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5 Proven Ways to Advance Your Career in Finance

Webinar Transcription

Brittany: Hello, everyone, and thank you for joining us on today’s webinar, which is on “Five Proven Ways to Advance Your Career in Finance.” My name is Brittany Davey, and I’m the marketing programs coordinator for AvidXchange, and I will be organizing today’s webinar. If you have any question during the webinar, please feel free to ask them in the panel on the right-hand side of the screen, and at the end of the webinar, we’ll answer as many questions as we can. If we’re unable to answer your question during the call, then we will answer it via email afterwards. And now I’d like to present our speaker for today, Karen Bertaux, who is the chief financial officer for AvidXchange. Welcome, Karen.

Karen: Thank you, Brittany. I’m very happy to be here. Thank you, everybody who is on the call. As Brittany mentioned, I’m the chief financial officer for AvidXchange. I joined the company just over a year ago, so April of 2015. Very familiar with the company, though, as I was with another business in the Charlotte area and learned a lot about AvidXchange along the way.

You know, when we move forward, who is AvidXchange, and what are we about? AvidXchange is an invoice and a payment automation company providing software solutions and services to a mid-market company in North America. The company was started in 2000, so we have a 16-year history of helping companies automate the payable and payment process in their business. We have over 5,500 customers currently in North America and growing. We have over 300,000 vendors in our AvidXchange vendor network.

And, you know, with our product and our services and being part of the business process and automation of the payable and payment process, our customer attention is 98%. We definitely value our customers and the customer satisfaction that we have with all of our partners and customers and continue to evolve that.

AvidXchange has grown quite a bit as far as resources go. We currently have over 600 AvidXchange team members based in 4 locations in the United States. Our corporate headquarters is in Charlotte, North Carolina, that’s where the business was started. We also have operations in Utah, New Jersey and Houston, Texas. A of couple of those came from some acquisitions that AvidXchange has done over the years, and we perform all services in all the areas.

As AvidXchange has grown and evolved, one of the key things that the company has been committed to is really its culture, and it has been recognized multiple times for the best place to work in the area, as well as being recognized for its growth and its technology. Recently we’ve been awarded a variety of recognition across the community.

So what we’re gonna talk about today, I’ll give a brief history of my story. I think that’s relative from the perspective of how I view leadership and five different ways to be a great leader and advancing your finance career, what worked for me and what I’ve learned from it. So I’ll talk to you a little bit about that. And then we’ll go into the five proven ways to advance your finance career and provide leadership to your organization.

So, first of all, just a little bit about me. I’ve been in finance accounting for over 30 years. I am from a small U.S. town in Western Maryland, a small university town and where I attended school, and graduated and moved to the big city of Washington D.C., obtained my CPA. But I spent most of my career in industry. I’ve spent a very short time in public accounting, went into industry because, really, I had a love for business, not just the accounting side of it. And I think as we talk about leadership and growth, you’ll see that that kind of fun outside of the area of finance and accounting as far as being effective and having a growth path for your career.

I also ended up spending time in a large companies and start-up companies, but I seem to have landed and settled on technology companies primarily in my career, and I’ve had a look back, and I asked myself why I did that. And I think it’s because technology companies are always being innovative, and they’re always hoping to evolve and to change, and they’re always inventing new frontiers. So I like the challenge, and I like the excitement, and I like learning that goes along with being with technology companies, and that continues through today. You know, AvidXchange are obviously paving a way for the technology and workflow automation for accounts payable and payments for businesses.

I was very fortunate to be able to be a part of many types of organizations like that and be part of, you know, private equity fund raises, M&A activity, buy side, sell side. I really like handling transactions as well as completion of a next one during a very difficult market in 2008, which has its own challenges. And, you know, it’s been really important for me as I’ve evolved in my career to…that there is a solid work-life balance.

You know, I value my career and what I gain from it and what I give it. I also have a family, and I value that, and I also value my health. And I think that this is a little cliché, but work-life balance is so very important. It’s never attainable completely perfectly, that’s one thing that people have to accept. But if you’re striving for it, over time the scales balance, and in an overall way, that’s gonna provide you the best value. If you have balance in your life, you’re able to be a more effective leader.

So what makes a great leader? This is the perfect recipe, there really isn’t a exact perfect recipe, but there is a perfect recipe for each individual. And so one of the things that’s really important to me when you look at what it means is it’s very key and it’s very clear over my career that I learned, maybe not as early as I wanted to, but it’s okay to be different. Being in a technology, predominantly technology, company that was very male-dominated, and I was a female, so I was obviously very different. But that’s not just the only way to be different, but, you know, this is just something that’s important, I had to learn.

There are definitely assets to being unique in an individual in your leadership style and what you bring to the table. I think that it’s difficult, and you lose some trust a lot of times if you try to be somebody that you’re not. So I find it very important to understand your value as you’re in your environment and your career to make sure that you know who you are, and if there are differences, that’s more not and more positive than negative. So it’s okay to be different.

Some qualities that make great leaders, you’ve looked at this list of qualities, and there are things you’ve heard before, but they are very, very critical and they are very important. You talk about honesty. Honesty is very important, and that means delivering, you know, good news and honest positive feedback, but it also means delivering sometimes not good news but very honest feedback. I instill the rule when it comes to the more difficult conversation that we all have a lot of times in finance, you know, when something isn’t working right, or the numbers aren’t right, or the variance, we’ve fund an error somewhere, is the one breath rule. You take one breath, and then you go and you disclose it. It’s very important to make sure that the people that work for you, your peers, and the people you work for, and the board of directors know that you’re honest and have high level of integrity.

Delegating is very important, but I also think it’s very important to make sure you have pulse point. So, as you evolve and grow as a leader and you get further away from the actual day-to-day work, it’s critical to delegate, because you won’t survive, and you won’t be able to grow if you don’t. But it’s also very important to make sure you keep your finger on the pulse of the information that you need to understand. And that means you have to know what boils up to the top that you think about every day that you need to understand every day. And you make sure you get that information, because what gets measured gets done. So what you need to understand, you need to make sure it’s provided to you at the pulse point on a regular basis. I do that in a variety of ways, dashboards, you know. And new things come up all the time, so, you know, you wanna make sure that you understand what’s going on even though you’ve delegated.

Communication is really extremely critical in so many ways, and you can look at communication in a lot of different directions. So I’ll just leave that there. I think we all know effective communication means you have to have conviction and clarity in what you’re saying, but you have to make sure you know your audience, you know how you’re communicating, and you know how to respond when you’re put on the spot.

Confidence is important. Arrogance is not necessary, or you can hit it in the workplace. Confidence is not arrogance in my mind. Confidence means that you know the subject matter, you know the information that you’re trying to provide to the folks, but to me it’s more about conviction and what you understand and know. So make sure you understand your information, have confidence in what you’re communicating, and have conviction behind your opinion, because they’re valuable.

You have to be committed, obviously a positive attitude. I have to tell you that’s very critical, that’s another very key one. You know, positive people are more willing to go out of their comfort zone, and when you do that, you will learn and evolve. So, therefore, you know, be positive, think positive. Things will get done. They may not always get them perfectly, but you have to attack things with a positive result in mind, otherwise you won’t get anywhere.

Being creative, I link that to being innovative, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. Your intuition is your comfort, and listen to it and believe in it, it’s very important. Inspire your team, inspire your peers, inspire your other leaders in the business. And how you approach, you know, problems, how you approach successes, it’s very important to understand who you’re talking with and what you’re doing.

And now to move on to the core topic of this webinar, is the five proven ways to advance your finance career. And I find these five things to be absolutely critical. A couple of them have a common theme, and it’s gonna be around technology and data, and that’s really where we need to be in today. But I’m gonna go through one by one.

Be authentic, number one person format. We’ve all read a whole variety of leadership books, what makes a great leader, there is not one prescription for it. A really great leader is somebody who knows who they are, who think authentically, that encompasses the characteristics that we just went through and then layers around them other leadership techniques that they’ve learned along the way.

I kind of look at as, you know, the arrows in your backpack. You know, you go through your career and you go through life, and you find great examples of leaders that you would like to have to emulate in a certain way, and you wanna take that and put it in your backpack. Then there’s other leaders, that’s a great example of what I don’t wanna do. So it’s about being aware and filtering through what leadership means to you and making sure that you’re being yourself and being authentic along the way.

You know, authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet. Thinking, and saying, and feeling, and doing the same thing consistently, that’s where you build trust. Authenticity is people’s trust. The people believe in you, and they believe you’re consistent, and you’re aligned, your head and your heart is aligned, and, you know, people will follow people they trust. So it’s very important to make sure you know who you are and be your authentic self.

I kind of look at it this way, it’s absolutely essential. And if you communicate authentically, then you’re going to have people want to follow you, and you’re gonna have great leadership presence. So to evolve your career in finance, there’s a lot about leadership. And it’s not just about leadership in finance, it’s also about leadership of the organization. As CFO of a few companies in my career, I’ve spent as much time outside of finance as I did inside of finance leading the business and helping drive the company. And I think that it’s really important to make sure you create a presence around you, you have to be genuine, you have to have conviction and confidence in your communication. Be original, you know, you don’t wanna be just like anybody else, but it doesn’t mean you always have you to bust the discussion. That means that you have original thinking, original thought, and that you have true values, true core values that you emulate and you show every single day.

That’s gonna take being self-aware. We’re always needing to do that, being balanced in your life, which we talked about previously, having a moral perspective of the environment you’re in, and have relational transparency. And I think that one of the things that I learned in my career was, once I allowed myself to be a little more transparent or a little more vulnerable to my team, I was able to draw more out of them, because they were able to relate to me in a better way. And I think that’s absolutely critical into being authentic as well.

Number two, streamlined processes and improved efficiency. That is absolutely critical. When you think about, it’s imperative actually in today’s business world. And I think about my success in my career, and it has a lot to do with that. Not being aware of it early on as a 20-something working, you know, with a bunch of other accountants side by side, it was because I didn’t like doing the same things repetitively every day. So I created automated ways or streamlined ways to get things done so I would have the opportunity to do something different.

And I didn’t realize it back then, but I was sort of selfishly helping myself continue to learn and evolve by streamlining processes because they were boring to me. Repetitive manual processes don’t make sense in today’s world with all the technology we have available to us. When you think about streamlining and improving efficiency, it’s about automating where possible. And there’s a variety of ways to automate. There are expensive business applications you can implement. There are inexpensive tools with databases, and Excel does magical stuff these days. And there’s just a lot of ways to automate and streamline processes.

I think the goal, ultimately, is to just get off manual tasks so that the finance organization can become more consultant to the business versus doing real redundant work. I think that’s very important. Every single business has to continue to do this every day, and this is not something that is once and done. So even as a company improves its processes or your team improves its processes and improves efficiency, you start over again, because there’s new ways of doing things and new ways to improve. So I think it’s always about keeping a mindset of continuous process improvement in your team and in your organization so that you are staying ahead of the curve of your peers, very critical.

That also, these all go hand in hand, leads to investing in new technology. It actually goes along with streamlining processes, and the investment you make in the new technology is really dependent on the organization and your industry of what it is you would need to do. But you must stay invested in the current, because you must understand what’s out there to know whether it’s something you should use or not. That’s how your company, and your team, and you, quite honestly, stay relevant.

When you think about the technologies that we have out there today, you know, this slide demonstrates some mega trends of transforming how organizations and people work. When you look down at the cloud-based information, social media, big data, local application, you know, transforming the business, the impact that that has, you know, is growing from 14 to 50 significantly. Big data is continuing to evolve and grow quite big to this amount, especially when it comes down to understanding your business, and your industry, and the analytics, which we’ll get to in a minute, but also in just how people work. We’ve got remote workforces. We have mobile ways of working we’re always on, right? That leads you back to making sure you have a balance somehow to not always be on. But I think the point is that, as we think about technology, it’s transformational applicancy [SP]. And so you’re never done looking at it. You always need to be up-to-date on what’s going on, what you should be doing in your business, what technologies are going to help evolve to the next step and stay ahead of the game.

And, like I said, I worked in technology companies because I sorta, in a crazy way, love that environment where you’re always having to reinvent yourself because technology goes so fast. The company to stay relevant has to continue to do that, so by nature that’s how I think.

You know, the benefits of investing in new technologies, and you know, these are just some key benefits of that. Some of these you probably already know, but I’d like to highlight them, because some people say, “I don’t have time,” “It’s too expensive.” But the actual cost of not doing it is more critical.

So, one, lower your risk for fraud. You sit there today, and you look at what’s going on every single day in the news, cybercrime is all over the place. We communicate through a lot of technological ways. It’s an open worldwide global marketplace. Data, it’s flying through the internet at rapid speeds. IT groups and businesses are trying to lock things down and work on how they can prevent, you know, access to the systems. And, you know, treasury activities, obviously, are targeted all the time. So by making sure that you are investing in new technologies, you’re actually creating an environment that’s gonna lower your risk for fraud.

Avoiding major issues caused by inaccurate data. We have so much information today, and if we don’t have the right data, we don’t have the technology that gather the right data about our business, well, that data provides insight, if it’s incorrect, that drives decisions that are incorrect, which drives a problem with the business. So making sure that you understand your technology and the data flowing through is very critical.

And I think that’s with any business today. There’s so much data we can have to give us insight, but it’s about making sure you’ve got the right processes around that data, warehouse, you have a data warehouse or your just own set of data that you’re aggregating that everybody’s understanding what it is we’re coming from and manufacture it. Technology can help you do that.

Technology obviously reduces the time it takes to develop financial reporting, and that comes down to just the reporting and the analysis equals no surprises. You know, you get the data early. You understand it early. By the time you’re reporting, you already understand what’s going on. So the technology you get upfront helps you understand more real-time what’s going on with the business, and financial reporting becomes just a requirement that has to happen. And, quite honestly, that’s how I look at it. We need to understand what’s going on with the business every day, every week. When it comes the time to close the book and issue the financial statements, I already know what’s going on, and we’ve already talked about that, that becomes all new. So it’s a function in finance that has to happen. It’s very critical. However, what’s driving business decisions and operational decisions in the business happens much earlier than when we issue financial reports. Technology allows you to do that.

Eliminates manual tasks. We all have them. I have them in my team. We’re working hard to eliminate them. You know, as companies evolve and grow, you can’t automatically turn the switch overnight. You have to sometimes create remediation strategy to manual activities or for your internal control, but you wanna get off of those as quickly as possible. You’ve gotta put them in place, streamline them, automate them, move on. And it becomes a continuous life cycle in your business.

Having time to focus on strategically improving your organization’s financial health. You have technology that helps you run your business, get you information faster, get your reporting done cleaner. You actually have time to think strategically. That’s where you add value to your organization by getting your head outside of the debits and credits of finance and getting your head out to the operational team, the sales team, the technology team in my case, whatever your industry might be, and enables you to align more with the business and provide more value.

And, basically, the new technology, as we do have more remote workforces and managing folks across the country, across different countries, the visibility of data from just about anywhere allows you to function in a more streamlined way as well.

Number four, seek out additional education and networking opportunities. I think this is very, very important. For me, I’ve always wanted to educate myself, and not a lesson is always formally, but making sure you’re looking at opportunities to learn. It can be informally, it can be formally, but the bottom line is this, if there’s something you don’t understand that’s talked about in your day in your business, you have a desire to learn it, open up your mind to it. I think we’re always evolving and learning, and we should never stop learning, I think that’s very critical, and be willing to learn.

I think people gain energy from learning new things. And an energized leader is a positive leader, which is a productive leader, which is an effective leader. So as you learn and get energy from the new insights and learnings you have and you pass on to your organization, it’s just one of those, like, continuous cycles that keeps you up and on top of things.

You know, I’ll use an example here. If you think about a toddler and what it that unbridled enthusiasm about the toddler running naked through the hallway, I mean, an unbridled enthusiasm, a toddler is you see it every single day, because everything they’re experiencing is new or something new every single day. And so if you kind of think about that, we’re not toddlers anymore, we’re mature, we’ve been through life, but if we can keep that enthusiasm of learning in our minds, then we will always be an enthusiastic and positive leader and more effective.

Also, when you think about learning, it’s about mentoring, and I’ve been very fortunate to have been mentored by some wonderful people, but also I’ve been able to mentor others. And learning goes both ways. I’m learning things from people that I’m mentoring today. I’m learning from them as much as they’re learning for me. And one of the things I probably waited too long in my career to get involved in, and that is giving back, and mentoring, and coaching, because, gosh, I’m learning so much from it as well. And I think that that’s just another way, I think it’s very important as leaders in our community, in our businesses to continuously think about that mentoring opportunity.

And back to some of the technology, and this is specifically around data, is being able to analyze the data and start creating prediction. You know, when you think about stock data, and pretty much the last couple of companies I’ve been with, it’s about organizing a master data warehouse and then being able to run your business from it. The hardest part is organizing that data and making sure everybody is understanding and looking at it the same way. And then it’s about using that data to create insight and drive decisions.

You know, so, from my perspective, you think about what are the benefits of it, substantial cost saving from the business, because, you know, I am sure many of you probably experience, as I have in the past, people if they don’t have a place to go to for consistent data, they’re gonna create it themselves and draw out conclusions that most likely are inaccurate. If you do have an accurate set of data that you can work from, your decisions are faster, and more analytical, and more insightful to the business. You could start creating positive trends in your business as far as giving insights and predictive analytics. And, from that perspective, I think that’s how it continues to evolve.

If you listen to big data, you listen to data and analytics, it’s really about turning it down to what is important to your business that you’re in and what’s the most valuable data and information you have and making sure you have coordination across the organization as to what that data is and what it means. There’s nothing more frustrating than everybody creating their own insights and their own sets of data and all produces something very different.

So, as leaders in finance, I kinda consider it our responsibility to be the conscience of the business a lot of times and bringing people to the table and say, “Wait a minute, let’s make sure we get this data, organize this data in a consistent way so we can consume it met in a consistent way and have the same insight.”

Brittany: Great, well, thanks so much, Karen. This is Brittany again. I am going to launch a poll onto your screen. So let us know where you’d like to go from here. Are you just here to learn? Or if you’d like to learn more about utilizing AP automation for your business, you can select that, and we’ll be in touch with you with additional information on AP automation. So, while you’re completing that poll, I’m gonna move on to some questions for Karen. So, again, if you have any questions, please put them in the panel on the right-hand side of your screen, in the questions portal. And it looks like we have one from Mary, a question that came in. So, “Karen, the technology landscape for finance professionals is pretty overwhelming. What technology would you suggest focusing on first?”

Karen: It’s kind of a broad question, but I guess it depends on where you are in your technology life cycle with your business. If you don’t have a good solid general ledger accounting system, invest in that. If you’re a growing company, you’re probably gonna have to make sure that you’ve got scalability in that environment. I would definitely start with that. There’s a lot of good cloud-based products out there that can do a lot of things, and you’ll have to just do some research and determine which one is best for you.

But if you already have a good solid base finance and accounting general ledger system that you’re working with, I’d say the next thing you wanna do is you wanna make sure that your company is thinking about a full suite of integrated business solutions that you utilize to run your business. I’ve noticed in many companies I’ve been with and many companies that I work with or peers that work at, they have very disparate, unconnected systems.

So you might have a general ledger system. You might have a CRM system. You might have another system that manages your quoting process and a separate one doing billing if you don’t do that within your general ledger. And many times they’re not integrated. So the hand-offs in the workloads are very weak, and they break, and they require…you know, it’s just not a scalable environment. So I like to look at a full suite of quote to cash, a set of business solutions that scale across the business that everybody can access.

And that’s actually one of the things, you know, that AvidXchange does with its payable automation, and it’s same a process as it automates that workflow. It’s still not processed but just more organizationally across the board. So make sure you’re starting off with the right core tool and then evolve from that. And I have to tell you in finance, involve your IT people, they’re your best friends. They will help you get that done and integrated, and when you have a full suite of integrated business solutions that help run the business, the value and insight that brings to your organization is tremendous.

Brittany: Great. And it looks like we have another question from Paul. Paul wants to know, “This is a lot of great content. Thank you. What resources and online publications do you go to for continuing your education and learning about industry updates?”

Karen: Certainly, Paul, as a CPA, I’ve gotta keep up with my CPE credits like many others, and so I definitely utilize a variety of resources for that. The local North Carolina Association for CPAs, AICPA have a lot of great information. The CEB, if you’re members of the CEB, they have a lot of wonderful data and education that can be provided to you inside there. Internet’s great. Local business publications, I think, are very important. I think, as you educate and evolve yourself outside of maybe your core accounting field, you know, in the area you’re in, whether it’s a region, or a city, or just the general part of the country, I think it’s really important you understand that industry. One of the things that I know that’s important to me is educating myself on the business environment in Charlotte in the greater North Carolina area, because we’re hiring a lot of technology people, and it’s very competitive, and we need to understand that landscape and what’s going on. So it’s about staying educated on that as well.

Brittany: Great, Karen. Thank you so much. Last call for questions, if you have any more. It doesn’t look like we do. So, Karen, is anything else you wanted to add?

Karen: Thank you, Brittany. Thanks, everybody, I hope you found some of this insightful and helpful, and I really appreciate everybody joining.

Brittany: Great, thanks so much.

Interested in learning more from an AP Automation expert?
Hosted By:
Karen Bertaux
Former CFO at AvidXchange