Awkward Expenses: When CFO’s Need to Say “NO”

Expense management is all part of the job for CFOs. But it’s anything but easy.

CFOs are privy to some pretty awkward conversations around expenses claims at times.

Being asked to approve expenses that clearly don’t have anything to do with work can take some delicate handling. It’s not easy.

But some expense claims are so wildly inappropriate, they stay with you for your entire career.

Tyler Caskey, Partner of The Bean Counters revealed his favourite claims from the past two decades on LinkedIn recently, which prompted others to share.  

. A fishing license

. A massage while on a conference as he had a sock back and needed to ‘push through’.

. A suspiciously large bonus for an employee who just went on maternity leave

. A business class ticket to Rome for their partner to attend a conference for ‘networking’ purposes.

. $1,000 bottle of champagne when taking the new grad out for an induction lunch

. Strip club entry fee

. Legal fees for a divorce

. Their own self-decided bonus (not an owner or CEO)

. A dog wash and grooming expenses (almost let this one slide)

Sara Watts, reflecting on her previous finance roles, admits she’s also had to reject strip club entry fee a few times, despite the claimant trying to fight it by saying that the client had insisted.

Another time, Watts recalls sitting in the meeting room and hearing a person tell another how to get around the mileage claims policy. She went out and introduced herself, CFO at the time, no doubt to a few gasps.

When John Forbes (of John Forbes Consulting) was at PwC, he recalls the expenses team being highly sceptical when he put his bicycle mileage claim for 240 miles to Birmingham and back. “It was genuine,” he says.

Global CFO of Xref, James Solomons spent the first 15 years of his career in tax.

“I’ve seen it all, nothing surprises me,” he says.

One claim included a 60 inch TV – which the client explained away as needing a large monitor for spreadsheets. He worked as a retail manager, and tried to insist he had a large roster, he explains.

Questionable claims aren’t only reserved for Australian finance folks, of course.

Over in the UK, the business developer of Simon Charles Auctioneers and Valuers, Oliver Roebuck recalls seeing a mileage claim that had been calculated on Google Maps using ‘avoid motorways’ on the route guidance. “Nearly four times longer than the actual route he took,” Roebuck says.

Nikola Aladzic, financial accountant, recalls a claim at a previous organisation for ‘a big birthday party for his daughter, and even a clown. And rent for his mistress. Claimed by the same person.

Natalie Dawson, corporate advisor for Focus Executive Management Consultants recalls a claim she received as a graduate consultant. The experience has always stuck with her.  

“The expense claim was for an executive that had travelled from Australia to Singapore for business. I was under strict instructions from the CFO that I must have all the receipts for expenses,” she explains.

The executive wasn’t able to explain an expense on his credit card, and didn’t recall visiting a noted establishment, but thought it might be some sort of ‘eatery’, she says.

Dawson decided to do some digging, so called the credit card company. After some convincing that she needed the information, it came to light that the executive had used the service 15 times over a two-year period, totalling $20,000.

“I think we can now guess it was an up-market brothel. The executive showed no embarrassment trying to convince the CFO this was a bona fide business expense and was incensed at any suggestion that the funds would need to be repaid.”

Laura Conti, who has worked as a finance leader for various companies, has come across strippers on company credit cards. She recalls working for a startup in Melbourne, which claimed to be an employer of choice for women, but the reality was a ‘bro-culture’.

“The primary man who went to the strippers was the sales vice president, and he genuinely believed that it was OK because he was entertaining a client. He had also tried to claim the drink charges from this establishment.

“I asked him (and three other colleagues) who went with him, to repay the claims, and they honestly lost their sh*t. It was part of the reason I ended up leaving this role and workplace – because honestly, the men thought this stuff was OK. They told me it wasn’t illegal, and I should get off my moral high-horse.”