Established in the UK more than 30 years ago, Freedom Church has undergone a rapid expansion over the last eight years.
From one to fifteen locations spread across nine different countries and three continents, and an increase in turnover from £60,000 per year to over £1M in the UK, where the central team supporting all international churches is located, it’s been a massive success story.
But it’s not been without its challenges.
With a limited staff, remote teams at several locations, and a high volume of bills varying from utility to personal expenses, bill management of this growing church required urgent attention.
The limitations of paper-based accounting in churches & charities with remote teams
Following the expansion, Freedom Church has a distributed UK finance team. They’re currently using Xero as their accounting system, having migrated from Sage in 2015. As is often the case with churches and charities, they don’t have a huge number of core staff, and instead engage a growing number of volunteers. And this approach has resulted in an increase in personal expense claims.
The church treated each personal expense as a regular bill, which was to be submitted manually. However, these expenses could originate in multiple locations, and would require the authorisation of various budget holders (e.g. church leaders, the finance team, etc.).
Early in 2017, they came to a realisation that the paper-based approach to approval management was incredibly inefficient. Paper bills, expense claims with budget holder signatures; it just didn’t work with remote locations. It was hard to track and difficult to scale.
What’s more, it left the finance department overworked, and often led to delays in expense payments, resulting in unhappy volunteers.
Then, after searching for an approval management solution, Finance and Systems Director Jez Hailwood discovered ApprovalMax.
Flexible expense management through advanced approval workflows
Implementing ApprovalMax changed the game for the church’s finance team. They felt the weight lift from their shoulders as the expense management process became streamlined for the very first time.
Everything Freedom Church spends money on now goes through Xero + ApprovalMax. They use bill review and approval workflows, and have set up approvals according to locations and departments using Xero tracking categories.
Budget holders can now approve via email or their smartphone, followed by the Finance Director, if amounts go above a predetermined threshold.
“We needed an approval workflow that was more advanced than the one provided by Xero. ApprovalMax does the job very nicely. The ability to define approvers based on various criteria (we mainly use our location and department tracking categories) enables our budget holders to approve spending.” – Jez Hailwood
Today, Freedom Church is very close to being paperless. Geography isn’t a limiting factor, and budget holders are far more involved in the process. They can see how a bill was coded, comment on it, and make edits if necessary. But most importantly, their volunteers are now being reimbursed in a timely manner.
“ApprovalMax is just as helpful for all the other bills that are generated by our various UK churches and central team. We have lots of bills that need to be approved by people who are spread across the UK, and some members of staff who are abroad. We actually try to keep personal expenses to a minimum, but there are still plenty of them!” – Jez Hailwood
Furthermore, the church is seeing the following benefits of using ApprovalMax:
- Zero manual work for finance department
- Ability to scale to support multiple churches without expanding finance department
- A detailed audit trail
- Approvals via email or smartphone apps, from anywhere and at any time
- Advanced multi-step approval workflows
Next stop: Paperless accounting
For Jez and the finance team at Freedom Church, the next step is to automate data entry more efficiently. A move towards a fully paperless accounting environment is on the horizon, and Xero + ApprovalMax has provided the foundation.
If you’d like to learn more about Freedom Church and its mission, visit their website.