In 2008, Deutsche Bank’s board sent down the message to its employees: in these straitened times, they were to cut back on travel and taxi expenses. And no more claiming brothel visits as a business perk.
“In the good old days, you could pass off a trip to a knocking-shop as a restaurant if the name wasn’t too obvious. But we’re in an uptight, locked-down new puritanism now, not helped by sub-prime…” one employee told the Independent.
What was the world coming to? Four years of austerity later and such a flagrant misuse of corporate cash seems ridiculous.
With a newfound sense of decorum, the likes of News Corporation are reining in their corporate entertaining and clamping down on extravagant spending. And not a minute too soon: according to a Global Expense survey, fiddled or unjustified expense claims cost UK businesses around £2bn a year.
Recession, reputation and the UK Bribery Act have put paid to extravagant expense claims – mostly.
In the heady pre-crisis days, bankers were known to shell out £44,007 for one meal. But the public is in no mood to foot the bill for City princes any more. Likewise, those other expense account hackers, the politicians: MP’s expense claim revelations have shattered people’s faith in public servants, said Rowan Williams and made everyone a bit more careful.
While a few restaurant and club owners may miss the boom times, curbed expenses are no great loss to the wider world. (Arguably, they perpetuate an opportunistic culture that’s a gateway to more serious fraud.) It may even be a boon to smaller business bosses, who no longer have to furnish clients or employees with lavish perks to win business.
So, in a not-so-fond farewell, Turbine reminds readers of some of the most outrageous expense claims of recent years:
- Former Lotus boss Dany Bahar may have had a £5m or so expense account, but the company ousted him in June for alleged overspending.
- Four private jets, three private secretaries, two central London flats and an £85,000 donation to Lord Archer’s mayoral campaign: Greg Hutchings, as CEO of conglomerate Tomkins, “treated the company’s bank accounts as a private trough” until he was pressured to resign in 2000.
- Using Hollinger International’s corporate jet for trips to Bora Bora and Florida cost the business some $7m a year – and, ultimately, Conrad Black his freedom.
- Lovelorn Christopher Grierson, a top London lawyer, was jailed for fleecing employer Hogan Lovells of an estimated £1.2m, faking travel expenses while paying for a mistress in New York.
- A US legal firm tried to claim $125,000 for an investigator (and his first-class airline ticket of over $1,600).
- Former London mayor Ken Livingstone bought £2,884 of fine wine for the future Mrs L.
- Questions still swirl around Tony Blair’s £3.65m house: supposedly he was able to claim for the interest on Parliamentary expenses.
- Sir Peter Viggers’ £1,600-plus “Stockholm” duck gazebo. And the rest.
- Canadian telecoms employee Giuseppe Tarascio tried to claim over $96,000 gambling losses as business expenses.
- Cosmetic surgery and a $12,000 family holiday are just a couple of the more brass-necked expense claims unearthed by a Robert Half Management Resources’ survey.
- A new set of teeth.
- £50,000 may not seem excessive for a year’s expenses, but it’s pretty rich when it transpires it’s been spent on dinners, drinks and ‘miscellaneous expenses’ for Oxford union members.
Of course, companies with strong oversight and automated expense management systems, like Turbine, can curb excessive expenses and cut company overheads.