Darren Heffernan, President, Mid-Market of Trintech, and Grant Halloran, CEO of Planful, were recently featured on DisrupTV where they discussed the current state of finance and why organizations are investing in technology solutions to bring the finance and accounting functions closer together. In this post, we will recap that discussion.

Ray Wang:

Grant, can you talk through why Trintech and Planful have formed a strategic partnership and more importantly, what makes this partnership successful in the market?

Grant Halloran:

There’s a massive process in finance and accounting. If you think about a business – you start the year, you’re planning all the different dimensions of your business. Then you go into the execution phase, and you need to account for all of that. Each month you’re going to go through this very convoluted process of consolidating and closing the books and managing your reconciliations. That is where the Trintech expertise comes into play. And then once you come out of the financial close process, you need to go into analysis of how the business performed and what parts are doing well and all the variances. From there, you have to then re-forecast, and it becomes a continuous cycle.

Companies are trying to get to this place where they can just do continuous planning and accounting and speed up those processes. So, this partnership is extremely complimentary for us (Planful), and for our clients that are mostly focused on automating the FP&A side. We’re able to compress the close cycle using Trintech’s Adra Suite so that our clients have more time to do the analysis and more time on the high value work.

Darren Heffernan:

I would completely concur with what Grant said. The key thing for me being a former CFO is that my job, at the end of the day, was to make sure I produce an accurate and timely P&L account and balance sheet. There are many other things that are involved, but that’s the one that I’ll either get fired for if I get wrong or I’ll be a hero if I get right. And the great thing for me is that bringing the synergies between the two sides (FP&A and accounting), enables me as the CFO to do my job more efficiently and effectively. In addition, my staff is happier because they are focused on higher value tasks.

Vala Afshar (a Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce):

That’s a great point, emphasis on the staff. I just recently hosted a CIO round table and asked these incredible CIOs across multiple industries and geographies, about the concerns, pressures, and issues they’re facing – talent retention was top of mind. A lot of IT folks are really struggling to recruit and retain talent, security, and scale in this more decentralized digital first model. Darren, what are some of the challenges finance teams are facing today?

Darren Heffernan:

I think the biggest one for me is both attracting and retaining talent. And that’s been exasperated by several factors over the last couple of years. I’m sure everyone has heard about the “Great Resignation” – At the start of that, I thought it was a bit of a myth, but the more I talked to my fellow colleagues, I realized, people made the decision to completely reevaluate their lives and lifestyles and are making decisions on the back of that. If they are unhappy with their work, they’re making the decision to move on. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who have retired in the past two years. So, it’s just incumbent on all of us to make sure that when we have staff, we must provide an environment to make sure we can keep them. And that’s nowhere as important as it is in the finance space.

Vala Afshar:

Grant, in the FP&A space, when you have the pressure of a deadline, a closing, or a consolidation, not having the proper solutions, I suspect, can frustrate finance professionals. So, if they’re not working with Trintech or Planful solutions, they may move to a company that has a better tool set in order to meet these incredible pressures and deadlines. Do you believe that the right toolbox also contributes to retaining top talent?

Grant Halloran:

Absolutely. People are leaving because they don’t have the right tools to do their jobs efficiently. If people are stuck in spreadsheets and working 70+ hours a week, they are going to leave. They’re quickly going to reevaluate because we’ve had an order of magnitude change here in terms of mobility. This country, especially in the US, has always been a quite mobile society in the sense that people were willing to up and leave and move around. So, they had a culture of mobility, but today, people don’t even need to leave the location to work for another company. So, I always encourage my team here at Planful to realize that if you are not having a healthy paranoia about this stuff, you’re going to be a victim of this “Great Resignation” and not a victor. Conversely, it is imperative to be thinking about technology and automation, and how to support this “always on” generation of employees.

Ray Wang:

Those are great points. As we go from “Great Resignation” to the “Great Refactoring,” one of the key things is to get analytics automation and AI together. So, when you talk about a holistic, modernized, close and planning process – how critical is it? Are people looking at this? Are companies prioritizing the modernization of their close and planning processes?

Grant Halloran:

From my perspective, it’s taken off in a dramatic way in the last year. I think people were bunkered down a little bit in 2020, but 2021 was huge for us. I mean, our company, just alone, added twice as many customers to our community last year compared to 2020 and 2019. So, a significant demand was created where there was a realization that the “old way of doing things” isn’t sustainable. This is the time for CFOs to lead change in their companies.

The same thing happened 15 years ago in marketing. When the iPhone came out, all of a sudden you had this “always on” generation. It’s completely transformed the marketing and sales functions, with CMOs shifting from being super creative to super tech-savvy. And I think that’s where the role of CFO is going. They’re being mandated to drive smarter, faster, more financially intelligent decisions across the whole company – and you do that through Big Data, through the Cloud, through automation.

Vala Afshar:

Yeah – It’s amazing. Darren, can you tell us about what the future of finance looks like with analytics, automation, and AI, and are you also surprised at projecting two years ahead? Two out of three businesses are still lacking these capabilities in terms of AI and automation and analytics when it comes to financial planning and execution.

Darren Heffernan:

I’m not surprised. The Office of Finance has always been a bit of a “slow burner” regarding the adoption of automation. I think the pandemic really accelerated the need for it. Suddenly everyone was remote and needed to use inefficient systems like texting and emails to conduct the process of budgeting, forecasting, close tasks, reconciliations, compliance work, etc. – all things that must get done no matter what’s going on in the world.

I agree with Grant in that the adoption of our solutions over the last two years has been unbelievable, but it’s still just in its infancy. Our biggest competitor when we’re looking at deals is not another company – it’s Excel. Going back to our discussion at the beginning around attracting and retaining talent – you look at the new hires coming in from college and they don’t even know how to use Excel. It just isn’t something that is taught anymore so organizations that don’t realize that they need to move away from those Excel-based, manual processes and adopt automation are at risk.

Vala Afshar:

At my company, we’re making over 130 billion ML predictions every 24 hours. And that number was single digits a year and a half ago. So you’re right, whether you’re in sales, service, commerce, the end user has advice in terms of what to do, they don’t necessarily care that there’s ML.

Grant Halloran:

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are scary words for CFOs. So, it’s incumbent upon us technologists to make it easy and comfortable.

Darren Heffernan:

And Vala, to your point, if that doesn’t happen at an accelerated rate going forward, our talent gap is going to get way worse. Talent is what the company is. So, if organizations don’t start to realize that, they are going to be in trouble.

For the complete discussion, watch the full video here. To learn more about Trintech and Planful’s strategic partnership, offering an integrated end-to-end solution for the financial and accounting process, click here.

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