Continuing with our “The Future of Tech in Finance” series, I sat down this week with Gavin Youll, CFO of Nivaura, to discuss his thoughts on how technology is shaping the finance team and how he sees the structure of finance changing in the future. Let’s hear his thoughts…
Could you give us an overview of your finance team and the systems you use?
Since Nivaura are early stage we have a relatively lean finance team of three people, being myself as CFO, a Head of Finance and a more junior Analyst who is currently undertaking her CIMA qualification.
We currently use Xero for our accounting and book keeping however we are currently in the process of evaluating upgrade options such as NetSuite. I’m a big fan of Xero and personally would use it for as long as we could, however it does have limitations, and we are currently in the process of establishing a group structure featuring overseas entities which NetSuite will be able to better support.
We are also using Spendesk which is a payments tool. It empowers business functions and team members to execute transactions in a frictionless manner so we can remain agile but also layers on controls such as approval structures and segregation of duties. The finance team has control over this and they can set what each person’s limit is and generate single use virtual cards. It has been really useful for overseas expansion as it allows us to easily establish controls in new entities.
In addition to Xero and Spendesk, we also use Slack for internal communications and Asana for work planning and project management.
We are also looking at other software tools to streamline processes such as Fluidly, who have developed a tool for forward looking cash flow planning and financial modelling.
How has finance changed because of Tech during your career?
It has been 15 years since I was training at the Big 4 and the one thing I have seen is a big movement towards digitization and a shift away from paper based record keeping. This has allowed us to have access to information and data at our finger tips which can assist with decision making.
Also the maturity of data science as a concept, there are lots of great tools out there now that facilitate the capture of data points really easily e.g. Toggl for timesheets and then warehouse tools such as Amazon’s Redshift which enable storage. Then you have tools like Tableau which is a visualisation tool that helps identify trends and patterns and enriches decision making. 15 years ago these type of tools did not exist and we did not realise the importance of data science and the value that it can drive.
What Tech is having the biggest impact on your finance function now and how?
At Nivaura we are still working on proving product market fit and do not yet have a mature business model with consistent recurring revenue streams. Data capture, analytics and business intelligence will be more valuable further down the track. However, it is important that you establish processes early so we are already setting everything up to be able to capture data points very easily throughout the entire business and all of its functions. Currently we are focusing on the SaaS tools mentioned earlier. These tools free up the finance team to think more strategically and focus on more high level value add tasks.
Another thing we have seen in tech, from a finance perspective, are tools which facilitate greater access to funding. There has been a rise in FinTech businesses which has made the process of applying for this a lot smoother and easier, for example crowd funding platforms like Crowdcube and Syndicate Room and peer to peer lending sites such as Funding Circle. Nivaura are operating in this space as we are focused on automating the primary issuance of financial instruments, collapsing cost structures and timeframes so that companies can have greater access to capital markets.
Some say automation will eventually mean the end of the finance team – what are your thoughts?
I would personally disagree, currently machines cannot think strategically and understand every nuance of a complex situation therefore people are still critical. Machines are extremely good at automation and making life easier and taking care of some of the lower level compliance tasks however if you want to make a complex strategic decision you still need people to do that. Conversely, I actually believe finance will become more important, traditionally the team was backwards looking, reporting only on what has already happened. In the new age of data science, Finance is becoming more forward looking due to the technology that is available and is able to add more value to the business from a strategic perspective.
How do you predict the role of CFO changing over the next 5-10 years due to increased digitalization of finance?
The CFO will grow with importance within a company, their focus will move away from reporting on what has already happened and become more about strategy, business intelligence and informing good decision making. We need to be on top of the best technology and make sure our finance function is aware of the tools they can access. I think it is really important that CFOs don’t lose sight of how important people are still, technology is making processes a lot more streamlined and capturing useful data, however people will be the ones analysing the data and making decisions.
Gavin Youll, CFO of Nivaura (www.nivaura.com), qualified ACA in 2008 and since leaving EY he has led finance teams in the Investment Banking and Technology sectors. He is currently CFO at Nivaura, an innovative Fintech startup that recently raised £15m in funding.