Recently, we sat down with Trintech’s CFO, Omar Choucair, to discuss his perspective on the current challenges facing CFOs today. In the interview, Choucair discussed topics such as common concerns arising from the ongoing pandemic, digital transformation projects, financial automation solutions and more.
What advice do you have for finance teams and organizations concerning the work-from-home urgency of COVID-19?
The first step is to leverage as much technology as your company can. For Trintech, we have multiple technology platforms we can leverage, whether it’s GoToMeeting™, Microsoft Teams®, or WebEx™. Leverage technology and don’t be afraid of it. Try to focus on using all the different opportunities we have.
I think the next thing is to be extremely visible with your team. Visibility can come in a lot of different ways: telephone calls, video chats, or emails. Just make sure you try to reach out every single day. What I try to do is have team catch-ups every other day and try to talk to all the lieutenants at least every day.
I think the other thing is to prioritize and focus on what’s really important and knock those out first. Because there are so many things that CFOs, Controllers and FP&A managers have to focus on, so prioritize and make sure you get the key ones completed as you work down your list.
What do you believe is the biggest threat facing the office of finance in 2020?
That’s a good question. I have two answers. Pre-pandemic, I would have said that staying ahead of the curve with changing technologies is a really big risk. And when I say that, I meant that the threat is the constantly evolving aspects of cybersecurity, personnel, changes in technology and ensuring that your records and your systems are flowing properly is a big threat.
However, given what we’ve seen over the last few weeks, I would say now that the biggest threat is financial reporting, reliable forecasting and recurring liquidity planning and reporting.
What has your experience been of digital transformation projects at other companies?
I’ve had the benefit, the fun or the pain of completing many IT and finance-related projects including ERPs, HR systems, Salesforce systems, or sales compensation systems. The number one key is to spend as much time as possible upfront with the design and documentation. What I mean by that is to really spend time and document current processes— whether that means narratives, flow charts, and diagrams— make sure that’s done so there’s no “I got you”s at the end of the project
Another key aspect would be to hire the best project manager you can, and stick to a very strict, daily regimen of connecting with all the teams: both internal and third-party.
Additionally, hire the best and most reliable third-party integrators that you can. I know a lot of companies have budget-constraints, but that is a really key point. Hire the best and most reliable integrator, do all the diligence and the background checking, because that is a crucial part of a financial transformation project.
What advice would you give a CFO wanting to, or in the process of, moving from manual processes to an automated solution?
There are probably four or five key areas. The first, as I mentioned earlier, is to completely document existing processes. The following steps are critical: review 2-3 vendors, do references checks, customer checks, background checks— make sure you do enough work on what those vendors are, and how successful they’ve been. Don’t shortchange yourself on project management, whether that’s a third-party you might hire, or if you designate someone on your finance and accounting team. Appoint a project manager with clear lines of responsibility.
The other key point I would make would be from a CTO standpoint, to carefully review all the security aspects. Anytime you have something like that, evaluate the security into your system and the security into the platform that third-parties use. Spend enough time investigating the security side.
Lastly, make sure the implementation is done correctly. There’s a huge push to cut corners on any implementation, and you ultimately pay for that down the road. During the implementation, spend additional time and make sure it is done correctly.
I would also reiterate that having an automated process vs. a manual process is worth the investment. That has been especially reinforced in the current environment we are in. At Trintech, even with a global business unit as well as a dispersed remote workforce – despite the Covid-19 disruption, we were able to drive to a virtual close using the automation provided by our solutions. We also had the transparency and visibility into the data that is so essential right now to help us make critical business decisions in a timely manner.
As we move into the future with the emergence of new digital technologies and looming threats like economic recession, what are some important traits a successful CFO possesses?
Engaging and partnering with the other executives. Also, laser-focus on understanding the business and that means all parts of the business— whether it’s sales, marketing, technology. As important as any of those, create and report on a handful of key KPIs that really drive the business, and make sure the entire management team is focused on what those KPIs are. Creating an environment of transparency and accountability within the CFO organization is really important because a lot of departments look to the CFO office for that. Finally, make sure you have a strong relationship with the board and there’s transparency and history of consistent messaging and reporting.
How does digital transformation impact company culture? What would you say to a CFO that is struggling to get their leadership team to realize their vision for the future?
A couple of points: number one, don’t get discouraged. Keep up the pressure on the executive team because, whether it’s a culture or budget issue, it will happen at some point in the future. Nurture one or two key executive management members— maybe it’s the CTO or the CIO. As the CFO, you need to connect with one or two other partners, so it’s not just a lone voice. There needs to be multiple people saying, “Yes, this needs to happen.”
I think it’s important to show the ROI of converting from an inefficient, manual process to an automated process. The last item I’d tell them: demonstrate how, after conversion, the company is more competitive. You can easily show how the company, whether there are four or five companies in the competitive set, can either meet or leapfrog to where their competitors are.
Omar Choucair is a CPA and graduated from Baylor University in Texas and began his career at KMPG, where he serviced publicly-traded software & technology companies for ten years and picked up valuable lessons that he later called upon when he became a CFO. After KPMG, Mr. Choucair served as the CFO for both public and private equity held Service-as-a-Software (SaaS) companies until he joined Trintech and assumed the role of CFO in September 2019.
For more information about how Trintech can assist the office of the CFO, visit our resources page.
Written by: Ashton Mathai