The Fintech sector is booming, with a record $132 billion in global funding in 2021. Some may find this surprising, maybe even excessive, but it’s not.
Rather, many accountants and CFOs see this the long-awaited opportunity to finally build much needed modern tools for the Office of the CFO and bring them to the market in the 21st century.
Many finance professionals would agree; the antiquated systems found in many finance departments are outright painful - the user interfaces are clunky, they require a lot of manual intervention, and they are siloed & non-collaborative in nature.
Says Graham Stanton, CEO of Avise, “The tools available to marketers, engineers and sales are light years beyond what the finance team gets.”
“It has been nothing short of unfair that other teams have had access to these useful SaaS technologies for years, but not finance.”
Stanton’s frustration is clear as he describes financial systems. “We are using technology that was built in the 1990s but based on prototypes built in the 1970s. Why does finance have to deal with antiquated systems and terrible interfaces while everyone else is working with solutions that feel like actual consumer software?”
“The really painful manual processes just aren't necessary anymore. You shouldn't have to go hunting in eight different systems and then compile that information yourself in excel - and that’s if you're lucky enough to even have systems to pull from!”
Gartner reports that less than one third of CFOs surveyed are confident that the technologies available are aligned with the requirements to ensure the success of their organization. This is telling. The largest financial close process challenges are the fragmentation of data sources required and the manual processes for financial reporting that creates significant risk and lost productivity.
As Edgar Thomas, COO of Avise, points out, “it's a very exciting time as there is a new wave of technology becoming available to the CFO and the people within the organization. At Avise, we're very excited to be a part of this change, helping meet the demands of today’s CFO.”
Says Thomas, “I’ve worked at a couple of different companies where it was standard and accepted that you close the books within 25 days of month end. That was considered good information. Can you imagine? Now it's kind of laughable – 25 days!”
Nowadays, it is widely accepted that a CFO needs to be able to react quicker. CEOs, sales & marketing teams, business intelligence units – they all need information fast. If the accounting and finance department can't provide it, this puts the CFO at a disadvantage because they don't have what they need to do their job effectively.
Making matters worse was the sudden and unexpected shift to remote work brought on by the COVID pandemic. Remote work shined a light on how difficult collaboration was with many finance systems. Says Howard Katzenberg, CEO of Glean AI, “Most finance technologies just weren’t built for collaboration. We deliberately allow unlimited users on Glean AI because we know the importance of collaboration and sharing information.”
A recent study shows that 70% of US employers plan to adopt a hybrid model for remote work even post-pandemic, which means that geographically dispersed teams are here to stay.
Historically, the finance department was described as a ‘back office’ or a ‘cost center’. It completed the financial reporting after the fact and didn’t play a role in day-to-day decision making or revenue generating activities.
But as Glean AI's Katzenberg points out, “with new technologies, the finance department can play a more active role. They can synthesize data and provide real-time insights to all other departments. Accounting teams now can be embraced as a valued partner, able to provide crucial information to the sales or marketing department, or other departments within the organization, when they need it.”
One thing Thomas, Stanton and Katzenberg all have in common is their recognition of the limitations of finance technologies and their desire to change it.
According to Stanton, the increased interest in Fintech is no surprise. “It is waking up to the demand that is out there. The realization that painful manual processes just aren't necessary anymore. You shouldn't have to go hunting in eight different systems for data, then compile it yourself in an excel spreadsheet. And that’s if you're lucky enough to even have systems!”
Thomas seconds that motion. “I grew up in the accounting side of business, as a CPA with Deloitte then in-house private equity and most recently in the pharmaceutical industry. I have worked with a number of different tools in the finance tech stack and found myself constantly frustrated by the deficiencies of the tools that I had to work with.”
“Graham and I came to the conclusion that we could do better. We knew we could build a better tool.”
Glean AI's Katzenberg found himself in the same predicament, working with an accounts payable system that was automated but didn't really do much else.
“With bill.com, as CFO, I had no analytics and no way of knowing where we stood on the spend side if it was mid-month. The only data point that was actually captured was the amount we owed. I thought to myself, ‘Wait, we’re missing out on all the good stuff!’”
“I wanted to see what was being bought and at what unit price and quantities. I wanted actual data that I could access by pointing and clicking a dashboard. There was no system out there that could do this, so we founded Glean AI.”
“Glean AI lets finance professionals identify what's going on under the hood, so to speak, so they can then harness that data to be proactive and to drive a culture of spend accountability.”
This piece is part of a 4-part series originating from the “Future of Digital Finance” webinar featuring Edgar Thomas (COO, Avise), Graham Stanton (CEO, Avise) and Howard Katzenberg (CEO, Glean AI). To watch the full webinar, click here.