Nobody wants to deal with purchase orders, right?

Teams want to spend money without any hurdles. At the same time finance needs real-time visibility and control over spend to keep the company safe. 

The Airbase expense pre-approval process gives businesses the best of both worlds:

The five key elements of a streamlined pre-approval process

Setting up a formal pre-approval process doesn’t have to be complicated with purchase requests, purchase orders, and a large finance team managing it all.

You can have a pre-approval workflow that’s easy for employees to follow and provides all of the control that your company needs without adding overhead.

Simple pre-approval requests

The process for submitting approval requests should be as fast as filling out a Google Form.

For example, it takes an employee less than a minute to submit an expense request in Airbase. They just need to enter in the vendor name, the spend amount, set it to one-time or recurring, select the expense account (if they know it), and (optional) attach an invoice or other supporting documentation.

The approvals list will populate automatically following your company’s preset policy and the request will go directly to the correct approvers once it’s submitted. This is a great experience for the employee because now they know exactly who has to approve the request.

Once the request is approved, the employee will receive a confirmation email with a link to their auto-generated virtual card details in Airbase that they can use to complete their purchase.

To the employee, this process looks similar to getting an approval and using the corporate card to make a purchase. However, to the business, using virtual cards adds an extra layer of control and visibility. Now finance can see who owns each transaction, what it's for, who approved it, and access supporting documentation.

Automated approval routing for spend requests

Your pre-approval process starts with your approval matrix. This is the workflow that automatically routes spend requests to the correct approvers based on amount thresholds, roles, and reporting lines.

For example, you can have managers approve expenses for their direct reports up to a certain amount, say $200, and you can set VPs and directors as approvers for expenses up to a larger spend threshold, $10,000 for example. Any expense that exceeds that $10,000 limit will have to go through another approval level such as the CEO or CFO.

You can set an approval policy for each department. For example, you can have all support expenses require approvals from both the support manager as well as the Director of Customer Success while sales expenses may only need to go through the VP of Sales.

You may also want to introduce finance people into the approval chain as the business grows. For example, you can set your FP&A manager as the first approver for all large expense requests to ensure budget adherence.

Seamless approval experience

The process for reviewing and approving spend requests should be just as easy as creating them. In Airbase, we make the process easier by sending the approver an email with all of the request details with "approve" and "deny" buttons right within the email.

Approvers also have the power to set the correct expense account and write notes or ask questions within the request itself.

Smart management for recurring expenses

Ten years ago, nearly everything was a one-time purchase. Today, many payments are recurring subscriptions. Recurring expenses require additional scrutiny as monthly subscriptions costs can add up over time. Your spend request form asks about renewal frequency and automatically calculates the total cost for the duration of the subscription.

Airbase can also sync transactions with your general ledger software and correctly code recurring transactions automatically.

Pro tip: In Airbase, we collect the renewal frequency information. That allows the system to automatically remind you a month before a subscription renews. You can also set the payment card to lock before the renewal date to prevent unwanted auto-renewal charges.

Rich audit trails for accounting

The final key element is a digital paper-trail or log that your accounting team can use to easily find all of the necessary information for internal and external review.

We’ve made this document collection process easy in Airbase. Users can upload contracts, invoices, and any other supporting documents that you want in the approval request form.

The platform also reminds users to upload receipts after transactions enter the system so that the finance team can find all of the relevant documents when it’s time to review spend.


A formal pre-approval process doesn’t need to be complicated and time-intensive.

To take back control of your budget and curb overspending, you need to have these five elements in place: easy-to-create approval requests, customizable approval policies for automated approval routing, a simple payment review process, smart management for recurring payments, and rich audit trails for accounting.

Interested in learning how Airbase can help you implement an expense pre-approval process? Schedule a demo today.

About Airbase

Airbase offers a one platform solution to manage all non-payroll spend. It provides oversight and control over spending with real-time reporting and automatic syncing directly to your general ledger. Control all paymentsphysical cards, virtual cards, ACH, and checks – from one place. Close faster. Empower employees. Control spend.