FD Q&A – the year ahead: Bernard Crumlish, webexpenses

Bernard Crumlish, finance manager at webexpenses, gives his 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?

One of webexpenses’ biggest achievements over the past year has been our foray into overseas expansion, opening up offices in Australia, New Zealand and – most recently – the US.

This has, of course, presented us with challenges across the business, which we have had to tackle by working collaboratively. One of the initial challenges was deciding the most appropriate locations for the business.

The main role for finance within this was to make sure our CEO was substantially equipped to make all of the important decisions to drive the expansion forward. This means everything from having a handle on the finer details of our operations, to understanding how other financial markets operate, international tax regimes and identifying any potential obstacles we may come up against in the process.

Webexpenses operate on a SaaS metrics business model which means it is vital we are on top of managing cash flow, as most of the costs within this model are up front. Budgeting has been one of the challenges we’ve faced, as we’re looking not only at year one but up to three years ahead, which means changes and updates can be difficult to predict.

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

Having now moved into new markets, we are looking to establish and grow the webexpenses brand there. However, 2016 has proved to be an unprecedented year for political and economic change.

Brexit negotiations and the shift in US political landscape will, of course play key factors in how business operates next year. For instance, during his presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised a cut to business taxes, which will inevitably impact our organisation but it is unknown whether this will become a reality.

We are optimistic – yes, there has been uncertainty – but if businesses have a solid foundation and an agile strategy in place, they can adapt to changing market conditions.

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

Most of our investments are based on utilising cloud technology therefore most of our projects are opex based. The finance team will constantly review financial metrics and technology to ensure we are driving change and use the most efficient process.

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

The FD’s role is constantly changing, and 2016 has certainly been no different. We’re seeing more and more of the traditional CEO role transferred into the FD role, with FDs needing to play the part of the strategist and catalyst for businesses.

Historically, CEOs will look to FDs to be the ‘voice of reason’ – asking challenging questions when necessary, particularly in an uncertain environment. However, they also need to be supportive of the CEO’s company vision and an enabler in helping them to realise this.

FDs are also now being required to skill-up in a number of areas outside of the conventional financial remit. For instance, with big data becoming more of an opportunity for businesses, IT skills become increasingly important as the ability to understand and digest this information (or manage those who can) can open up huge opportunity for business.

This is particularly crucial for SaaS business models, such as webexpenses, where information is power. The amount of big data now available allows for sharper insights into customers and service which can help drive competitive advantages and the cloud-based systems are the best drivers for handling this information.

Advice for other FDs for the coming year?

Being part of the webexpenses team over the past year, under the uncertain political landscapes in the UK, has shown me that strong leadership, commercial and strategic awareness are the key skills required of a FD. My three tips for other FDs for the coming year would be:

  • Skill up – it’s becoming even more valuable to have an understanding of IT and big data
  • Continue to be the voice of reason – CEOs look to FDs for reassurance, and this will always play a key part in the role
  • Be flexible – no one could have predicted the events of the past year, and no one knows what the fallout will be, however it is possible to plan, just as long as you are agile and accommodating in your approach

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