June 17th, 2010

I was in discussions with a good friend and worker in the public sector regarding the issue of justified expenses (I don’t mean MP type expenses, just general work expenses.  Before anyone leaps onto a high horse).
“You have it easy,” she said, “You just claim it all on expenses.”

Oh really?  I asked for some justification on what “it all” was.
“Well…your travel, your food and drink…top hotels, entertainment, gym membership, telephone calls, drinks with clients, clothes, dry-cleaning…”
I mulled it over.  Entertainment written onto expenses?  Taking clients wining and dining?  Where was she getting this from?  Then I realised that she was getting consultants confused with investment bankers.  The subtle difference between investment bankers and consultants is that the two industries are dissimilar in every way.  I don’t know where in the annals of tertiary sector work this mix up originated but it seems to once again perpetuated by the media who presents overfed coke head party boys (and girls) who spend their spare time in strip clubs as the only type of professional services worker out there and indeed given the rest of us a damning reputation…either way you can read more about it here.

It’s time to set the record straight on expenses.
Firstly, on a rather whimsical note, most consultants are honest and conscientious people which is why they ended up in consulting and not investment banking.  Sorry, bankers.  On one level, we know that expenses money ultimately comes from the client and most of us feel pretty bad about stuffing it down the knickers of a third rate bleached blonde tangoed lap dancer.   On another level, it’s nay impossible to claim anything over and above the approved rates for things as our computer system simply won’t let you enter it in.  That’s jumping ahead though.  Let me backtrack and I’ll start by clarifying what is and what isn’t classed as an expense.

“Travel – planes, trains, taxis, busses and boats” – Which is fair enough.  We work away from home, someone has to pay the airline to take us there.  What ISN’T true is that we’re living it up in business class with 7am classes of champagne and toasted cashew canapés.  Anyone above manager grade can choose to travel business class, but only trans-Atlantic and within reason.  Lower grades can occasionally travel business class with manager approval but you can bet how often that happens.

“Top Hotels” – Ok, I’ll be honest.  We get to stay in some really nice hotels.  I don’t mean top of the range gold plated and brocade hotels but we do get nice four star business getups in central areas and a good helping of mod cons.  But then again, if you’re being made to work away from home you want to be able to live as normally as possible.  Nice hotels get boring when you can’t leave them because you don’t know anyone or are working so late you literally fall into bed at half one then roll out again at half six.  You’d better be sure I’ll be after a clean bathroom and nicely folded towels waiting at her majesty’s pleasure under those circumstances.

“Food and Drinks” –We can charge for one meal a day and one alcoholic drink with the meal.  To put this into universal purchasing power parity, this is the equivalent of a large pizza, a side and a drink in a chain takeaway.  No sign of the world famous eateries and Michelin stars here – unless the manager takes you out on a “team dinner” which happens usually once during a project during which you’re stuck with your work colleagues talking about work.  We cannot charge for coffee, tea, lunch, snacks or breakfast.  We can attend some industry events which are usually well covered by expenses but who wants to go to work after work and talk about work (see the theme here…) for a free glass of Pinot Grigio?

“Gym Membership” – you can get half subsidised gym membership for one gym which the company chooses but that’s useless as we tend to work away from home a lot.

“Telephone calls” – We can claim calls from the work mobile within a reasonable limit which I bet isn’t as much as your monthly contract.

“Drinks with clients” – If you are of senior enough grade – as in if you’ve spent years slaving over a hot laptop and working 60 hour weeks you can – sometimes -  take clients out for a drink.  The average length of time it takes to get to a grade which allows you to charge for expenses with clients is twelve years.  However, I have heard about client entertainment events such as taking client to box theatre seats at top productions, but it’s only done by the partners and it’s usually with a business agenda.

“Clothes and drycleaning” – Are you serious?  Even if I had the time to go shopping no one is going to pay for my clothes.  There was one circumstance where I had been away from home for four days and my manager asked me to work Friday in a different office then work the weekend doing something else.  His entire suggested reimbursement was that I could buy some clean shirts to wear.  No mention of overtime (which we don’t get paid) or relocation reimbursement.  No, I’m female so obviously the offer of new clothes is going to rope me in.  I said no.

When it comes to entering claims, there is a defined list which much be checked and entered into our systems, along with the provisions of receipts and covering letters where necessary.  Any value which comes as unusual is pulled through an audit process and scrutinised.  Which is fine in my books– there’s no such thing as a free lunch and if such procedures catch out anyone trying to overclaim when the honest ones are doing the best to enter everything in to the penny then it gets my support.
I’ve realised that what I’ve written can almost be construed as negative.  It’s not supposed to be.  It’s simply trying to explain the truth behind our work expenses.  I wouldn’t feel right writing of large sums of client money into filling my belly and even if I had the freedom do so I doubt I would.

7 responses

  1. Joe O'Mahoney comments:

    “most consultants are honest and conscientious people which is why they ended up in consulting and not investment banking”

    aha ha ha… hee hee hoo ha hoo ha ha… ha ha lol, pmsl….

    ….consultants generally end up in consulting because they’re not good enough to get into investment banks. Seriously, with the exception of the McKinsey brethren, how many consultants do you know who turned down a $500k job at UBS ? Er…. none.

  2. Kathleen comments:

    “60-hour weeks”? Luxury! I was a consultant for ten years, and I considered a 60-hour week to be a slow period. Then again, I was an IT technical lead and we tend to work in intense bursts, then get a few days bench time. If one is in, say, project management, I suppose the long-haul requires more stamina, fewer weekly hours.

  3. Medical Billing comments:

    this post is very usefull thx!

  4. Consulting Reality comments:

    Kathleen – I agree with the 60h week. the only problem is that I put my foot down and refuse to work any more. Doesn’t get me the best ever performance marks in the world though. Ah well.
    What sort of IT were you doing? I’m currently in a very technical role, always interested to hear of more women who’ve forged their careers in the IT consulting industry.

  5. Consulting Reality comments:

    Joe – I’ve heard similar said. I know a few guys who went into consulting because they got turned down from the banking houses.
    My team are more IT/technology and seemed more interested in working in enterprise software as oppose to finance, although many of our finance consultants will jump ship. Better pay for the same hours. It’s interesting. Investment banking is never something I wanted to do. The money doesn’t hold so much of an appeal and I refuse to hand over any more of my life to work. I take it you work as banker?

  6. Florian Hollender comments:

    Oh no!
    You broke the magic spell! ;-)

    On the other hand, I can now just refer to this post when, on a Saturday night out with my friends, someone asks me why I don’t whip out my black AMEX (courtesy by the firm for all consultants in the world, right?!) and say “the round’s on my, and I pay all your cabs home – I just put it on expenses!”

    So.. yeah, needed to be said, and it is not negative altogether, it is just a realistic view on how things work, and quite a useful one.

  7. Consulting Reality comments:

    Glad I’m doing what I set out to do!

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