Death of the long lunch as ‘Mad Men’ era of business expenses become a distant memory

The 1960s, 70s and 80s were the heyday of workplace expenses, with a higher proportion of employees regularly claiming for client entertainment and business travel costs compared to today’s workforce 

New research from Barclaycard, which today marks the 50th anniversary of launching the corporate credit card in the UK, explores how spending habits have changed since the height of the ‘Mad Men’ era of business.

UK employees are now less likely to spend company money on entertaining clients than in decades past, with just 10 per cent saying that they often claim dinner at a restaurant with a client on their expenses. This is less than half the proportion who did so in the 1960s (34 per cent), 70s (27 per cent) and 80s (28 per cent), continuing a steady decline over the years.

Daytime schmoozing has also fallen out of favour, with just 13 per cent of today’s workforce claiming expenses for lunch at a restaurant, compared to 36 per cent of those in the 1970s and 37 per cent in the 80s.

Employees are also less likely to catch up with clients over drinks, with just seven per cent regularly footing the bill for a round – approximately a quarter of the proportion who say they did so in the 1980s (27 per cent).

A change of direction in corporate travel

Corporate travel spending hit a peak in the 1980s and 90s, with nearly half (48 per cent) of workers claiming for hotel accommodation in each decade. This is compared to a quarter (25 per cent) today. Airfare was also more frequently purchased in the 1990s and 2000s, claimed by 19 per cent of workers and down to just 12 per cent in 2018.

Technological shifts may have also driven changes in transport spending. 22 per cent of employees filed expenses for taxis hailed on the street in each decade from the 1980s to the 2000s, yet that has dropped to just 14 per cent in 2018. While the proportion of those spending company money on pre-booked taxis and cars was only at 8 per cent in the 1960s, the advent of apps may have boosted this figure to its current peak of 15 per cent.

Shift to self-service

The process of making purchases and claiming expenses has also been transformed. The biggest changes employees identified over the decades were: the process becoming more formal (36 per cent), the range of items eligible for expense claims narrowing (32 per cent), the introduction of the corporate card (14 per cent) and the disappearance of petty cash drawers for minor purchases (11 per cent).

There has also been a clear shift to self-service. 63 per cent of employees now file their own expense claims, compared to 38 per cent in the 1960s. One in five (21 per cent) workers also said that, 50 years ago, the office personal assistant processed their expenses – this is true for just 17 per cent of the workforce today.

Fit for the future?

One in ten (11 per cent) retired workers said that over the course of their career, the expense process became more digital. Today’s employees may see even bigger changes over the next 50 years, especially if they have their way with futuristic filing systems. Three in ten (30 per cent) say their ideal expense system would include an app that can both help them pay for business purchases and automatically complete the fields they need to claim their expenses. This was followed by an expense scanner that would take a picture of their receipts to automatically complete their paperwork (26 per cent).

Marc Pettican, Managing Director of Barclaycard Commercial Payments, said:

“Business spending has changed dramatically since Barclaycard introduced the first corporate credit card back in 1968. This was a major moment in the development of UK companies and how they managed because suddenly an entire generation of workers gained more flexibility in their day-to-day working lives.

“Fast forward 50 years and companies have become more complex and diverse, with very different needs. This is reflected in the range of expenses and the methods of claiming them that were popular then and now. Building on our rich heritage of payments innovation, we will continue to support businesses by introducing new methods of commercial payments, such as with virtual cards, to ensure they’re fit-for-purpose for another five decades.”

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