For CFO, Licia Salice-Jarisch, technology and automation are just par the course – her company, Binary Fountain, offers innovations in the online reputation and customer experience industry, a space ripe for disruption. Being surrounded by tech and its pervasiveness, Licia has witnessed firsthand the effect it has on professionals, especially those just starting out. I spoke with Licia this month to learn more about the skills needed on the job, the disruptive force of technology and automation, and her role in all of it.
Jeff Thomson: Online reputation management and customer experience companies like Binary Fountain are relatively new and evidence of the disruptions that technology has brought to the marketplace. How do you see technology impacting finance?
Licia Salice-Jarisch: Much like reputation management, technology in the financial realm is all about the customer/user experience and financial executives are always looking for ways to streamline their everyday tasks. For financial officers, technology enables executives to integrate sales and accounting tools, automate processes and receive instant status reports. Today’s financial technology provides instant billing and reporting functionality and reduces the chances of human error. In the future, I believe finance will become increasingly automated. The organizations that wait to automate their financial processes will find it hard to grow and scale their business. Finding ways to seamlessly integrate new technology that blends well with your existing business diagnostics and general financial system is key.
Thomson: What changes have you made within your own finance department based on new technologies like AI, blockchain, or robotic process automation?
Salice-Jarisch: As a growing company, we’ve been very careful and selective in choosing the right tools and technology to invest in. Over the last couple of years, we’ve implemented analytic sales tools, such as Salesforce’s Einstein Analytics and Insightsquared, to deploy smarter, personalized and more predictive customer experiences.
With these new Salesforce tools, we are able to calculate key SaaS metrics such as Annual Contract Value (ACV), Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR), Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC), and others with just the push of a button. Whereas, without these advanced technologies, companies like Binary Fountain would need to hire outside analysts to obtain this information. Implementing advanced technology, such as AI, into our business operations has enabled us to make better financial investments and decisions for the company as a whole.
In addition to CRM tools, we are automating other areas of business as well. For instance, we invested in the Solium Shareworks platform to keep track of our capitalization table and stock option grants. Integrating this platform into our business operations has streamlined the certification process and has drastically reduced our legal fee costs. Likewise, Binary Fountain has deployed a financial management software to assist with CRM, sales tax invoicing, financial modeling, budgeting and payroll and other HR functions.
Thomson: Harnessing data to deliver insights about customers’ healthcare experience is at the heart of your business. What role does data play in driving the strategy of finance? How do you use data to create value for the business?
Salice-Jarisch: Binary Fountain’s technology provides actionable insights, sourced from patient feedback, to drive operational improvements in our customers’ businesses. Much like the technology we sell, Binary Fountain’s financial success is largely driven by aggregated data and business metrics that help us make informed financial decisions. For instance, each month, we leverage our CRM tools to pull and analyze the top SaaS financial metrics including ARR, ACV, CAC, growth attribution analysis, customer lifetime value (CLTV), payback period, customer churn, as well as pipeline velocity, which gives us predictive sales results in the current and future quarters. After pulling reports and analyzing our company’s financial data, we use the data to determine how to best allocate our resources and/or invest in new technologies. Additionally, we make a point to inform and update our board of directors on the health and growth of the business.
Thomson: Given the rapid pace of technology and its impact on all sectors, IMA recently updated its Management Accounting Competency Framework to account for new skills needed by finance and accounting professionals, like data analytics, data visualization, and information systems. What advice would you give those who are just beginning their careers in finance and accounting about learning new technology? Do you see evidence of a skills mismatch? What can higher educational institutions do to better prepare young people for the future jobs of accounting and finance?
Salice-Jarisch: Yes, I definitely see a mismatch in skills from young professionals just beginning their careers compared to veteran finance professionals. For many of us, we largely had to learn how to utilize new finance technology on the job as it evolved over time. Today, with the amount of access to information available at our fingertips, it would be beneficial for students to enter the workforce with a better understanding of the technology and resources found within our industry. Higher education institutions should proactively introduce students to various industry tools, resources and technologies before they enter the workforce.
The role of a financial professional is not only to issue reports on a business; our positions require that we measure performance, analyze the root cause of trends and make predictions based on the data. To be a valuable asset to the organization, and a strategic partner to management, industry professionals must be able to infer trends and suggest corrective actions to leadership. What I’ve noticed over the last several years is that young professionals excel in the collecting, formatting and reporting of company data; however, when it comes to the analysis, they fall short.
In general, students today enter the workforce with a good understanding of traditional business models; however, when it comes to running a start-up business, conventional business models do not apply. For instance, in SaaS companies there is no inventory and we are not selling a physical product. Therefore, to better prepare young professionals for future accounting and finance jobs across multiple industries, higher education institutions need to teach flexible financial models that can be applied to modern businesses.
Thomson: Your Provider Social Index® tool, which provides consumers with a way of benchmarking physicians on attributes important to them, is in keeping with businesses’ movement towards companies’ corporate social responsibility and sustainability. How does your company keep track of important metrics and goals that are valuable to your investors and stakeholders?
Salice-Jarisch: In an effort to keep the company aligned, I’ve developed internal policies and procedures to clearly define individual and company benchmarks and goals for each department. I think it’s important to set forth structure/expectations during the hiring process as well as implement annual employee/department performance reviews to further verify the company’s projections and goals are being met. For example, our budget and goal setting process is highly interactive and consultative. We do both a bottoms-up and a top-down analysis, and at the end of the meetings, each manager knows exactly what his/her goals are for each quarter, and we provide them with monthly reports to verify each team member is keeping on track. Routinely tracking, mapping and analyzing individuals’ progress (as well as each departments’ progress and the company’s progress as a whole), can help financial officers monitor the financial pulse of a company.
When evaluating a company’s performance data, it is important for financial officers to drill down and identify potential build-ups, tension and stressors within a company. For example, I recently carried out informal employee surveys across the organization to identify any potential concerns within our business operations. As with any start-up, there are growing pains and the survey helped alleviate those problems. For instance, after the survey was completed, we realized we needed to better define our priorities to reduce the stress level of our staff.
Much like healthcare, transparency is essential for creating sustainability and success in any business. In our case, our first priority is to create value to our shareholders and keep our stakeholders informed of the state of the business and growth opportunities. At Binary Fountain, we’ve implemented a monthly metrics report that serves as a living document that we provide to our board of directors and other key stakeholders in an effort to be transparent. As CFO, I closely monitor our fundraising efforts, investor relations, shareholder value, market landscape, scenario analysis and financial risks and make a concerted effort to share my findings and predictions with our board of directors and CEO on an ongoing basis.
Thomson: You’re also proficient in several languages and have studied all over the world. How has that impacted your career? How do practices and standards abroad compare to those in the United States?
Salice-Jarisch: I was born and raised in Italy but left home at the age of 14 to complete my high school diploma in Switzerland. All of my courses were taught in German, and while I had some background in the German language, it was a huge adjustment for me. This early experience gave me my first taste of what it means to learn and socialize in a different cultural environment. It was certainly difficult in the beginning, but I loved the challenge, and it helped me understand and appreciate diverse backgrounds and varying points of view.
I did my undergraduate studies outside of London and studied abroad at the Universidad de Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, where I conducted research on unemployment trends in Spain and its economic and social costs to the country. I received my Master of Science degree in Economics at the London School of Economics (LSE) before relocating to the United States. The LSE put me in contact with students from across the globe, which again advanced my understanding and comfortability of living and operating in multicultural environments.
This education prepared me for my first two jobs in the U.S. (first as an analyst at the World Bank and then as the director of corporate planning at Intelsat). My familiarity and understanding of various cultures was seen as an asset at Intelsat where I was responsible for discussing the company’s financial strategy with our board members, comprised of 20+ telecom executives from all over the world.
A key lesson I learned from my overseas experience is to welcome and embrace diversity at all levels and be able to adapt and operate in a variety of environments, as well as avoid any and all stereotypes. My studies abroad as well as overseas living taught me how to think critically and has made me more self-reliant and resilient over the course of my professional career.
Due to increasing globalization of businesses today, it is important for financial and accounting professionals to understand different cultures and business practices. Investors, multinational companies and finance professionals all over the world are clamoring for harmonized global standards in an effort to better manage their global investment portfolios and allocate their resources efficiently across borders. In my experience, countries like Switzerland and the United Kingdom provide a more structured education system, focused on research and analysis; whereas, the United States focuses more on the creative individual and forming opinions and taking positions on various issues. The U.S. also requires their students ask “why” more often than European and Asian countries require of their students. Regardless of which country or culture you’re from, the future will require continued cooperation between the U.S. and overseas countries to ensure financial transparency on a global scale.