Travel and entertainment reimbursement had always been a hassle for Sales Mark, a sales rep firm in Little Rock, Ark., with $45 million in revenues. "Our 100 salespeople were scattered across 40 states, and reimbursing their monthly expenses used to take about three weeks," recalls Jim Morgan, the company's vice-president of financial reporting. "Since most of these people were younger and didn't have big bank accounts, they couldn't wait that long. So we were always having to give them cash advances that we'd then have to keep track of, too."

Then Sales Mark's managers decided to hire Gelco Information Network, a service provider based in Eden Prairie, Minn., that handles outsourced financial functions. "By outsourcing T& E reimbursement, we cut the cycle to three days," Morgan says.

For companies that are considering outsourcing, T& E is a natural starting point. At most companies, the process of T& E reimbursement takes about 17 sequential steps and three weeks or longer. Gelco's process -- typical of T& E service providers -- takes three business days, from day one (when employees call an 800 number and use the touch-tone keypad to enter their categories of expenses) to the date when funds are electronically transferred into their bank or charge card accounts. Gelco claims that companies spend $15 to $30 per transaction when they handle T& E internally, while an outsourced T& E transaction can cost as little as $8.

There's one more advantage to outsourced T& E functions: audit control. Gelco's computer automatically verifies that each caller is employed and authorized to receive that level of reimbursement.