38 Top Automation Lessons From Finance Leaders

25 November 2021   |   13 Minute Read

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On this episode of The CFO Playbook, we share some of the best advice on technology and automation that we’ve received from recent guests.

Lessons we cover in this episode:

It’s key to build a structural foundation for finance upon automation and technology:

  1. Hyper growth companies view technology as the ‘engine room’ of growth and a critical foundation for scale.
  2. The days of thinking that automation is a “nice to have” are over.
  3. Building automation can be far more rewarding for teams than following a well-trodden playbook.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, add the right technology for your company:

  1. Be deliberate in determining which technology tools to invest in and why. Start by identifying your pain points.
  2. Automation increases efficiency and creates more time to harness strategic thinking.
  3. If done well, technology beats throwing headcount at a problem.

Hiring and managing for automation is vital:

  1. Automation can be great for employee retention, but you have to hire the right employees to leverage the technology.
  2. Great managers should take advantage of the extra time automation allows to challenge and engage their finance team with creative, mission-critical problems.
  3. Over time, the skills and requirements of a finance team are shifting to meet the demands of technology-enabled businesses.

The need for and benefits of automation aren’t going away anytime soon:

  1. Automation can help CFOs directly. Sharper forecasting, real-time cost controls, and fewer processes can create space for CFOs to focus on company strategy.
  2. With the CFO’s responsibilities increasing rapidly over time, automation allows for far more effective partnering with the CEO and the rest of the executive team. 

Guests Featured 

Name: Russ Keefe

What he does: Russ previously worked as a financial analyst for the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), and as the CFO of Riverbed Technology, which he saw through its IPO, and of HighWire Press, managing its first acquisition. Since 2017, he’s been the CFO and VP of Finance, Legal, and Operations at cybersecurity firm Corelight.

Key Quote: “One of the things we constantly look at is how do we automate? This is something that is good for people who are growing in the finance world. How do I automate processes? Because what you want to do is to eliminate the redundant manual work and create automation. And it’s really important as you scale.”            

Where to find Russ: LinkedIn | Twitter

Name: Tony Russo

What he does: Tony Russo is the CFO of Imply, a full stack, multi-cloud data platform pioneering ‘analytics-in-motion.’ With a successful track record scaling B2B SaaS and enterprise software companies through organic growth and acquisitions, Tony has a wealth of knowledge about evaluating opportunities as a CFO.

Key Quote:  “I think now it’s more and more incumbent upon us to understand what technologies are out there that we can apply to FP&A or accounting or HR.”

Where to find Tony: LinkedIn

Name: Anup Singh

What he does: In Anup’s second CFO role, at Clearwell Systems, he intentionally built a positive culture that contributed to the company winning an award for being one of the best places to work in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. With 15 years’ experience as a CFO at various companies, he currently holds the position at cybersecurity company Illumio.  

Key Quote: “The CFO has to be really involved and really engaged in terms of the technology being used in the enterprise. It’s everything from the day-to-day automation of our business processes. How can we automate our quote-to-cash process? The purchasing process, the hiring process inside of your company. So automation is super key.”

Where to find Anup: LinkedIn

Name: Jeannie De Guzman

What she does: Jeannie De Guzman is the CFO at 1Password, a $2B password management company trusted by more than 90,000 businesses. In her role as CFO, Jeannie makes sure finance functions as a valued business partner to the rest of the organization, and implements modern tools that help her people do more meaningful work.

Key Quote: “I think that automation is really key for obviously being efficient and closing your books and all of that good stuff that finance people do, but also to make sure that your finance people and the team are doing work that they feel is impactful to the company. And so I think that’s a bigger reason why automation is actually really important for finance.”

Where to find Jeannie: LinkedIn

Name: Jim Buckle

What he does: Jim Buckle is the CFO at Gousto, a meal delivery company and one of the fastest growing businesses in the UK: it doubled its meal deliveries from 2.5M to over 5M during lockdown. In his role as CFO, Jim ensures Gousto is scaling in a sustainable way that benefits all stakeholders, be they employees, investors, customers, or the planet — all without sacrificing profit.

Key Quote: “Certainly one of the things that COVID did for us last year…was a very increased frequency of forecasting because it was very hard to predict customer demand. And so I’m constantly iterating how the future looks and what that means in terms of growing the size of the team or what it will mean in terms of customer demand.”

Where to find Jim: LinkedIn

Name: Lena Loiberg

What She Does: Lena Loiberg is the VP of Finance at Melio, a $4B international B2B payments platform based in Israel.

Key Quote: “Automation is probably the key for efficiency and for having more time to deal with strategy and the real interesting analytics of the business; for going deep and really having time to do bigger things.”

Where to find Lena: LinkedIn

Name: Kevin Fleming

What he does: Kevin is the CFO at Elder HQ, a fast-growing UK-based company working to provide an alternative to traditional elderly care.

Key Quote: “It’s so worthwhile investing time and effort in the infrastructure pieces. What I mean by that is if I look at the high-volume and low-value from a business perspective, and it is the engine room, it has to operate. It’s not going to necessarily change our business thinking, it’s not necessarily going to drive any decisions. It’s not something that the board is going to sweat about, but the basics need to work.”            

Where to find Kevin: LinkedIn 

Name: Long Dinh

What he does: Long is the VP of Finance at Ada, a Canada-based software company that enables businesses to personalize up to 80% of brand interactions at scale with no-code AI. 

Key Quote: “Think about what the business needs two years from now, and build the team and the infrastructure today in service of that longer-term goal.”   

Where to find Long: LinkedIn 

Top quotes:

“[Creating a business foundation that leverages technology means creating] something that’s becoming bigger and bigger in relation to the transactional side of finance. So things like the purchase order process all happens automatically. The reconciliations all happen automatically. The bank transactions all happen automatically.” — Jim Buckle

“The automation that you put in is probably good for about 18 months, if you’re really scaling up and then you need to automate again. Creating those opportunities for folks to do that type of work is so much more enriching than ‘here’s a playbook, stay within the lines.’” — Russ Keefe

“So the way we think about implementing systems, it has to satisfy three things: Is it a reliable system? In other words, is has to provide accurate information. So it is a system that allows us to scale into a hundred-million-dollar company or a thousand employees from this stage? And the third one is, we need to build systems with automation in mind.” — Long Dinh

“I would say that the technical abilities of a finance person have changed over the years… with all the technology that’s being used. I have an analyst on my team that can code things on the side… So there are incredibly technical people coming, especially all the young kids coming up, they know how to use technology better than anyone has before.” — Jeannie De Guzman

“If you want to be a good business partner, take the company together with all of the owners towards the goals and needs. So us providing the data in such a real time way, it’s really great. It is a lot of time investing in implementation and building and modeling. And it’s something that you need to invest in now. But in the future, I really believe that it will be a whole other story.” — Lena Loiberg