How Today’s CFO’s Assess Finance Technology

What’s on the minds of CFOs as they face greater challenges and a sea of digital transformation technologies?

The Silicon Valley Chapter of the CFO Leadership Council hosted a panel on “The Tech Effect: How Finance Can Win the Tech Race.” 

The discussion panel featured Annie Wayne, CFO at Liongard, Razzak Jallow, CFO at FloQast, Charly Kevers, CFO at Carta, and was moderated by Tipalti’s VP of Finance, Alex Cedro. 

The group shared their thoughts on new requirements and advancements in the office of the CFO, how they go about researching and evaluating new solutions, their stance on ROI studies, implementation challenges in deploying their tech stacks, and projections on a potential recession. 

Key takeaways

  • Involve others cross-functionally to build consensus and perspectives
  • Keep it simple: Narrow your scope and reduce scope creep
  • Simultaneously find big problems with potentially short time to value and large, repeatable payback
  • Employee satisfaction and morale are more valuable than ROI
  • CFOs are at the center of the process

Today’s CFO Owns More Business Operations

Recently, CFOs have taken on additional responsibilities to ensure operational processes are streamlined and automated. This effort is due to the financial close, everyone’s part in it, the company’s need to scale, and the desire to have a data-driven culture. 

“The office of the CFO has changed a lot over the last few years,” said Razzak. “The number of roles at public companies under the COO is going down, and the number of direct reports to the CFO is going up, as they look to absorb some of that responsibility [for managing business operations].”

Annie added that “repeatable, voluminous processes” are the most impactful areas to focus on. Once those core processes are perfected, you can branch off into other areas.

Convincing Teams Automation Is Needed in Finance Is NOT a Problem. But Do You Know What Is?

Annie Wayne mentioned that at Liongard, everyone wants to implement the latest and greatest technologies as part of their processes. With many automation solutions available, “No one is saying they want to do things manually.” 

Annie added that the real challenge is deciding what technologies to invest in and the right time to employ them. It is also critical to have a single source of truth among various systems and solutions. 

Razzak Jallow from FloQast, also shared that the time-to-value is essential. If a business is changing and shifting direction every 8 to 12 months, a 6-month evaluation and implementation cycle will be challenging. “When people are resistant to change, I find it’s because we waited too long to solve the pain point.” For example, if an employee is working 60 hours a week on their normal workflow, that limits their ability to learn and expand their knowledge base, make changes, and employ new tools.

Charly Kevers of Carta concurred that his team also wants more technology solutions. He shared that Carta’s Finance team prioritizes around three points:

  • Accuracy
  • Scalability
  • Insights

For accuracy, Carta looks to reduce risk and human error by ensuring automation efforts remove as many manual processes as possible. As a fast-growing organization, scalability means adopting technologies that can support a growing volume of business without adding more headcount. And insights help understand how things are going and what steps to take next.

Finance Tech Stack Solutions are a Company-Wide Effort 

There are so many technology solutions available for every aspect of the business, and everyone wants a solution to support their function. For CFOs, prioritization has become one of the most significant issues. To narrow in on the most pressing priorities, the panel was universal in stressing that cross-functional teams must be a part of the decision-making process. 

“We’re always looking to level up projects as a team to make sure it’s cross-functional from the executive team to the individuals,” said Annie. She added that they look to ensure consensus, so they’re not re-evaluating their decisions every six months.

“Structure your team and workload, so you have time for implementations,” added Charly.

Annie also added that the biggest consideration for prioritization is employee pain points. “If people are doing tasks repetitively over and over again, or there are risks for things being done incorrectly, or it impacts the customer, those are the areas we look at.”

“It’s a lot easier if you have the right team and talent who have an eye for technology,” added Razzak. “It’s hard for me to understand every single pain point for every person in the company. But if you have a team familiar with the issues, they can help surface issues a lot quicker.” 

Razzak also mentioned that using implementation partners from outside the company can help alleviate the workload challenges. 

“When you’re one of the larger customers for new technology companies,” said Charly, “they’ll build stuff for you.” Those early partnerships were valuable in shaping those products and solving unique, deep problems.

ROI Does Not Measure Satisfaction. 

Surprise! No one wants their work to be drudgery and menial. If CFOs want to retain high-performing finance and accounting teams, they must reduce the manual transactional workload.

Razzak stated, “We do ROIs on every project, but it’s really to make sure it’s worthwhile. We’re not choosing one project over another because it has a 145% ROI versus a 147% ROI.”

Both Annie and Razzak stated that they look at NPS (Net Promoter Scores) to determine the value of a solution. Charly added that they also assess risk as part of the decision-making process. 

To this, Annie added that it’s not about how many hours are saved but more about getting the answers we need as fast as we can. “If you can take it for granted and it ‘kind of works,’ that’s what I would call success. And the team is happy they can successfully do what we’re asking them to.”

The group also noted that if new manual processes arise after implementation, this indicates a more significant problem. Are they adopting the new process or circumventing it? 

Other valued metrics include reducing days to monthly close, cost-per-invoice, support costs, error rates, exceptions, etc.

“The point of automation is to reduce risk in a meaningful way,” said Charly. 

Razzak shared an example of a failed FP&A implementation at a former company. Because they hadn’t involved the company’s internal technical resources, the finance team tried to handle and manage the project themselves. It didn’t go well, and after a while, everyone was sour about the project, even though the technology was sound. They ate the contract and discarded the project. 

“Perception is important to adoption and team morale.”

Technology and Organizational Excellence Go Together.

“Finance and accounting are going to become more operational,” said Razzak. “Freeing up that time enables people to make more of an operational impact on the business. Technology is a huge piece to attracting and retaining top talent. Without technology, I don’t think we can have the A-players we have on our team, especially if we ask them to do the tasks we know they aren’t fans of.” 

“I don’t have a single finance person who doesn’t want to know what the business is doing and what’s the strategy,” said Charly. “Removing the repeatable processes gives more time to support the business. That’s motivating for anyone who wants to grow a business.”

“People are getting smarter, and they want to make sure they’re part of an environment where they have all the necessary tools they need to succeed,” Alex added.

A Slowing Macroeconomy Is an Opportunity to Make Better Decisions

If the economy is indeed slowing down, the panelists didn’t foresee any changes to their digital transformation efforts. However, they did express that it gave them more time to consider their long-term vision and strengthen their cash position. 

BONUS TIP – How do the panelists stay informed on new technologies and advancements?

  • Forums and discussions on CFO LC and other communities are great
  • Take vendor calls to learn more about pain points and weak processes, even as CFO
  • Ask investors with other companies in their portfolios for introductions 
  • Revisit companies you may have dismissed in the past but are now gaining traction

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