Unless you live in a cave or have just woken up from a months-long coma, you’ll have noticed that the Olympics are in full swing.

However, in addition to marveling at the athletes' exploits (go Team GB!), seeing participants from more than 200 countries and territories competing made my mind spin in terms of the sheer logistics when it comes to the expenses that each team must incur, and how these will all get reimbursed into the currencies used across those nations once everyone returns next week. It’s truly a feat of global expense management on an epic scale.

While obviously each country’s Olympic committee handles its own delegation’s travel and out-of-pocket expenses, the thought of having a single global expense management system for handling the expenses of all athletes, coaches and support staff is mind-boggling. How would I go about setting up a workable program?

Consider the stats: 18,500 users, across 208 countries and territories, being reimbursed to 180 currencies. On top of this, some teams trained in third countries before arriving in Brazil, so it may not just be a single currency (the Brazilian real) or tax jurisdiction being reimbursed from.

So given all these, in my hypothetical daydream (or maybe it’s a nightmare) of having to handle expenses for all attendees in Rio, what would I need to consider?

Related: 5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Global Expense Management Solution

Automate it: Having to manually process around 20,000 expense reports, all submitted over a very short timeframe, with receipts stapled to spreadsheets would be the ultimate administrative nightmare. Finding an expense management solution to automate it would be critical, otherwise some athletes may be competing in Tokyo by the time they get reimbursed.

Does it speak everyone’s language? The Olympics is the ultimate Tower of Babel, and although many athletes have at least a passing grasp of English, it’s certainly not universally understood. Therefore, I’d need to find a system that supports multiple languages. A solution that can handle the major Western European languages, plus key Asian languages such as Chinese, Russian and Japanese means that you can cover the first or second language of practically every attendee.  

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Ensure it supports all currencies: The most critical element is that all delegations’ home currencies are supported. Above that, the solution also needs to be able to calculate reimbursements for when the expenses are incurred. While most athletes are only in Brazil for a couple of weeks, support staff may need to be there for weeks or even months before, so the ability to calculate exchange rates on the day of the expense is essential for correct reimbursement. To highlight this, the real has fluctuated 5% against the dollar and 8% against the pound in just the past month, so the potential for considerable over- / under-reimbursement of expenses could otherwise be, erm… real.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Reviewing Global Expense Management Software

Make it easy for everyone: Many of these athletes will only ever need to submit one expense report (unless they qualify for future games), so any solution needs to be intuitive and something that can be picked up easily. After all, these guys are somewhat preoccupied and don't have time to learn complicated systems!

I also need something that won’t cause issues when used on different devices. Although all the athletes were lucky enough to be given commemorative mobile phones by Samsung, that still leaves more than 6,000 other delegates, who will likely have a witch’s brew of different phones and operating system versions. Therefore, I’ll need a solution that gives the same experience across all devices. This means that an app won’t work, as it could throw up all sorts of compatibility issues. Therefore I should look for a solution that is accessed via a web app on a browser using responsive design, as it will give a consistent experience.

Give it booking tool integration: While most major athletes’ travel is handled by sponsoring airlines from their home countries, there will likely be some athletes who need to leave Rio sooner or later than initially planned. Therefore, I’d need to ensure that any changes to bookings could easily be integrated into an expense report, especially on a mobile phone, as not everybody will have brought (or even own) a laptop.

Make it cost-effective and flexible: As the Olympic movement is non-profit, I’ve been told to find a solution that is cost-effective and doesn’t break the bank. I also need something that is flexible enough to suit my requirements, given that I have a large burst of activity every two years, with relatively few reports needing to be submitted between each Games.

Related: 7 Questions Non-Profits Should Ask When Evaluating a Travel and Expense Management Solution

While this is just a hypothetical situation, global corporations will need to face many of these considerations when they roll out a global expense management solution.  If you want be viewed as a gold-medal winner (sorry - had to throw in at least one cliché)  by your organization when you next pick an expense vendor, you’ll need to think carefully about how you choose your partner.



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