Read
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.

Mobile Car Services

Proptech company

Payments platform

TVC & Music Video Production

Travel Agency

Beauty

Largest Chemical Distributor

Transportation

Transportation

Mobile Car Services

Proptech company

Payments platform

TVC & Music Video Production

Travel Agency

Beauty

Largest Chemical Distributor

Transportation

Transportation

How leading companies use Pluto

5
All
October 26, 2023
Keyper eliminates petty cash spending with Pluto

Keyper is a leader in PropTech innovation in UAE. In this article, we talk about Keyper’s innovative model & how they leveraged Pluto to get to optimal spend management. Gabriel García Leyva shares his insights. 

Always at the end of this month we used to get these huge groups of receipts to process… but now that we have a system that allows us to process in real time ahead of the month end everything becomes more powerful and controlled for the team

Gabriel García Leyva

Introduction 

Positioned at the crossroads of proptech and fintech, Keyper has emerged as a disruptor in the Dubai real estate sector. Their flagship product, "Rent Now Pay Later," gives tenants the flexibility to pay their rent in monthly installments via credit card. In contrast, with “Upfront Rent” landlords get their annual rent in a single upfront payment. This dynamic model is supported by Keyper's advanced property management team, duly licensed by the Dubai Land Department.

An article published by Gulf News states a quote from Omar Abu Innab, co-founder & CEO of Keyper:

“Traditional check payments are outdated, prone to errors, and do not provide a good user experience for tenants or landlords. We designed our RNPL service to address these pain points and to enable customers, tenants and landlords, to better manage their finances with ease.”

This innovative model positions Keyper as a leader in proptech innovation.

The Challenges: Keeping Up with Keyper’s Growth & Pace of Innovation

While Keyper was scaling and evolving, there was a pressing need to have a robust system in place that could offer real-time tracking and insights into their financial operations.

Operational efficiency is the backbone of modern businesses, especially in rapidly evolving sectors like Property Technology. For Keyper, the challenge was fourfold:

  • Efficiently handling and tracking petty cash without manual intervention.
  • Ensuring transparent, accountable, and secure usage of corporate cards.
  • Efficiently managing recurring subscriptions spending. 
  • Effectively managing receipts & reducing time spent by finance teams on manual work. 

Handling and tracking petty cash expenses is difficult 

In our recent article on Managing Petty Cash in UAE, Guide & Tips we had shared how difficult it is to track and manage petty cash spending. 

Historically, businesses in UAE have used petty cash vouchers to keep track of their cash expenses. This was an extremely time consuming process. When you multiply these spends across multiple teams and departments, this manual process quickly eats up a large part of the months work days, is prone to errors and creates challenges in maintaining auditability. 

Gabriel also shed light on the same. He candidly shared the struggles of "counting every single receipt," emphasizing the universal sentiment that "everyone despises the petty cash process." This tedious task, prone to discrepancies and human error, was a bottleneck Keyper was keen to address.

The solution: Pluto’s petty cash digitization

Keyper found the answer in Pluto’s petty cash management solutions. Pluto eliminated the need for traditional, manual, and often error-prone petty cash systems, automating the entire process. The platform enabled real-time tracking and accountability for every Dirham across all employees and departments.

Through the integration of automation, the daily tasks of the employees & accounting team weren transformed, reducing manual efforts and elevating their work experience.

The company is now very self-efficient in managing finances across teams.. ..The receipts tracking on all of that is is now very seamlessly managed, the WhatsApp based receipt collector is super popular

Gabriel García Leyva


Recurring subscriptions need careful control

Another common financial issue that most companies face is associated with several recurring subscriptions. Companies often do not know the exact number and cost of these subscriptions and if these costs are growing with time. This lack of visibility can lead to unnecessary expenses and difficulty in managing the company's budget effectively. Companies typically use one corporate card and have all subscriptions on it without any specific limits set. This leads to uninformed increases in price of subscriptions, multiple spend across departments and more avoidable problems.

This was another huge challenge faced by Keyper.

The solution: Pluto’s smart corporate cards

With Pluto's smart budget enforced corporate cards, Keyper gained better control over recurring subscriptions. 

They were able to set specific limits for each subscription, ensuring that costs were managed effectively and  uninformed increases in prices were prevented. This helped Keyper optimize their budget and streamline their expense management process.

Pluto saves finance teams time as well as money

With Pluto's corporate cards and petty cash management solutions, Keyper has been able to give back their finance team 15+ hours every month. In addition, Pluto’s smart alerts managed to save them thousands of dollars in two different ways—by automatically rejecting unintended increases in seats across subscriptions as well as unlocking free subscriptions via complementary perks. 

What has been your favorite part about Pluto? 

For us, the main benefit of Pluto is that we don't have to think about petty cash and worry about spending at all. It runs on Autopilot and Pluto prompts us when it needs attention, so we can better focus on our core competency without the extra mental load. Another huge selling point has been the incredible customer support across the board. Everyone on the Pluto team has been extremely helpful through any questions we had.

Gabriel García Leyva
5
All
December 13, 2023
BloomingBox simplifies spend management with Pluto

Unlike conventional gift platforms, BloomingBox stands out with its premium, handcrafted products, allowing customers to tailor their orders. This case study discusses how it uses Pluto to handle expenses while growing its operations in the Middle East.

We can expand without having to add more people because of Pluto.

Lee Kersen Mascarenhas

Introduction

BloomingBox is a home-grown UAE-based online gifting platform specializing in various customized gifts. Unlike conventional gift platforms, it provides personalized gifting options, including flowers, cakes, roses, plants, chocolate boxes, home items, gift hampers, bundle packs, and more. It offers same-day flower delivery to customers in Dubai and has collaborated with renowned international brands and events for customized projects.  

It is a go-to destination for both personal and corporate gifting needs. With reported sales growing from 4,000 gifts in 2018 to 55,000 in 2020, the brand has expanded its headquarters multiple times.

The Challenge: Managing Expenses as a Growing Business

BloomingBox is a growing company, expanding operations in multiple locations. However, being a startup, it faced two core challenges in scaling and managing their expenses:

  • Poor cash flow visibility due to manual transactions and bookkeeping
  • Delays in the approval process that made reimbursement difficult

Manual Transactions Hampered Bookkeeping and Cash Flow Visibility 

BloomingBox relied on a logbook and manual payment processes for all expenses. As a result, it was difficult to track cash flow. The team members didn’t know when the bills were paid and which ones were due. Moreover, they wanted control over who spent how much on various expense categories. 

For instance, they wanted to restrict the drivers to spend only on fuel. However, tracking expenses with such intricacy with manual processes was difficult. 

Additionally, the team members had to collect and manage all the receipts, and there was a risk of losing receipts. Overall, managing the expenses was hectic and tedious. 

The Solution: Pluto’s Corporate Cards

With Pluto’s corporate cards, both physical and virtual, BloomingBox automated all the payments. They could issue unlimited corporate cards with advanced controls to manage and track expenses. 

The admins could specify the budget and category of expenses for the card, restricting employees to spend dedicated amounts only on designated categories. For instance, they created cards for the drivers with a set specific budget, which could only be used for fuel. 

Further, Pluto simplified receipt management, as each transaction on the card triggered a workflow and notified the employee to upload the receipt. With Pluto’s WhatsApp integration, uploading receipts becomes easy as it only takes a few seconds, even for bulk upload. 

The beauty in one part that I was amazed about Pluto, in terms of your technology, was your whole integration with WhatsApp and the ease of how easy it was to swipe, make a payment, take a picture, upload it via WhatsApp, and it's there on the platform for approval.

Lee Kersen Mascarenhas

The Challenge: Delays in Reimbursement

Before Pluto, the company had a lengthy and tedious process for reimbursements.

It started with someone making a payment and submitting the receipt at the office. This included filling out reimbursement forms and seeking approval from the manager. Depending upon the amount, it could involve more stakeholders. Then, the request was forwarded to the accounting department, which confirmed all details and finally reimbursed the employee. 

The process took days or weeks, depending on the availability of the receipts and relevant stakeholders. The unavailability of a single person created bottlenecks and delayed the entire process.  

The Solution: Pluto’s Employee Reimbursement

With Pluto, BloomingBox automated the approval workflow using the no-code trigger-based approval workflow engine. This helped them save a lot of time in the approvals. 

Instead of employees managing the receipts and seeking approval manually, the stakeholders could immediately approve payments, and employees were reimbursed instantly. BloomingBox could add as many stakeholders as required and create workflows based on simple if-then rules.

Additionally, the team could split transactions for marking parts of receipts out of policy. This facilitated them to approve only a part of the expense and reject parts that didn’t align with company policy. This improved their cash flow without delaying the approval process.  

The beauty is you pay, upload your receipts right away, and approval can be done on the spot.

Lee Kersen Mascarenhas

Single Dashboard for Real-Time Spend Visibility 

Pluto provided Bloomingbox with a centralized platform to track and manage all their expenses in real time. All the awaiting requests, payment approvals, bills, etc., were accessible from a single dashboard.  

As a result, it became easy to clear all the payments on time without running the risk of duplicate payments.    

Save Time by Streamlining Spend Management

Pluto became a time-saver for BloomingBox. It automated the approval process and streamlined the entire spend management process on a single platform. BloomingBox got all the information on a single dashboard. They cleared all the dues much faster, even when multiple approvals were required. 

Apart from visibility, BloomingBox got control over the spending with advanced rules for the corporate cards. This included specifying budgets and categories to avoid maverick spending. 

Moreover, the employees no longer needed to manage physical receipts. They could simply upload a picture via WhatsApp, which was added to the platform. This simplified bookkeeping as all the receipts were already on the platform with dedicated expense information.  

What Has Been Your Favorite Part About Pluto? 

We have been using Pluto for a few months now, and we literally have everything in one place.

Lee Kersen Mascarenhas
5
All
October 26, 2023
SmartCrowd's digital transformation with Pluto

SmartCrowd is a fractionalized property investing company, a concept that democratizes property investment by allowing multiple investors to collectively own and benefit from rental income. This case study sheds light on how SmartCrowd used Pluto to streamline and optimize its expense management while managing a portfolio of over 100 properties in the UAE.

Introduction

SmartCrowd revolutionizes real estate investment in Dubai, providing an affordable and hassle-free way for individuals to invest in income-generating properties collectively. 

As MENA's first regulated crowdfunding platform, SmartCrowd simplifies the investment process, allowing users to browse pre-vetted opportunities, invest seamlessly, and track their portfolios through a digital platform. Regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority (DFSA), SmartCrowd stands out for its market-leading returns, offering an average annualized return of 10.70%. 

Investors benefit from an all-digital experience, security, transparency, and a track record of consistently outperforming the real estate market.

The Challenges: Managing 100+ Properties With a Traditional Approach

SmartCrowd faced significant challenges in managing the expenses associated with a vast portfolio of properties. As the number of properties increased, the complexity of tracking payments, service charges, and government fees became overwhelming. 

They used the traditional approach to manage expenses, which included:

  • Credit Cards: The company relied on a single credit card to make payments for all properties. This approach quickly exhausted the credit card and caused administrative headaches. 
  • Excel Sheets: The team spent hours maintaining the Excel spreadsheets to track expenses for each property.  

This approach was not only time-consuming but also prone to errors.

The Solution: Digital Expense Management Platform 

Pluto helped SmartCrowd streamline its internal processes. SmartCrowd replaced its traditional methods and digitized its entire expense management system with Pluto and deployed following Pluto’s solution: 

1.Pluto’s Physical Corporate Cards 

SmartCrowd used Pluto’s physical corporate cards to issue separate cards to individuals for specific tasks. In the past, the company used a single credit card to make payments for all properties, including service charges and land department fees, causing administrative challenges.

With Pluto, each person had a dedicated card for specific expenses. This gave them visibility into the expenses, even on a per-property basis. Additionally, they saved about 40 hours per week, which was earlier spent on organizing Excel sheets and tracking expenses. 

It is much easier to have oversight over all the expenses… Our team saved a minimum of 5 hours per week cause making a sheet, putting the property names, then we have monthly expenses and track them.. It’s not just paying right; it’s using that information later.

Ambreen Manzoor

2.Expense Insights 

With 100+ properties to manage, SmartCrowd had a lot of expenses on a single card which later had to be categorized and tracked onto Excel sheets. 

Pluto enabled SmartCrowd to consolidate all the expenses on a digital dashboard and get detailed insights that could be tracked down per property. As a result, the team could pull out better information.

Insights help us plan how much expenses we can incur… that is very important for us because we can’t be using one property’s funds for another property, so we have to keep it separate. 

Ambreen Manzoor

Streamline Expense Management With Advanced Reporting

Pluto resulted in significant time savings for SmartCrowd, an estimated 40 hours per week, by digitizing its entire expense management system. Pluto replaced their old systems with physical corporate cards and digital expense management systems to simplify spending and tracking. SmartCrowd could easily categorize the expenses, which streamlined financial reporting for each property.

In fact, SmartCrowd looked forward to expanding its usage with separate cards and tags for each property and syncing with its accounting software.  

What Has Been Your Favorite Part About Pluto? 

Pluto has helped us a lot because we have 100+ properties now, so managing the expenses was getting really difficult… The customer experience has been good, like proactively the physical cards were given.

Ambreen Manzoor

She was particularly impressed with Pluto's customer support team. Whenever SmartCrowd reached out for assistance, the Pluto customer support team promptly addressed its queries and provided quick solutions. This responsiveness was invaluable in ensuring a seamless experience for the finance team.

Conclusion

As SmartCrowd continues to expand its utilization of Pluto's solutions and further integrates them into its operational framework, this successful collaboration serves as a testament to the transformative impact of technological innovation in optimizing intricate financial processes within the real estate investment domain.

If you're seeking to streamline your company's expense management and revolutionize your approach to financial oversight, join the ranks of successful innovators like SmartCrowd. Sign up for Pluto today to unlock a world of simplified, efficient, and empowered expense management solutions tailored to meet your unique business needs. Experience firsthand the seamless integration, proactive support, and transformative capabilities that Pluto offers, empowering your team to focus on growth and financial success.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Discover how Pluto simplifies finance for our customers

Trusted by the largest MEA Finance & Procurement Teams

The process was seamless and I was able to reimburse money to employees quickly without any hassle.

Name Surname, Role
SA Consultance

Thank you, my experience with Pluto was extremely positive and friendly.

Name Surname, Role

Dukkan Media

Pluto definitely helps the business manage their operational spending in a most efficient manner and provide visibility of how the forecast would look like. Before Pluto, me as a CFO had to wait for a month end report to understand the spending and frequency of the same but now with Pluto have much better visibility on each department and their frequency of spending.

Name Surname, Role
UDrive

The Strategic CFO Series

5
November 28, 2023

Interviewed by

Leen Shami

Charting the Journey of a First-Time CFO: An Interview with Jarna Gaglaani, CFO of UDrive

What is your background, your education, and how have you reached this stage in your career? Tell us about yourself.

I come from Bangalore, India. It is  supposed to be the tech hub of the country.

Growing up, I didn't have anyone to look up to. 

As I was growing up, I realized that I needed  to do something extraordinary. I wanted to be a working woman, which is not normal in our culture and country.  I wanted  to create an impact.

While Chartered Accountancy was not exactly a childhood passion for me, it would give me a shot at achieving all this and more. I could also have gone for an MBA but for the expense. So I chose to pursue the former.  

To become a CA in India, you have to crack one of the toughest exams in the country. There's a pass percentage of around 2%. That was a huge challenge, but I love challenges. I took it up along with my graduation and became a CA by the time I was 22. 

I also  got a lucky break with Coca-Cola in Bangalore where I got to work in the regional finance office as a financial analyst.  I really started my career with understanding the numbers, right? As a financial analyst you create the numbers, try to interpret data,  and then see the impact it has on the business. And that's how I just got onto this path.

From there I moved to a tech company where I supported the team with the functional improvements and enhancements in accounting software or ERP. 

Thereafter, I moved to core FP&A.

I moved to Dubai and got into proper financial accounting, projections, budgeting and managing cash flows, typically what every finance manager does. 

I also consulted independently  for a while to support companies with implementations.

Finally, I landed at UDrive. I began my journey here as an accountant. I set  up the department like a finance manager, accounts manager, and have pretty much done that  in the last five years, where every year I did something completely different. This has helped me learn new things.

That has been my journey in a nutshell.

Can you tell us about the biggest challenge you have faced as a first-time CFO?

One thing that most of the corporate world suffers from and I guess I did too, is the lack of  a mentor, coach, guide, or someone who has done it before you. 

This has been my biggest struggle because while you can do everything that you know and you've learned, you do not get to learn new things. This means you have to experiment by yourself, make some mistakes, and use them to learn.

I’ve noticed that it’s easier to find peers who will guide you in professions and departments other than Finance. In tech, for example,   there are many people in a department and each can handhold  one other; they learn. But most companies  have just one chartered accountant. The others are mostly junior accountants. So, the companies that I worked with didn't have many people that  I could look up to.

As a first time CFO, my biggest challenge was getting my hands dirty to learn and improve  everything by myself. 

You spoke a lot about the chartered accountants' course. Can you tell us more about it and how it helped you in your current role as CFO?

CAs are certified accountants in India, similar to certified public accountants (CPAs) in the USA. The only difference in India is that  they've made the standards pretty high now.

Throughout my four years of the course, there were at least  16 different aspects of the business commercial world that I was exposed to. From commercial law and cost accounting, to management accounting,reporting, and   technology as well.

The thing about this course is that it gave me exposure to many areas. Now a few people from here may pick up auditing and they just work on the audit side of it. Few other people may just take accounting and they get into a FP&A role. 

But most of all, chartered accountants become managers by default. You learn about taxes, indirect taxes, and direct taxes. And you then specialize in whichever area you want to.

Every business has these key functions, whether you talk about people management, accounting, taxation, compliance, or costing and management accounting. And of course, large corporates may have different people doing different things, but in a startup, it's very important that you are aware of more than one role, and I think that's where it has helped me a lot because I could really understand when I see some data or I see some statistics, I can strategically make a decision based on the numbers.

As a CFO, you are expected to handle more than just finance functions and financial matters. You also need to have a good understanding of other operational areas such as HR, legal, marketing, compliance, and sales. How do you balance and navigate these different areas effectively as a CFO?

You do not learn everything overnight, right?

I started with the accounting function, but over a period of time the need arose that I had to do more of a financial analyst role or a business analyst role. So, I gradually grew into that role. And thereafter my role required legal expertise so I took that up as well. 

I may not be a lawyer, but I can read a legal document because that's what we learn in our business law, right? 

Over a period of time, I think, a couple of years back, our HR function needed someone to have a strategic mindset. So, I took up that upon myself to oversee the HR function as well. And I think over a period of time you understand what are the key levers of the business; you understand operations is a key, if you tackle that well, then everything else just falls in place. I took that responsibility to understand the challenges that operations were facing. I never really managed operations directly, but I started learning about it. Later, I even learned marketing. 

When I joined U Drive, there were hardly any senior people in the organization. In fact, almost all of the senior people just came on board  in the previous year. At the time, we had no choice but to really be everywhere. That’s why I learned marketing, I learned business development, I learned tech.

Whatever I could, and needed to, I just started picking up. And it's very important for a CFO to have a complete understanding of each function. You cannot, basically be in your silo of financial information and not know what's happening in other departments, because ultimately all of these functions put together push the company ahead.

With UDrive being a car-sharing company,  ​​how do you manage the balance between strategic thinking and the challenges of running a complex business with many logistics involved?

This is one thing I'm proud to share: we do almost around 40,000 rentals in a month. 

I would say it would be much better as we grow over 40,000 rentals in 1 month, but the truth is  we may be just sitting in the office sipping coffee. 

Just imagine any rental car company that has the physical delivery of vehicles, if they had to do 40,000 rentals a month, I think they may be just overstocked. I mean, they would have to have thousands of people doing that, right? But for us, it's all technology.  This is what data automation and all the systems that you build can help you with.

The business is complex. Why is it complex?  Because our product keeps moving all the time. It's not in one place, right? So which customers to target, where to target, we don't know, right? 

But what we do in the course of our business is start a process. We set some basic guidelines and expectations. Then, over a period of time, we assess what the key challenges are, and we develop tools and systems to handle those challenges. 

My CEO, Mr. Nick Watson, is someone who is a strong believer that you can never perfect anything. So you just start and by the time you implement, you accumulate enough learning to perfect it. 

Most of our thinking time goes into finding the right tools or right methods to handle a challenge.

UDRIVE was one of Pluto’s Earliest Customers, and we have been partners since. You made a very strong strategic decision to adopt modern finance tools. What made you do this? How can finance teams be more open to automation?

Again, it comes from the culture that we set in the company, right from day one.

When I joined the company, we didn't even have an ERP. The books of accounts were maintained  in Excel. We didn't have  automated  invoicing, nor automation for card payments.

Of course, it was just the first year of the company’s business, so there were too many things happening. Of course, one is that the volume of transactions we handle is so high that you don't have a choice but to go for automation in whatever form.

The second thing is that adopting technology has helped us focus on the right things in the business. Now, we don’t have to chase 20 people asking them to submit bills and cash transactions every time.

Pluto drastically reduced our issues overnight.  We knew that people would find it very convenient to always have  money on their cards. They could  just go spend,without requesting approvals and permissions repeatedly. Convenience makes a big difference.

Plus the future of payments is digital and paperless.  We cannot sustain if we don't go for modern solutions.

I do understand that a lot of accountants still come from that traditional thinking where they want control in their hand and they don't want to give it away . But, we have to think about the cost associated with it. Is it simply keeping three people occupied doing this tedious, repetitive, grunt work? Or is your objective actually to  accelerate your work? I think that is the reason when Pluto came in… I didn't have to even think for a second.

For us it was a no brainer. I mean, why should my accountant waste hours  just collating information and dumping that into the system when there is already a tool that can do it for you?

What are some of the key tactics you have planned to implement for cost containment in the upcoming years?

Well, we are already a very frugal company. We always operate like a bootstrapped company, although we are funded.

We believe that every penny that you put in has to have a ROI attached to it. I wouldn't call it cost containment, but cost optimization is something that we should all work on all the time. So, every single cost that we incur, we keep.

And I think, again, we take major help from  technology here. We are a tech driven company in every way.

I'll give you a simple example. 

Let's say we are spending some amount on rebalancing the vehicles, right? The vehicles are not where they should be, and we are just moving them. Over a period of time we have data collected. We review and analyze this data, then we find out what is the best way that we could build our own predictive way of ensuring that the vehicle is where the customer is.

We work on those kinds of data driven decisions which help reduce our costs. 

How critical is data analysis for decision-making processes within the organization, and what types of data do you focus on as a CFO? How do you go about identifying and prioritizing the different types of data that are relevant to the car-sharing industry?

Most of our work is all about data, and it is not limited to financial data alone. We also work with operational data and marketing data such as customer acquisition, the cost of customer acquisition, retention, churn rate etc.

We use the data for  operational decision making, devising strategies on the basis of it.

That's one of the key things that CFOs have to understand; their role is to help the business navigate using the data that they have. 

CFOs basically have that understanding of building a story out of the data, right?

So, we get the data, we learn what it means, we get the insights, and we see how it'll influence decision making.

Over the years, the role of the CFO has undergone a significant transformation, becoming increasingly strategic and less focused on traditional finance functions. Could you share some insights into how you have personally witnessed this evolution of the CFO role? How has your own approach to the CFO role changed over time to adapt to these changes?

The CFO role is always strategic in nature because one of the key things that a CFO has to ensure is to focus on how they can increase the return on shareholders’ equity. 

I would say that part of traditional finance will always remain with the CFO, but the evolving role of  a CFO is now majorly as   a finance business partner. Be the eye on the operations side and focus on how to increase the value of the business and how to ensure that you are able to evolve the business over a period of time. Whether it is about diversification, whether it is about going deeper  into operations or adding more verticals to the business. Whatever it is, I think, the CFO's role is always strategic in nature.

In our case, I was handling everything. When I became a CFO, my focus had to be much more on the business level, which is why we hired a finance manager and he takes care of the compliance, the finance, and the audit. He turns out the numbers, and then I read the numbers and see how we can help influence the decision making.

In your opinion, what are the most important skills for a CFO to possess in order to excel in a strategic role?

I think the  first and foremost skill would be to understand the key lever of the business in and out.

If a CFO doesn't understand what the key impact areas of the business are, then it's very difficult to support decision making. So, understand the business, what impacts the business, what impacts the revenue, what impacts your cost, what impacts your growth, your scale trajectory, everything.

The second one is about learning how to manage resources. Again, one of the biggest assets every company has is  human capital, right? 

It's very important for CFOs to understand how to maximize the return from this capital. Every penny that you invest in human resources should generate multiples of it for the company. That's how you drive efficiency. If the business was all about tools and systems, it would've been easier, but I think business is all about how  human capital is deployed to get the results. 

And thirdly, is to be open to new tools, technologies, new ideas, new thought processes.  If you don't learn technologies, if you are still dependent on old formats like Excel, and you are dependent on the old way of doing things, then I think you'll be wasting away your time doing the same work instead of adding value.

You have worked in several industries so far, including F&B and consulting. What role do you think subject matter expertise plays in the role of a CFO for the industry? And how have you acquired industry-specific SME knowledge quickly? 

We are not number crunchers anymore. That's how it was in the past, but today's systems can  do that for you. You don't have to crunch numbers and tally balance sheets. That's not your job anymore.

The role of a CFO today is to interpret the numbers and be able to give insights, valuable insights,  to the business. That is not possible if you are not a subject matter expert.

Of course, there are other things like compliance, where compliance requires your subject matter expertise. Not everyone can do that. 

Similarly, auditing. These are the things where you definitely need to have subject matter expertise.

But most importantly, I would say it’s about data, it’s about your numbers, what they talk about, and how you can disintegrate that number to a level where people can understand what it relates to. 

As far as your second question is concerned: If you understand from a business point of view, then the industry may keep changing, but the key levers don't change. Or even if they change, it's easy to pick them up because you know this is what impacts the business.

If it's a current rental business, then these are the key drivers of this business. If it's FMCG, then these are the key drivers of the business. So it's not difficult to understand if you understand the business well. 

The first few months in U Drive, I could understand what the key things were that we needed to play around with to ensure that our revenue per car increases. Or what the key things were that we needed to do to see that our gross margins start improving. These are the things that you begin to understand when you understand the business. 

One thing I want to circle back to is our topic about technology. With the rapid development of technologies like AI and the increasing digitization of businesses, CFOs must ensure their companies are adaptable to change. Success will be achieved by organizations that use technology effectively and promote internal alignment by breaking down silos. Have you introduced any new technologies that have helped UDrive’s finance team increase efficiency?

Automation was the first thing that I implemented. 

Of course, I do not understand coding, so I cannot do it myself, but having the right people around you who can do it for you, and you being the key driver, helps.

I started with automating  invoices and charging the cards. Data analytics is another thing. 

So, we onboarded data scientists who can really put things together in a manner that you can make decisions. 

And we already use AI for our data-driven decisions on operations.

There are several technologies, not necessarily that I have spearheaded everything, but at least I have been one of the first users of it for sure, if I'm not driving it myself. 

And you mentioned earlier that when you joined there was no ERP system.

I had to put that in place.

We could not do 40,000 rentals if we were still manually generating invoices.

You have to do it because you cannot ever let business get restricted. The growth cannot get restricted because you are not up to speed with technology. You always need to prepare well in advance.

UDrive is now live in Saudi Arabia. Congratulations! A lot of CFOs in MENA need to handle multi-jurisdiction finances. This is very different from the USA. How have your skills evolved to handle such tough challenges?

You may not be fully knowledgeable about a lot of things you doYou mess up, you make some mistakes, you learn from it, and you correct it. 

I think this is what my experience is about, even when it comes to finances for Saudi, so far we are managing most of it from the UAE.

Of course, as we grow, we will have them based in Saudi. We just concluded the first audit of Saudi, so we can say that we are good to go. The compliances are very different. And the sad part is not everything is documented easily.

One of the things that I learned from this entire exercise is that it's always good to have a consultant in that market who's a subject matter expert. 

What are some of the biggest pain points that you face today as a CFO, and how are you currently solving them? 

One of the biggest pain points is having all functions working in silos.

There is no common source of truth. 

We keep facing this challenge every now and then. It's not just us. I think every company faces this issue because most of the time, finance teams go with their thought process, their mindset, their logic, their numbers, and that's completely different from how the business works.

Aligning both of these and ensuring that they work as complements  to each other is one of the biggest challenges or hurdles to cross, and when you start working together, it all starts making sense. But I think having a single source of truth and having the compiled data was my biggest challenge.

Another challenge would be adopting the technology without having a hundred percent understanding of it. You want to do a lot of things, but  it takes a lot of time and it costs you a lot. Without understanding the benefits and how you're going to maximize your value on this, you are not able to motivate or engage resources to deliver it to you.This is where I think you suffer a lot because you don't know how to encapsulate what you want in technological language. Functionally, you know, this is what you want and you know it's going to have a lot of advantages, but you don't know how to communicate with the stakeholders for them to understand how important it is.

‍What advice would you give finance professionals in today’s modern age? 

First, I think all finance professionals have to wear the hat of a business partner. 

As I said, we are not number crunchers alone. We are not here only to just compile data and share it with people.

That's not the role of a finance person anymore. 

They have to be in a position to understand the business and see how they can correlate the numbers with business performance and influence decision-making. 

This is something that you need to do with each function head, because until they don't understand what they are doing, and how it is impacting in the p&l. 

The second thing I would say is, be ready to learn and adapt to changes.

I still see a lot of people who are comfortable with the old ways of doing things and don't want to try doing something new or different. Make an attempt, take that risk. You'll fail. That's fine. We'll make a mistake, we'll learn from it and we'll correct it.
5
April 25, 2023

Interviewed by

Leen Shami

Inside the Mind of Eon Dental’s CFO: Mastering Strategic Healthcare Finance
Tell us about yourself - your background, education, and career journey.

I majored in accounting and finance. I got into the healthcare industry very early in my career, and I was fortunate to join Hikma  Pharmaceuticals, where I worked firsthand with the CFO and the executive chairman. 

At Hikma,  I got to work on some very exciting projects at a very early stage in my career, including the rollout of the budgeting and planning functions, their IPO, and M&A projects.

After I spent about six years over there, I naturally picked up the healthcare label and stayed within that space. I ended up working at a private equity fund in Dubai that was focusing on healthcare, among other things. 

I also worked at Sandoz, which is the generic arm of Novartis. 

After that, I joined Smith and Nephew, which is one of the world's largest medical device companies. 

I had a small entrepreneurial stint, which unfortunately didn't go too well. It was a new concept that I launched right before the onset of Covid, which wasn't very helpful.

But then that's really how I found myself joining Eon. In March 2021, I came to know about a medical device company that's based out of Jordan that's searching for a CFO- - and I joined in April 2021. 

What happens in the other departments eventually finds its way into the finance function.
Can you tell us more about your entrepreneurial journey?

The entrepreneurial journey was obviously very difficult but equally exciting. I tried to introduce a new concept to the market; similar to GPOs which are group purchasing organizations, they're quite prevalent in the US in the healthcare space. But we also have some of them over here (MENA)  in public hospitals.

So with GPOs, even though hospitals may be competing on the front-end for patients and doctors, there's a lot of room to collaborate on the back-end, generally in terms of bulk buying, and particularly for commoditized products.

So I tried to set up something similar to that over here in the UAE. I got some large hospital groups signed up, which was very good. But I think the market wasn’t ready for a new business model, and when Covid came into play, the task became more difficult. 

At that point,  I decided to take a pause, especially when a more exciting opportunity came. 

Which of these moments marked a turning point in your career, and why was it so important?

I'd start off with Hikma.

One, looking back, no company gave me the same kind of experience where I was working alongside the CFO and the executive chairman.

Two, the nature of the projects themselves. When you're based out of Jordan, only a handful of companies give you that kind of exposure, especially on that scale and that kind of global remit.

With no formal handover process, the biggest challenge was taking a look under the hood to understand the company's status quo

Later on, the opportunity that I got at Smith and Nephew was also quite exciting. It was a good turning point, and it was transformational because I got immediate C-suite exposure at a FTSE 100 company, and I also got the benefit of assembling and managing large teams and projects in complex projects across multiple jurisdictions. 

My experience at Smith and Nephew was also pivotal because they gave me the opportunity to take on a senior commercial role. I was looking after the P&L for the region over here (GCC, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan) and got out of the traditional comfort zone that I had in financial and investment management - getting into the commercial part of the business by going into the field, and engaging more with the doctors, customers, regulators, and sales reps, giving me better insights into how the data and transactions that I previously used to manage actually comes into being.

 I think these two stand out most in terms of my career.

In your role as a first-time CFO, what has been the biggest challenge so far? 

With no formal handover process, the biggest challenge was taking a look under the hood to understand the company's status quo. Eon had rapidly outgrown its infrastructure - the physical infrastructure and the soft infrastructure like its processes and accounting systems.

A lot of the physical and operational matters needed to catch up with Eon's growth. The challenges that we had with that were further compounded with the onset of Covid.

It was also difficult for me to understand the status quo of the company, which was probably one of the most important things to get your head around when you first join that kind of position.

I spent a lot of time doing operational deep dives, not just within the finance function but across many other departments, because what happens in the other departments eventually finds its way into the finance function.

So these were the biggest challenges so far.

And what is your greatest accomplishment?

It's probably too early in the journey to look back and talk about the greatest accomplishment per se.

But I can definitely say we've had some very pleasant wins.

I need to enable them by ensuring they have the financial resources to do their work and to have effective controls in place to protect the company.
Your career has involved creating budgets, financial plans, mergers and acquisitions, and financial strategies for major companies across MENA. How does that experience differ from your current role?

In terms of the planning, transactional, and strategic kind of work I currently do at Eon, it's pretty much the same. The only difference is there's less red tape and more freedom to operate. 

With Smith and Nephew or Hikma or even at Sandoz, we were bigger organizations, and the process would run through different layers, whether cascading upwards or downwards.

At Eon, because we are a relatively smaller company and have smaller teams, we can definitely be a lot more agile and nimble in terms of executing that kind of work.

That's on the overlap with the kind of work that I used to do in the past.

Besides the planning/strategic and transactional work that I just described,  I also now need to manage that with a lot of the operational work that still needs to happen.

In the past, I had the luxury of just focusing on the strategic and the planning work, but now I need to oversee a lot of the operational work that happens on a day-to-day basis. I also need to oversee the production of all the data that are associated with, or that's a precursor to, all the planning and transactional work.

So, the kind of work is very similar, but how it happens is definitely a lot more complex.

A CFO today is expected to not only lead finance functions and manage the financial matters at hand but also wear many operational hats: HR, legal, marketing, compliance, and sales. How do you go about leading & navigating those different areas as a CFO?

My role is primarily to enable these functions. I need to enable them by ensuring they have the financial resources to do their work and to have effective controls in place to protect the company.

These are the two major things in terms of how I need to support these functions.

I see it more in terms of enabling these teams.

At the end of the day, I'm very lucky to be working with some of the most talented and motivated individuals in the industry.  The team really comes together like a family. Our CEO and our People and Culture team have done a very good job in not only recruiting the right kind of employees but stakeholders as well. Everyone is fully motivated, everyone takes full ownership, and everyone at the office works like friends coming together with common interests to work on a project. So I feel it's more like working with family and friends as opposed to a formal kind of office environment.

It makes such a big difference because it becomes less about following up and ensuring people are doing what they're supposed to be doing and just giving people the space to do their work.

So, getting the right people, I think, is key, and I'm very lucky to be working with that kind of setup, where my role is more as an enabler.

Wearing multiple hats as a CFO comes hand-in-hand with strategy. Since joining Eon Dental in 2021, have you introduced new strategies to help the business move forward?

We have different brainstorming sessions, different ideas, and we always come up with points where a decision needs to be made, whether it’s for operational matters or strategic matters, and they vary in terms of their importance and their scope.

Sometimes it could be giving solicited feedback about a specific issue, whether negotiating with a major supplier or a customer. Or sometimes, it can be sharing my vision or how I feel about where the business is going to be or where it needs to be in the coming few years to help maximize shareholder value.

So, it's not about introducing a specific strategy, and all of us are running towards it; it's more about thinking out loud on general or more specific issues on hand.

Expense management is a big issue, especially when you are in a high growth kind of setup, like Eon; high growth, high investment.
We've seen more CFOs taking on the CEO role or acting as interim CEOs in recent years. How closely do you work with Qais, the CEO? And how do you ensure that the CEO-CFO relationship is strong?

We definitely have a strong relationship in terms of how we operate - both formally and informally. 

We have formally scheduled executive leadership meetings; it's myself, the COO, and Qais, the CEO. We have scheduled meet-ups where we meet once a week, and we discuss operational matters, strategic matters, and general issues on hand. So we have a placeholder for that.

We also engage many times throughout the day, and the week, through phone calls, face-to-face meetings, and WhatsApp.

Again, I'll go back to the kind of relationship that we have; it's less about a formal kind of relationship and more about like-minded individuals coming together and working for a shared belief. This is how I see it. 

A big challenge facing most CFOs today is expense management. Is that an issue you’ve faced in your career? And what have you done to tackle such an issue?

More specifically, at Eon, yes, of course, it is a challenge.

Expense management is a big issue, especially when you are in a high growth kind of setup, like Eon; high growth, high investment.  How we deal with this is really just a combination of instilling a sense of ownership within the team and having a collective sense of responsibility to make sure that every dollar we spend matters, every dollar we spend counts. And then, we couple that with well-designed controls, policies, procedures, tools, and robust and proactive expense management functions.

We are big on that at Eon. We just need to ensure that we are deploying our resources in the right places at the right times.

The purpose over here is to try to streamline our workflows as much as possible.
I recently read an interview with Zendesk’s CFO, and he states that “Manual operational processes must be eliminated if you want your team to experience frictionless growth.” Have you adopted or introduced any new technologies to reduce manual work for Eon Dental’s finance team since joining?

Yes, of course.

Being a med-tech company, we have the luxury of having tech and product teams that help us automate a lot of the processes that we have. Whether it's invoicing, bookkeeping, data entry, or data management.

So yes, we are big proponents in trying to automate as much as we can, but at the same time, we also recognize that some issues we are not able to automate, and we still need to rely on manual processes.

But again, to the extent possible, we do try to automate as much as possible, whether it's relying on our in-house teams or utilizing third-party tools.

The purpose over here is to try to streamline our workflows as much as possible.

In today's rapidly evolving and unpredictable world, finance teams face the daunting task of adapting to emerging threats. The emergence of groundbreaking technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and unprecedented access to data present exciting new avenues for executing finance strategies. However, these advancements also give rise to fresh vulnerabilities, including cybersecurity threats and the potential for limited visibility into corporate data. What are your views on these developments and their impact on finance departments?

Despite the challenges that come with it, I'm a big proponent of automation, artificial intelligence, and utilizing data to the fullest extent possible. The important part is having the intent of working towards that and having the right systems and the right setups in place to protect that data so that you're able to sprint then towards the automation, the AI, and the different work streams that we're talking about.

For Eon, that challenge is compounded because not only do we have our own data that we need to protect, but we also deal with sensitive patient data. So, we need to be extra careful with our own data and patient data. 

A lot of our customers are global, so they have very high expectations in terms of how we manage data privacy. Even within the regional markets, the bar is continuously raised. Saudi and the UAE are introducing laws that are specific to data privacy, and we always need to comply with those.

Not only is it a challenge for us to protect our own data, but also to ensure that our customer's data and patient data is also adequately protected.

So definitely, it comes with its challenges, but I think, net-net, it is something that streamlines our operations. 

A CFO shouldn't be focusing on just bookkeeping, journal entry, and keeping track of data. It's looking at the data, coming up with meaningful insights, and using that to give advice, whether it's to the CEO, the COO, or the different units of the business.
We’ve seen a lot of articles coming out about how AI could be replacing certain jobs, a few of which fall into the finance function. Do you think AI could potentially replace these jobs?

I think there will always be a necessity for a human element to it, but to the extent possible, I'm all for automation. Especially when we talk about repetitive tasks that, in a sense, have less value add compared to analyzing the data. I'd much rather put the energy and resources towards analyzing and managing the data as opposed to entering the data. 

I don't see us getting to a stage where everything is completely automated. We deal with multiple parties and multiple systems, so there's always going to be a requirement for human intervention in terms of data, but I think the idea is to try to minimize that to the fullest extent possible and try to put the resources behind analyzing the data and coming out with meaningful insights on what the data is telling us to come up with proper recommendations.

This is becoming a more common theme in the last decade, so how do you see the CFO role shifting from a traditional finance function role towards more of a strategic role?

One is a precursor to the other.

I don't think you can be an effective advisor/CFO without having a proper and robust data set, whether it's from within the company or from outside the company. So the first thing is to get that part right, get it in place, and make it as efficient as possible.

But beyond that, a CFO shouldn't be focusing on just bookkeeping, journal entry, and keeping track of data. It's looking at the data, coming up with meaningful insights, and using that to give advice, whether it's to the CEO, the COO, or the different units of the business. It's trying to maximize the value of the company using the data that is generated from the traditional finance function.

If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to embrace technology to the fullest extent possible.
Our current global economic climate is characterized by rising interest rates and inflation. Do you have any tips for framing your outlook against a backdrop of rising interest rates and inflation around the world?

I can share from the perspective of someone within a high-growth startup.

My advice would be to make every dollar that you spend count.

Funding or access to funding is becoming more scarce, and it's becoming a lot more expensive.

So just make sure that every dollar that you spend counts, plan conservatively, and try to execute aggressively. Especially in this climate where funding is becoming more difficult, try to be as conservative as possible, but obviously, you still need to execute your plans.

Having said that, for us, I think 2023 will be a little bit of a pivotal year. We have some exciting projects in our pipeline, and hopefully, they will materialize towards the end of this year. 

‍What advice would you give finance professionals in today’s modern age? 

I would say it's probably going to be a reiteration of most of the things we discussed, particularly around automation.

I think my advice to them would be to embrace it. Some people might be a little bit averse to it, but I think that people should embrace it; it adds a lot of value, it streamlines a lot of the workflows and enables those finance professionals to allocate more of their time towards more value-add kind of work streams that will definitely benefit the company.

If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to embrace technology to the fullest extent possible.

Finance is like the central nervous system. Everything that happens within a company always comes back to the finance team; the good and the bad. Having these kinds of tools will enable the finance team to become a lot more effective in servicing the different elements of the organization or the different departments of the organization.

5
March 1, 2023

Interviewed by

Leen Shami

The Evolving Role of Finance Professionals: An Interview with Poomesh Mathew
Tell me about yourself, your career journey, and how you ended up in the UAE.

I grew up in India, across the country, since my parents had transferable jobs. Professionally I've had a career for 14 years. I started with PWC in Bangalore, moved on to EY for a brief time, and then worked for a big conglomerate called Wipro in India. I was part of the FP&A core central team there. I built something very innovative out there, and there it occurred to me that this is a larger problem to be solved.Inspired by the start-up environment brewing in India at that point, I set up my own consulting company circa about 2014. Tried my hand at teaching at a university. I did that for about the next five years to come. Continued with my consultancy for a few years before exiting the same to join a Fintech called Kabbage.

Kabbage was a big FinTech lender based out of the USA. They set up their talent center in India, and I was heading the same for the Finance function. Unfortunately, during covid, the ops in India had to be shut down, and later the company was acquired by American Express.

Continuing my journey with Fintech since 2020, I have been into the buy now pay later space.Throughout the last 3 years, I've worked with companies like ZIP and Sezzle, and that led me to my role in Tabby, which is a buy now pay later leader in the GCC region based out of Dubai.

And that's my journey so far. That's how I got to Dubai.

The nuances of getting culture are very critical to be successful in the Middle East
Can you tell us what inspired you to become a professor at Christ University in India?

Firstly there was always a passion for teaching, and secondly, the fact that I had my own setup helped me manage time better. I was involved with a lot of L&D in the organizations that I had worked for, and this just wings my passion.

What do you think are the key challenges CFOs and/or finance professionals face in the UAE?

I wouldn't say challenges; these are more avenues for learning.

I worked in the USA, India, and now the Middle East. MENA region is very peculiar, especially a place like UAE, because an average CFO here interacts with at least four kinds of different nationalities. It could be nationality; it could be a different culture.

The first hurdle that you had to obviously come across is communication. How tasks are done and understood, interactions amongst colleagues, and business is generally conducted.

The nuances of getting culture are very critical to be successful in the Middle East because it's not just folks from UAE. Ironically, in the UAE, you'll find more folks outside of UAE, right? And especially in finance, you would find your bankers from a certain nationality. Your teammates are from different nationalities. You can have language challenges. A lot of tax laws are being evolved here. So there's always this continuous challenge of understanding the culture bit, the language bit because of its impact on the legal regulation. So culture is the biggest challenge, right?
The second hurdle is linguistics. When operating in this region, Arabic is a skill set that one should have on one’s team. Right from a simple task of reading an invoice/bill to sometimes having conversations at offices, this is an angle to be factored in. Not so much in the UAE but of course, if you look at the region, it would definitely have to be factored in.
Thirdly, the pace at which business is done here is phenomenal. The MENA region is going through a change at an exceeding pace where you see a shift from traditional businesses. But you have someone who's doing things in a traditional email way and someone using tools like Slack. Now the pace at which you have to shuttle between the two is quite overwhelming, right? So if you are a finance professional or a CFO in the MENA region, you have to be prepared to deal with both worlds, a traditional, conventional kind of world, which is, rather, I would say, stable but static. On the other hand, there's also this dynamism and dynamic world, which is full of energy; things are changing at a super quick pace. Being a CFO, you have to manage both these dimensions at the same time.

Business here is conducted swiftly and extremely professionally, so you got to be on your heels to deliver what has been promised. The laws are evolving and mirroring one of the best in the world, so there is a lot of upkeeping to be done.

You touched on the subject of culture a lot, and it's interesting because, in one of my previous interviews with a CFO, that was spoken about a lot as one of the main challenges. So I'd ask you the same question I asked him: What was the biggest cultural difference when you moved from India to the UAE? 

One cultural advantage is the adherence to rules and regulations. Both in terms of the clarity of how, what, and when to be done and the companies following the same was a pleasant experience. This results in lesser litigation and ambiguity.

So, if you know what you want to do, it's a great pace; you can chalk down your points and move on.

A lot of old tradition works here because many things are understood, explained, time-tested, and proven, and it has worked well. So, the culture to introduce something new and getting its acceptance to the market, I feel, was a little challenging. But once it's accepted, it's like the duck taking to water. It's adopted very quickly. But the introduction of something new requires a little more planning.

You have to be as insightful and resourceful for the business because you're no longer viewed as part of the organization that just turns out the financial reports; you're far closer to the business. 
In UAE's financial services industry, do finance professionals face a high level of regulation? 

Well, that's quite an interesting question.

At least in my experience, I have seen far more regulatory environments where you require a lot of reporting. The UAE’s financial service environment is quite advanced, I would say, in terms of its speed of setting up something. The clarity in what has to be followed and what has to be reported is very open. I would say that things are extremely clear here. There's a very reduced need for applying judgment on items because a lot of things are extremely clear.

You can take DFSA, for example, right? Take any of their regulatory reporting requirements; it's well explained, ironing out any room for doubt; I would say, a very advanced model. It does not require too many compliances, but the compliance is pretty wholesome and clear in what must be done.

I think this is one of the friendliest regulators to be complying with in the sense that you are seeking things like clarity, when, and how. So, the rules are very well laid out.

You mentioned earlier that communication is really important for modern finance professionals. And on the subject of that, we can see that the role of the CFO has changed a lot over the past decade, and it has become more focused on strategy. So throughout your career journey, have you introduced any new strategies to any company you have worked with?

I would say things evolve, and finance in the industry is primarily a support function, right? Our objective is to ensure that the business folks get what they need when they need it.

Starting from my career back in 08, the requirement, what the business guys had back then to today, has it changed drastically? Not so much. But the form in which the information is consumed, has it changed? Yes.
Today,  life has changed in terms of how they view data and information. There has to be storytelling that is compelling and insightful. Since everyone is caught up in a million things, communicating just the information is not good enough. There has to be clarity on the why, what, and how. This strategic thinking needs to be incorporated into any communication from a CFO. 

As such, anyone who's using technology for the past one or two decades has got so used to getting insightful information, and this is expected from every function and finance is no exception to that. So versus let's say 20 years ago where you could put something in Excel or put a bar in a graph chart and say, this is what has been done. Today, people would want live data, live dashboard reporting, and insightful suggestions, saying, okay, this is wrong; what should we do?
For example, just see how things have changed how we do regular stuff, like ordering food or working out. The manner in which information is consumed has changed, and hence CFOs will need to keep up. That being said, things have to be kept simple and effective at the same time. There is no one way of doing it, but one should read the audience before doing so.

Today,  as a finance professional, it's hard for you to say, hey, I do not know how to handle big data. You have to scale up. You should know how to use Power BI and Tableau and extract data from them. The proximity with which you work with business has entirely changed. Throughout my journey, the strategy I've adopted is changing the mindset and the attitude of the finance folks saying that we are not a team that just churns out information, but we work closely with the rest of the team. You have to be as insightful and resourceful for the business because you're no longer viewed as part of the organization that just turns out the financial reports; you're far closer to the business. 

Automation and new technologies are always there to replace or accentuate grunt work.
That actually takes me to my next question, which focuses a lot on technology. One thing we can see in the finance world is there are two perspectives on emerging technologies and automation. Some would say it removes the drudge work for finance professionals and leaves them room to generate value in the company, while others may believe that it's replacing positions for finance professionals. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, in my view, technology automation has always been there. For the past decade, the pace at which you're adopting these has increased.

We always had ERPs or some bit of innovation or tech to assist. Now, forget whether it replaces someone or not, if you were to ask an accountant or someone in the finance field: what would you rather do? Would you rather do grunt work full day or would you would wanna do something exciting? Everyone almost chooses the word exciting, yet there are few of us who don't wanna go through the change. So it's just the change process. Now, you have software that, let's say, can fill up a trial balance within a second. Fair enough. But still, the insightfulness of the finance person has not gone away.

Automation and new technologies are always there to replace or accentuate grunt work. It makes life easier for the financial professional, but not so much for replacing in that sense. To be honest, if the work was so replaceable, then you shouldn't have done it in the first place. They should have had an easier thing.

The simplest example I can give is the bank and the ATM. What would you rather do? Would you rather go to the bank and tell it and then withdraw the money in cash, or would you prefer an ATM? So did ATMs make banks redundant? Did credit cards make banks redundant? No. They just found different avenues. These two help us in our work, and the finance has to cope with and match up with the pace, and if they're able to do that, then the value extraction is immense. So the trick is to know how to leverage it rather than be scared of it.

On the same topic, do you see any particular technologies transforming finance in the future or becoming valuable to finance teams?

Yeah, certainly. The talk of the town, Chat GPT. When so much autonomous intelligence is put into a software which is able to judge basic work, right?

So just imagine a scenario there, you know, you're talking to a supplier. The supplier just mails the quote, and the engine knows who to take the quote to, gets the response interactively, get back to the team, and if the budget is already fed into the engine, it knows whether to approve it, not approve it. You don't need the finance persons group always to give us his or her consent. Take the supplier, create the PO, and then do it.

So the autonomous auto chat bot, I feel, has a huge potential to transform the way we view finance today. One challenge is that a lot of us try imagining the future with the present, what we're exposed to. It need not be, right?

Back when we had the feature phone, no one really imagined how the smartphone would transform things, but once it came, now you can't imagine. The challenges we try imagining the future with the tools that we have. The tools will change. The requirements will change. Any interactive chatbot, which I feel, once it has a little more autonomous capability, would take out a lot of tasks that are time-consuming and not so much of value add today. I don't know exactly the technical specifics of what the technology is called, but intelligent bots would replace a lot of non-value add tasks that humans perform today, especially in finance.

Business folks want simple, straightforward, actionable information they can work on.
Are there any critical skills you think a modern finance professional or CFO needs to be successful?

Yeah. Certainly.

Apart from traditional, analytical, and problem-solving skills. I think learning and relearning, unlearning and relearning, is extremely important because every five years, the process or the technology completely transforms itself. You must deploy something new. Although your objectives sometimes remain the same, the way to achieve them completely changes. Democratization of success or democratization of technologies that is available to all. You have to transform these tools into your process.

I think the skill is the ability to learn, know about new technology, new tools, and how the world functions, and fuse it back into what you do. So you don't have a large team, our process will not remain constant for 2, 3, 4, 5 years, or decades like it used to be earlier. The critical skill would be learning and unlearning, unlearning old things, relearning new things, and trying to fuse them into your average day.

We see a lot of CFOs talking about the importance of communication and storytelling as you progress in your finance career. Can you talk more about that?

Numbers don't attract anyone or don't attract a lot of people. So you obviously got to make things simple for others, and that's where this ability to make a narrative and a story comes into play.

In one of my very, very early career roles, where I was building a dashboard for business folks, one of them came up and he was like, yeah, that's fine, but what do I do? I explained again the P&L, and he again asked, what do I do? And that's when it kind of dawned upon me that what he's asking is that if things are bad, what should he work on? He needs a simple message, and that's where you realize that you should be able to tell the story.

When we're children, we grow up, and we hear stories, right? And usually, the end of the story has a moral, that's your take home, and that's what you act upon. When every CFO is talking about storytelling, I think what they're referring to is this particular feature that we narrate what's happening in the business, but at the end of the day, you give the business folks what they have to act on. And that has to be powerful. The easiest example I always give is your Apple watch. If you've been sitting for two hours, your Apple watch says stand up, walk, and that's what human minds like absorbing; simple messages. That is storytelling that finance has to align with versus number differences and percentages.

Business folks want simple, straightforward, actionable information they can work on. And that is easier because not everyone would have the degree to understand a complex financial statement. It's more to do with, “hey, this is what I need to work on, this is what I need to achieve, and that's the storytelling scene.”

For our last question, do you have any advice for young finance professionals?

One, I think young professionals are way better than when we, or at least when I started, in terms of their exposure, curiosity, and knowledge. I would say a few young professionals know the breadth of things, but they aren't interested in knowing the depth of things. This is something that needs to be addressed. There has to be a fundamental understanding of how things work and how to understand something completely. One should avoid skimming through the surface-level understanding.