Following on from our ‘The Future of Tech in Finance’ event I have been meeting with successful Finance Directors and CFO’s to further understand their thoughts on how technology is shaping the finance team and how they see the structure of finance changing in the future. This week I met with Zain Mequita, Finance Director at Planday, to hear his thoughts…
Could you give us an overview of your finance team and the systems you use?
At Planday we’re structured into three core teams; firstly, we’ve got the financial control team, who effectively are the scorekeepers of the business. Their role is to ensure the company has accurate financials, manage cash via treasury management but also via accounts receivables and payables, through collections and disbursements. Secondly, we’ve got the FP&A/Business partnering team, whose role is to manage the budget and planning process, track business performance over time, while constantly looking for opportunities to improve business performance, and challenging management through strong business partnering. Finally, and probably the team that has become the most important over the years, is the Business Intelligence (BI) team. Their role is to provide rich, high-quality, real-time data to the business, and something we’re working hard to do is take that data and drive real value through analytics, providing tangible insight to help the business make better-informed decisions.
We have access to a number of tools, but if I concentrate on the important ones; we’ve got Klipfolio, which is a BI tool, which allows the business to create dashboards, reports and perform visual analysis on KPIs, allowing the team to extract value from data real-time. Another important software we use is, Zuora, our billing system. Not only does it automate invoicing, which is incredibly important to us, especially when attempting to scale at pace, but also allows us to automate important accounts receivable processes, such as debt collection. And finally, Salesforce which everyone has heard of. It’s a CRM tool but also a repository which holds data from multiple tools in one place, bringing customer and billing information and product and user data into one place, which can be quite powerful in unlocking awareness of business commercials and operations.
How has finance changed because of Tech during your career?
When I started my career, I found companies used outsourcing to achieve efficiencies. What I’m seeing now are companies using technology to achieve some of these same efficiencies. Companies that once outsourced transactional elements of finance roles, are bringing these functions back in-house, which means improved quality control, whilst the use of technology can replicate these transactional tasks, allowing the team to work on the value-add tasks of the role.
In addition to this, I’m also seeing finance teams are having access to more and more data which is great, but sometimes we have access to too much data. Companies are now having to be more street wise with their use of data, but also combine financials with other datasets to extract further insight, so analytics is becoming more important. As the trend progresses, I’d expect machine learning and artificial intelligence to be the natural step in this evolution…a world where month-end is fully automated via AI/machine learning would be the holy grail for most accountants!
What Tech is having the biggest impact on your finance function now and how?
Business Intelligence (BI) tools are having the biggest impact on the team currently. For example, when doing marketing experiments, instead of waiting until month-end to close the books, and calculate ROI (return on investment), we have live data allowing the business to react quicker to changing market dynamics and determine successfulness. To give you another good example. When managing your overdue customers, you’d simply pick up the phone to chase overdue balances. However, you need to approach this differently now. With access to different systems and data, when reviewing overdue customers, you should be reviewing Net Promoter Score (NPS) and/or product usage activity to help provide insight into how to approach the customer, so for example, a customer with a low NPS could unveil a potential product or usage issue, and therefore will dictate customer communication. Marrying financial and non-financial data is proving important.
Some say automation will eventually mean the end of the finance team – what are your thoughts?
Finance will always be around. Will our role change? Yes, but only for the better. Let’s be honest, the majority of accountants don’t enjoy the transactional tasks of the role. Technology allows us to automate these tasks, and focus on what really matters, and that’s working with the business to answer challenging questions and unlock value. You could ask, how could an Accounts receivable or payables clerk add value? Well, technology will help automate tasks such as raising invoices or reconciliations, freeing up clerks to monitor working capital, and in turn improve cashflow, which you’ll find as one of highest priorities for most FD’s/CFOs, especially in the start-up/scale-up world. Working with investors who demand substantial levels of growth, companies have no choice but to automate to scale, it’s becoming a necessity. The best finance teams will use automation as effectively as possible to deliver value.
How do you predict the role of CFO changing over the next 5-10 years due to increased digitalization of finance?
We’re seeing CSO and CMOs become Chief Growth and Customer Officers to reflect changing roles required to meet market dynamics, so we may see a change in the name of CFO to Chief Data or Analytical Officer. Why do I think this? CFOs have a company-wide view on the business. They operate in the middle of all data flows in and around the business, a vantage point to aid informing strategic and operational decisions, and finding new insights to improve business performance. To bring this insight, they’ll be reliant on analytics. Technology will help to bring richer, quicker and more insightful information to the table, allowing CFOs to extract and bring the right story to the table.
Zain Mequita is Finance Director at Planday (https://www.planday.com/uk/), an employee scheduling SaaS company, joining in Mar-18. A chartered accountant, he started his career in audit, then moving into Strategy and M&A, before embarking on a career in start-ups and scale-ups companies.