6 Mindsets of a Modern CFO

As part of the CFO Leadership Council’s San Francisco chapter program, AI & Automation for the Finance Leader, Rob Israch, CMO of Tipalti, interviewed two financial experts Curtis Atkisson, CFO of Sojern, and John Berry, Director of Advanced Analytics & Automation at KPMG.

These are the top six takeaways we learned on the topic of AI and Automation and how it benefits the modern CFO:

CFOs wear a lot of hats, especially in the early days.

The CFO position is unique. You are expected to combine finance, strategy, analytics, and automation and then layer governance and executive routines on top. This is all in pursuit of scaling while creating repeatable and dependable processes in your tech stack.

When Curtis Atkisson started at Sojern six years ago, the company was about 30M in sales and running off on-premise distributed systems. As an early leader in the business, the responsibilities of the CFO extended far beyond accounting and finance leadership—Atkisson was also responsible for HR, Legal, Facilities, and IT. Over time as the company started to grow, Atkisson was able to adapt some of the responsibilities to focus on “excellence teams,” including a distinct group for business intelligence.

As we hired more specialists, we created centers of excellence with their own formal charters and stakeholders, who could work through how decisions and priorities would be made. This was critical to managing our growth and transition.—Curtis Atkisson, CFO, Sojern

The ride from 30M-200M can’t happen on spreadsheets.

We wanted to grow fast and needed to get out of spreadsheets.” —Curtis Atkisson, CFO, Sojern

As Sojern expanded to new subsidiaries outside the US, their procurement cycles became more complex with added approval layers that they couldn’t consolidate. Their customer base was growing, as were their billing, collections, and revenue recognition processes. Quickly realizing that their operations couldn’t remain manual for over 8K customers, Sojern needed to adopt the right solutions to scale.

With a distributed accounting team in the U.S., London, Singapore, and Istanbul, Sojern implemented a tech stack that included NetSuite, Tipalti, FloQast, Adaptive Insights, and SalesForce. All of these tools were tightly integrated via Celigo, a self-sufficient group that allowed complete app access without IT intervention.

Leveraging the right tech stack means more efficiency with the same headcount.

Sojern is 5-6x larger now, and we have the same number of people managing the back-end business.” —Curtis Atkisson, CFO, Sojern

With NetSuite and Tipalti, among other tools, Sojern could scale without adding operational headcount. In order to persuade the executive team to invest in new technology, Sojern’s business case went beyond driving efficiency to incorporate broader organizational issues and corporate strategy.

Expert Tip: When choosing the right automated tools, it’s important to consider who the process owner will be. Before investing, think through what you want the app to do as well as potential risk, governance implications, employee satisfaction, possible turnover, and onboarding expenses.

We recommend clients look at new opportunities, including cycle time reductions, reducing or preventing headcount, automating tasks, and optimizing processes.—John Berry, Director of Advanced Analytics & Automation, KPMG

Successful finance leaders have a VC mindset.

The finance leaders that have been most successful are the ones that step back and think about the future—not just what the finance function looks like today, but what the organizational strategy needs to be in order to grow.—John Berry, Director of Advanced Analytics & Automation, KPMG

When asked about how disruptors are converting challenges into opportunities, the experts spoke about the shift from reactive to proactive metrics and leadership. According to John Berry, a forward-thinking finance team behaves like a VC within the business—running the different center of excellence teams like micro business units within the broader team. This VC mentality gives each stakeholder agency and the opportunity for creative problem-solving.

Having a VC mindset is critical. Look at the business from a portfolio perspective—for strategic frameworks, for your stakeholders, and for driving new metrics.” —John Berry, Director of Advanced Analytics & Automation, KPMG

Forward-thinking companies are incorporating RPA into their vendor selection criteria.

Our clients are doing more with less with current technology.” —John Berry, Director of Advanced Analytics & Automation, KPMG

RPA or “Robotics Process Automation” is a technology that can create workflows and rules for you to automate manual processes. Benefits include reducing time and manual errors and improving job satisfaction by helping your team pivot to more strategic and proactive tasks.

Expert Tip: Ask your vendors what they are doing with RPA and how your company can take advantage of it. For example, KPMG recently assisted a client with a Sales Use Tax process. Their client had seven manual processes that took over 200 hours to complete. With RPA bots that could receive the tax reports and pull information to match and load in the right field, they were able to reduce the client’s work to four automated processes that were completed in only 40 hours.

The accuracy and quality improved dramatically. As a very structured and binary process, the bot always pulls the right part of the form and loads it in the right way to drive efficiency and improve accuracy.” —John Berry, Director of Advanced Analytics & Automation, KPMG

Company culture needs to celebrate and embrace technology.

Everybody is excited about technology—our finance and operational staff understand that automation is helpful.” —Curtis Atkisson, CFO, Sojern

According to Atkisson, his team loves implementing new software projects. Implementations can have a bad reputation as painful, long, and confusing. But when leadership and end-users feel empowered and excited to build something together with the vendor, it can be a reward for the process owner instead of a burden. Sojern has converted its culture so that process owners feel proud and look forward to implementing new tools that they can add to their resumes and often even campaign for their solutions to be prioritized.

To hear more from our experts and discover the additional benefits of AI & Automation, listen to the webinar recording.

The CFO’s Guide to Accounts Payable Automation

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