How Tech Is Changing The Finance Function

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From navigating an acquisition and funding rounds during the worst of the Covid pandemic to ongoing automation and digitization efforts, Sarah Spoja, CFO of Tipalti, is using tech in new ways.

It’s always challenging to navigate acquisitions and funding rounds, but throw in a pandemic and the efforts rise to a new level.

Sarah Spoja, CFO of Tipalti, a San Mateo, California-based company that provides a payables automation platform, took on exactly those challenges over the last few years. She talked with StrategicCFO360 about how technology helped make the work possible—and how she is using it today to make the finance function more strategic, more efficient and more flexible.

In your role at Tipalti, you’ve recently helped spearhead an acquisition and a significant funding round. What was your approach to these?

In 2020 and 2021, Tipalti completed two primary funding rounds and an acquisition. In each of these situations, the primary working model was remote, meaning we built relationships with investors and potential target companies virtually over Zoom as opposed to in person. This can have its benefits—speed, as well as downsides—relationship building.

When it comes to acquisitions, the importance of finding a fit with the team and culture is crucially important now more than ever. We also believe in a platform that is integrated and end to end so as we consider the acquisitions, we can see how they will ultimately blend together with the core Tipalti platform and feel like one. It may have been harder to do that during Covid, but it was even more important. I couldn’t be prouder of the way our engineering and product teams came together from Tipalti and to create one experience. 

What lessons could CFOs learn from your experience?

I think CFOs will find that the experience of being able to raise rounds remotely was helpful in many ways and believe that given the success of companies being acquisitive and raising rounds in this virtual environment, it is unlikely to move fully back. In that environment, investors can focus on the key metrics of the business and the vision for the company in the future and both investors and companies are not swayed by other external factors that can get in the way of the fundamental business case. 

What are the most important business automation trends right now?

The CFO tech stack is modernizing, and automation is playing a key role. In my experience, the automation tools we have in place unlock my teams’ time, unlock the ability to better collaborate and unlock our data and insights gathering.   

When it comes to where I want my team to spend their time, I want it to be less on manual work and more time on tasks that can be strategic and help grow the business. I also think from a career development perspective manual work is not the goal and so offering my team the best development opportunities means using the best stack to remove these hurdles. 

On the collaboration side, being able to track and log activities, work asynchronously remotely or in different geographies has always been important, but with new working models after Covid this has become a requirement, not a “nice to have.”

For the office of the CFO, I am seeing a lot of my peers spend time in 2022 in two areas of automation. Specifically, the first area is automating financial operations, which traditionally are manual. Secondly, automating how their tech stack absorbs data from multiple sources so that they can more quickly get real-time insights on their business through products like data warehouses, data visualization and real-time FP&A tools. 

How does digitization play a key role?

Digitization goes hand in hand with a modern CFO tech stack in that it allows for data that was otherwise buried in manual processes or in disparate data sets to be merged and used to create better insights, improve processes or grow the business. When data is hard to find, hard to match or nonexistent, then business leaders are operating in the dark. By digitizing and storing key data sets in cloud-based tools it democratizes access to this information and allows for more real-time insights to be generated. This is key for performance in dynamic and high-growth companies and industries. 

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