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FD Q&A – the year ahead: Katherine Grover, Semafone

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Katherine Grover, Semafone CFO, gives her views on the year ahead

What have been the biggest challenges for your business over the past year, and what role did finance play in addressing them?

In 2016, we officially launched our business in North America,  and needed to set up our US subsidiary and put in the infrastructure to support this, including bank accounts and tax advisers.

It also meant we had to hire our first Boston-based employees and provide them with everything they needed from office space to healthcare plans.

It takes time to find the right advisers and suppliers, but I’ve learnt that it is worth investing that time upfront to get it right. One year on we now have a great team in the US that has reached ten, and is set to grow further next year. This will bring its own challenges as we work to maintain our culture, values and regular communications, all without eating too far into profit margins.

What are the key political and economic risks/opportunities you face in the year ahead?

So far, Brexit has been good for us with our rapidly growing US$ revenues, giving an even bigger boost to revenue when we convert back into sterling.

The big opportunity for us in building on our growth is the demand for our solution in the US.

Thanks to the introduction of chip and pin cards over the last year, the North American market has seen a steep rise in fraud levels in card-not-present transactions, as criminals move from targeting point-of-sale transactions  to online, mail and telephone order channels in an effort to circumvent the added security given by chip and pin.

Which capex projects will you be focusing on in 2017, and how will these be financed?

The office we once rattled around in in Guildford is now full to capacity, so we will be moving to larger premises next year and needing to fit these out in a way that improves productivity and boosts morale, at a reasonable cost.

It will be one of those projects where the wishlist from managers and employees will go on for pages, but sound judgment will be needed as to what is worth those extra pounds per square foot in fit-out costs.

We have managed our latest funding round in such a way that we will be able to finance this project using cash reserves.

How do you expect the balance of your role to change in the coming year; between compliance and forward-looking/strategic? And why?

With the growth in the company as a whole, we have appointed an HR director and the finance team is also growing.

This means that my broad remit of being in charge of all “back office” activity is narrowing and should mean I can take a step back from getting involved in the details of managing the cash cycle and keeping an eye on costs.

My focus will fall more heavily on looking to the future and where we should be making the investments to support our new product innovations and geographic expansion.

Also, with the rapid growth and decentralisation of Semafone’s operations, it will be critical to have the right controls in place while ensuring we don’t stifle growth and entrepreneurship.

Advice for other FDs for the coming year?

Get up and walk around the office regularly, so you really know everything that is going on – it also stops you getting dormant butt syndrome!

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