Budget control and remote approvals for the distributed finance team of Davis College

Davis College is a university that educates future leaders to champion opportunity and sustainability in solving the world’s most pressing challenges. Its model is a unique hybrid of a liberal arts education with applied and technical curricula, combining competency-based academic programmes with a customised, data-driven learning model to actualise practical experience and equip students with the tools needed to thrive in the fastest growing sectors of the economy.

While Davis College is in Rwanda, its executive team members are located in other countries (e.g. Hong Kong and Switzerland) and the development team is based in the United States. They use QuickBooks Online as their general ledger and ApprovalMax to facilitate compliance with the company’s finance policy.

The necessity of streamlining the approval process

Before they automated their approval process, Davis College used to rely on tools like email or Slack messages for approving; sometimes they even printed out the invoices. This approach came with a number of drawbacks: from constantly having to chase the people responsible to figuring out the current status of each document submitted for approval – not to mention the difficulties of contacting approvers spread over several countries and various time zones. 

Waiting for someone to read an email and then approve was frustrating, especially if the matter was urgent.

Davis College also wanted to move towards a better structured spend management with more granular financial controls and policies, so they needed a system that would help to implement them. Any expense has to be checked against the budget and approved by both the Head of the Department and the College President, larger outgoings additionally require authorisation by an executive team member. 

ApprovalMax runs the approval process for purchase orders

Davis College has been using ApprovalMax for QuickBooks Online for about two years, mainly for creating and approving purchase orders within the organisation.

Since ApprovalMax has been introduced, the process works as follows: if anyone in any department (HR, Careers, Office of the President, Marketing, or the Academy Departments) needs something, they fill in a form in Formstack and add a detailed description of what they need and/or their preferred vendor before sending it to the finance department. 

The finance team enters this data in ApprovalMax and creates a purchase order. They add class codes that help routing the document to the next approval steps and attach the request or proforma invoice (if available). Afterwards, the purchase order is passed on to the Director of Finance, who checks it manually against the budget and approves. 

Next, the purchase order goes to the head of the department where the request originated and following that approval it makes its way to the President of College. Any purchase order exceeding a certain amount also requires authorisation from an executive team member in charge of the department where the request was initiated. The President is based in Rwanda but the executive team is distributed, with members in Switzerland, Hong Kong and elsewhere – no problem for the approval process automated by ApprovalMax.

Bill creation and approval for QuickBooks Online

The finance team of Davis College also finds the bill creation and approval functionality in QuickBooks Online useful because everything related to purchases must be authorised while some of the payments don’t require purchase orders and pass through ApprovalMax as bills. 

Bill approval workflows differ from those for purchase orders regarding the approval thresholds and particular approvers for specific spending, yet they follow the same logic of multi-step and multi-role authorisation based on approval routing criteria pulled from QuickBooks Online. 

Benefits achieved

Automating the approval process with ApprovalMax brings numerous advantages for both the finance team and approvers. Now it’s easy to create purchase orders and bills, and to approve them in line with the finance policy without any delays or manual interventions. 

Leaving behind paper- and email-based approval routing has resulted in significant time savings and higher efficiency. The option of approving via mobile devices makes it exceptionally convenient and quick to review and approve requests, which ensures that supplier payments are always on time.

The automated audit trail capability keeps the finance team on track with all spending, even down to the specified spend categories, and ready for management reporting at any time.

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