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From Number Cruncher to Technologist and Financial Business Partner. Top finance leaders in tech on the state of the industry after COVID-19

The Future of the CFO

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Finance leaders are embracing current conditions. Every challenge is an opportunity for change—whether that’s adopting new technology, or developing a proactive mindset.

We hope that, for financial leaders facing a post-COVID future, our panelists inspire hope and a willingness to adapt. This report covers just a slice of what our panelists had to say about the role of finance leaders today so download the full report today to read every insight.

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CFOs and financial leaders will see 2020 as a year of enormous challenges. From drops in revenue to managing remote workforces, the impact of COVID-19 has made itself known.

But with those challenges come opportunities to evolve, diversify, and—in some cases—reimagine what a financial leadership role entails.

Procurify spoke with 12 financial leaders from dynamic, growing tech companies.

Why tech? Finance leaders who work in tech are at the vanguard of new methods and mindsets for financial management. And many are part of young founding teams facing a crisis for the first time.

We asked them eight questions about the future of the industry. Here’s what they had to say.


Financial leadership in a new era

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FINANCE LEADERSHIP REPORT

The Experts

Our 12 panelists come from a variety of companies and bring with them a wide range of professional backgrounds. But they all share one thing in common: Optimism, and a willingness to adapt.

Bevan van der Berg
 CFO

Kingsley Chan 
Director of Finance

Corinne Hua
CFO

Senior Director of Finance

Pinder Sekhon

Chris Sands
CFO

Norman Tan
CFO

VP BizOps and Financial Services

Evan Wells

Jenny Bloom
CFO

Jim Kelliher
CFO

Wajdi Ghoussoub

Director of Finance and Operations

Shouvik Roy
CFO

Marc Zablatsky 
Virtual CFO for Startups

Keeping morale alive for your remote teams

The traditional office died a sudden death in 2020, as companies were forced to switch to partially or fully remote work models. Many CFOs on our panel came to see this as a benefit—remote work strengthened bonds and allowed team members to be more open. It also involved supporting team members’ mental and physical health—and even organizing online social events. 

"In a recent PwC survey, 52% of companies surveyed plan on making remote work a permanent option for roles that allow for it, and 52% plan to improve the remote working experience."

Opening communication channels in the era of remote work

Many companies face long-term uncertainty—in terms of their industries, funding, and the state of the economy as a whole. It takes flexibility to adapt. But how do you manage that when your teams, in many cases, are 100% remote? Some of our panelists see their remote setups as barriers, while others have found opportunities for better remote communication.

The emerging role of the finance business partner

The pandemic impacts every part of an organization—not just the financial side. As McKinsey says, “...CFOs can strengthen their positions within C-suites and emerge as core thought partners to business leaders.” 

The CFOs of tomorrow need to move from working in silos and being seen as potential blockers to working proactively with other C suite leaders. That means making the first move reaching out to other departments and learning about their priorities and goals.

“Finance business partnering is what finance teams do when they create value by providing insights (often data-led), thus influencing their business counterparts to make better decisions.”

Finance leaders on agile financial control

The days of staying the course are gone. Financial teams need to be ready to adapt to whatever comes their way. When it comes to staying agile, our panelists recommend incremental risk-taking, automation, and flexible Spend Culture

Although the pandemic put every business in reactive mode, finance leaders agree it’s better to be proactive going forward and act first rather than wait for the next challenge.

“A direct link exists between digital transformation in the finance department and agile business practices… These agile practices lead to better decision-making and more efficient reporting and planning.”

About Procurify

Procurify is a spend management software platform that helps organizations proactively drive operational efficiencies and business growth. Companies around the world request, approve, and track the resources they need to move the business forward through real-time budget data, remote-optimized procurement workflows, and spend insights. 

Procurify has managed over $7 billion dollars of business spend for its customers and integrates with major ERP accounting systems such as NetSuite and QuickBooks Online.

Learn how Procurify can help your team streamline all purchases and approval workflows in one place––remotely and quickly.

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Flexible Forecasting

Want to extend your cash runway? Learn a 5-step approach for flexible scenario planning.

Spend Management

How spend management aligns with the new model of distributed and remote work.

A CFO’s Fintech Stack

Does your tech stack up?  Here are the six core pillars and seven questions to help you select a new system.

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How CFOs and Companies Adapted During the Pandemic

If you were a financial leader in 2020, the pandemic drew a giant question mark on your roadmap for the year ahead. Tightened resources and new physical barriers—like office shutdowns—were the biggest obstacles. Our panelists bounced back by building strong remote teams, re-allocating spending, and assigning team members to the parts of the business that needed them most.

"Fewer than 40% of CFOs say they expect 95% or more of their budgeted revenue in 2020. The average CFO expects 74%."

Click through to see their answers

“ Personally, I moved from San Francisco to Texas. And I believe organizations are going to save, because they can remove the expensive costs of being in California for headcount. It's going to be interesting to see what happens in the US as people flock to the center of the country.  

EVAN WELLS

VP BUSINESS OPERATIONS & FINANCIAL SERVICES, JIRAV

“ Zapier initially had a drop in revenue, so we paused hiring, raises, and promotions. We also started daily forecasting of revenue and cancelled a lot of the services that we weren't using. I think it’s easier for SaaS companies to bounce back, particularly companies that help with remote work, like Zapier.  

JENNY BLOOM

CFO, ZAPIER

Unbounce followed the philosophy that when companies look after their people, their people will take care of the customers and that is what creates business growth and value. This philosophy has never been more true than the start of covid. Unbounce leadership really leaned into the values of empathy and ramped up internal communications to stay connected virtually. We are also very mindful of boundaries between work life and home life. Process wise, we moved to weekly forecasting at the start of covid to proactively identify any levers that could be pulled if we started to see significant negative impacts to the businessss” 

PINDER SEKHON

SR. DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, UNBOUNCE

“ Unbounce followed the philosophy that, when companies look after their people, their people will take care of the customers—and that is what creates business growth and value. This philosophy has never been more true than at the start of COVID.  

PINDER SEKHON

SENIOR DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, UNBOUNCE

“ With individuals not being physically in the office, we increased monitoring bandwidth and overall general security. We also increased our marketing spend. Because we could no longer attend events, we pivoted our spend to experiment with other marketing channels.  

KINGSLEY CHAN

DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, FINN AI

“ Internally, we re-allocated our people to projects that we needed to focus on. We were able to adjust our workforce without needing to reduce our workforce. We took our recruiting team (eight full time recruiters) and repositioned them into our business development and sales area where they started recruiting customers. 

JIM KELLIHER

CFO, DRIFT

“ As companies adjusted to the environment of working remotely and came to the realization that we were going to be working remotely for a while, we saw a nice uptick in demand for our solution. We also adjusted our messaging, because the environment had changed and we needed to both attract new prospects and communicate with our existing customer base, to ensure they knew how to use our product to its full potential in the remote environment. 

CHRIS SANDS

CFO, MINERALTREE

“ We completely reforecasted. For us, it’s been a tailwind. We looked at how our customers were performing in different segments, and it was the first time we really dug into the different segments of our customer base. … We looked at where we wanted to invest and had to be careful about where we were spending more money. 

CORINNE HUA

CFO, THINKIFIC

“ The first thing most of our companies did was focus on extending the runway, figure out ways to either get additional investment from existing investors or draw the venture that they had negotiated. The focus was really on conserving cash and realizing that getting to that next growth phase wouldn’t happen as quickly as anticipated.   

MARC ZABLATSKY

VIRTUAL CFO, BURKLAND AND ASSOCIATES

“ We started the year quite aggressively with a focus to invest in sales and marketing but we didn’t know how long the downturn would last, so we slowed down hiring because we were scared of the unknown. We were in cost containment mode but we invested in employee benefits because it made sense. At our stage, we’re still building the company so things like that are important.  

WAJDI GHOUSSOUB

DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS, PLOOTO

“ With our savings on office costs, we redeployed them back to back to the employees, because we wanted to make sure that they were comfortable in their homes. We made sure they had the right chairs and desks, and we knew their internet and phone bills were probably higher than normal. That’s how we are continuing to invest in our people.  

SHOUVIK ROY

CFO, DROP

"68% of CEOs believe that their communications with employees have improved during the crisis."

Short-term challenges for finance leaders

While it’s impossible to know the long-term effects of the pandemic, finance leaders are beginning to scenario plan and forecast how it may play out over the next few years. Every challenge is an opportunity—and there are plenty of opportunities ahead. The years to come feature new, nimble startups; changing team dynamics; and the need for a financial leader to understand every part of their organization, inside and out.

“63% of CFOs surveyed stated that their companies will be offering new or enhanced products or services in an attempt to recover, rebuild, and enhance revenue streams post-pandemic.”

“Change is inevitable. Change must not be viewed as a threat, but rather as an opportunity. CFOs who succeed in the coming months and years will be those who are able to adapt and continue innovating. Every scary and difficult challenge builds us up. As we take more risks and go through more failures, we become more powerful and less afraid, because we know what it's like to fail. That's what real growth is.”

 Connection with people is one of the things that has really fascinated me about remote work. I'm closer to my team remotely than I ever was in person. Everything's really intentional now ... People are more intimate and more open to sharing. Jumping on Zoom makes us much more approachable and everyone is more authentic. 

JENNY BLOOM 

CFO, ZAPIER

“ This golden experience taught us how to stick together and how to work as a team. We are going to come out of this learning stage much stronger. We're always thinking of what could happen next, but tomorrow is not going to look like today. We are very diligent and mindful of how things can turn around any time.  

WADJI GHOUSSOUB 

DIRECTOR OR FINANCE AND OPERATIONS, PLOOTO

 Finance teams historically have been slower on the uptake in tech. More automation is now required in our remote working world, and we require tools that give us more automation, ease of interaction and better communication with each other. … This is a great opportunity for software (like Procurify!) to help work teams work more efficiently, even without the face to face interaction. 

BEVAN VAN DER BERG 

VP FINANCE, PROCURIFY

 The biggest challenge during the shift to remote work was around employee connectedness, and making sure employees felt supported, connected, and engaged. It's difficult to separate work life from personal life. We made sure to not only support our people in their work, but support them from a mental and physical well-being perspective. 

PINDER SEKHON 

SENIOR DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, UNBOUNCE

 I think, in the tech sector, we're pretty lucky. A lot of our work is already from home. However, we lose some of the touch points and everyone misses team cohesiveness. To get around that, we just have more Zoom calls. I do think this is going to be the new norm as a lot of people are asking for it.   

KINGSLEY CHAN 

DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, FINN AI

 Drop values the importance of people so much. They try to immerse all new hires in the culture. We immediately introduce new hires at weekly town halls, have company wide virtual lunches, and have weekly virtual social events on Thursday evenings.  

SHOUVIK ROY

CFO, DROP

 The cost of our all-hands meetings has gone up, because we now need to spend more time to get everyone to speed, virtually. … We have to do like 120% of the communication that we were doing before. Overcommunication is what we’ve been utilizing for change management.  

KINGSLEY CHAN 

DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, FINN AI

 One simple tactical thing that we started doing is using our Slack channel for budgeting to increase transparency. People now talk a lot more openly about what they are working on. It's a way for them to consolidate all their information and to share with finance what they've been spending and what contracts they are extending.  

CORINNE HUA 

CFO, THINKIFIC

 There’s just that natural progression of a conversation that occurs in a physical space. With virtual calls, you can easily click off and lose your attention to this other shiny object on your screen, and it’s hard to tell if somebody is looking directly at you on the Zoom call. Interpersonal communication becomes lost. And so I think we'll be contending with this issue for a long time, just as a humanity thing.  

EVAN WELLS 

VP BUSINESS OPERATIONS & FINANCIAL SERVICES, JIRAV

 In terms of change management, transparent communication is really important ... Make sure you’re communicating changes in a way that everybody can understand, because this might be the first time that somebody is hearing of [it].  

PINDER SEKHON

SENIOR DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, UNBOUNCE

 We started weekly calls with all the employees to show them exactly where we were at with revenue, expenses and cash. We told employees we were taking away raises, promotions and profit sharing. But we also showed them the part of the plan of how we would bring those back into play as revenue increased. Employees always knew where we were at.   

JENNY BLOOM

CFO, ZAPIER

 COVID has accelerated the adoption of technology that was already happening at a slower rate, and the adoption of that technology is going to release a whole new class of entrepreneurs … Whenever you see a change and a movement of any kind, there's typically growth associated with that. We should all grab onto that and ride the wave.  

EVAN WELLS

VP BUSINESS OPERATIONS & FINANCIAL SERVICES, JIRAV

 The last financial crisis gave birth to companies like Slack, Whatsapp, Instagram and Square. At the time, many of the technology tools we take for granted today were in their infancy. Modern infrastructure (AWS, Azure) coupled with easy to use frameworks (React, Phoenix, Django) are enabling people to create and scale businesses faster.  

NORMAN TAN

CFO, PERKLABS

 The pace of change is so quick in tech. … To truly have an equal seat at the leadership table, finance leaders need to understand marketing, sales, product, and engineering. Strategic financial partners do more than just budget. Gaps will continue to grow between departments and finance needs to reduce that friction and increase communications.  

BEVAN VAN DER BERG

VP FINANCE, PROCURIFY

 Organizations really need to invest heavily in their culture and employee engagement. 
... Continuing to properly support remote work will continue to be a challenge. Being able to maintain productivity and make sure that employees are engaged and connected in distributed teams while leveraging the right technology will be important.  

PINDER SEKHON

SENIOR DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, UNBOUNCE

 The US economy is going to be a big challenge. A lot of Canadian companies sell to the US. … The coming year is also going to be filled with tons of M&A. CFOs and companies need to start thinking about how to capitalize on the tailwinds of COVID, because it's a truth: We can't avoid it. It's going to set a new norm for everybody.  

KINGSLEY CHAN

DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, FINN AI

 One of the biggest challenges is figuring out what the economy is going to look like and what capital raising is going to look like. If you have the right product and the right business model, companies will be able to get money in the market. But it will be tough. ...I don't think money is going to be as easy as it has been in the past—if it's ever been easy for companies! 

JIM KELLIHER

CFO, DRIFT

 We need to be open minded, resilient and be able to adapt in order to survive. Communication and team dynamics are different now. Leaders require foresight into the future because it’s even harder to budget...Now, leaders need to be better listeners and be very aware of what people are going through outside of work. Be very mindful of that soft side of the job because the way you communicate and empathize impacts your people and your customers. It’s a delicate situation for everybody and that needs to be taken into account. 

WAJDI GHOUSSOUB

DIRECTOR OF FINANCE AND OPERATIONS, PLOOTO

 There’s a lot of uncertainty in the next few years and its potential impact on how people work. We may have to prepare for an elongated recession. Leaders need to figure out how to navigate this new uncharted territory. 

SHOUVIK ROY

CFO, DROP

 Finance leaders need to focus on being open, understanding, listen to other perspectives, and have empathy. ... If people in the organization stop telling you things, then you’re not doing your job properly. It means people have lost their trust in you. They may not feel like you are their advocate or that you will help them achieve their broader goals. When people feel like you are going to work with them to solve things, then you're in a good spot as a business partner.  

BEVAN VAN DER BERG

VP FINANCE, PROCURIFY

CORINNE HUA

CFO, THINKIFIC

 In terms of day to day operations, I often talk to other finance professionals about the importance of being a good business partner. Historically, finance was much more of a back office or technical accounting focus. As more of those areas are handled by technology, finance executives need to be more business focused, facilitate conversation with the other organizational leaders, and help them understand how the numbers impact the future. 

MARC ZABLATSKY

VIRTUAL CFO, BURKLAND AND ASSOCIATES

 The CFO becomes the central repository for all financial metrics and all data and needs to manage financial data, Salesforce data, and any data that can be measured in metrics. The CFO needs to be at the table when all strategic decisions are made - not just things related to accounting and cash. The amount of time to just do pure accounting is going down and this opens up other opportunities to dive into the data and use it strategically.   

CHRIS SANDS

CFO, MINERALTREE

 The role of the CFO is dynamic. If you look back 20 years, the CFO role was more of a bookkeeping and accounting function. Now, the CFO is something very different, which includes being a technologist and a keeper of business intelligence and data. …  A CFO still needs to understand the accounting, but also become more of a technologist and a data expert.  

EVAN WELLS

VP BUSINESS OPERATIONS & FINANCIAL SERVICES, JIRAV

 The CFO and the COO are of a blend of each other. It depends on what type of CEO you're working with. Adam Neumann, the former CEO of WeWork, went through several different CMOs because he's a CMO himself. Travis Kalanick, at Uber, also went through a number of different COOs because he's also a COO. So to me, the CFO and the COO are a complement to whatever the CEO is not. 

KINGSLEY CHAN

DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, FINN AI

 In the past, finance executives have been seen as just the numbers person. But going forward, CFOs are really going to be running the company aligned with the CEO with finance as the lens that they're looking through to run the business. I think key focuses of CFOs going forward are to keep up to date with market trends, market moves, and most importantly, investing in a great team.  

JIM KELLIHER

CFO, DRIFT

 CFOs should focus on doing what is right to help the business grow. If we put on our business mind as opposed to our accounting or finance mind, we can be better finance professionals for that. It is all about goal setting and making sure that, as a CFO, you're on the same page as the rest of the management team, and that you have flexibility around doing the right things to help a department or another executive get to that goal. 

SHOUVIK ROY

CFO, DROP

 The key is always credibility. When you're presenting the business, you must ask yourself, is the story credible? Investors put their money into a forward looking forecast and they need to believe what the CEO or the CFO is telling them. 

 Spend management is important right now because every company has a certain set of resources that need to be understood and allocated appropriately. … Spend management is not just about putting controls in place, but companies have finite resources and you need to properly allocate those funds in the most effective way. If you aren’t controlling spending, or if spending is not aligned with your strategy and goals, you end up wasting a key opportunity to grow the company.  

BEVAN VAN DER BERG

VP FINANCE, PROCURIFY

 Don't think about what the company is doing right now. Think about what you want the company to do and build processes with that in mind. Also, the more that you can automate, the better—because automation automatically brings in financial control. 

PINDER SEKHON

SENIOR DIRECTOR OF FINANCE, UNBOUNCE

 It’s always a balancing act between what you're spending for now versus in the future. You can't make big bets. Do it in so-called increments. There’s this concept of experimenting. Go experiment in different areas before going all in. That's a nice way to go figure whether something is going to be work versus making a big bet.  

JIM KELLIHER

CFO, DRIFT

 If you look back over the last year of your life and you ask, “What were the decisions I made that actually are meaningful today?”, you're only going to be able to find maybe one or two if you're very lucky. Boil that into work. Like maybe there's one good decision. So it's not about being busy...It's about thinking and analyzing and coming in with your own point of view and a reason as to why you have that point of view ... That is, I think, the key.  

EVAN WELLS

VP BUSINESS OPERATIONS & FINANCIAL SERVICES, JIRAV

 The role of finance is not to police, but to establish guardrails. Build a culture around best practices and running the business strategically rather than focusing on short term financial impact.... For instance, Drop needed to hire a couple of engineers. It may not have been budgeted for, but it was critical for the business. If we were to strictly go by the financial measures, we would say, no, we cannot afford this. But then, as a financier, we ask ourselves, how could we not afford it?  

SHOUVIK ROY

CFO, DROP

 I think one of the things that both MailChimp and Zapier have in common is [that], when you don't have big investors—we have minor investors—you're allowed to do much more and you're allowed to experiment.  ...You really have the ability to experiment and to really do things the way you want when you're self-funded. ... You can focus on building the company to be the best it can be versus focusing on building an exit strategy.

JENNY BLOOM

CFO, ZAPIER

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