What does it take to become a Modern Finance Leader?
FinTech caught up with James Haslam, Chief Financial Officer, ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll, who discusses the role that the Modern CFO plays in business today.
James Haslam, Chief Financial Officer, ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll, seeks to redefine the traditional associations of his role as he leads the financial strategy of the tech company that enables medium-sized companies within Australia and New Zealand to deliver employee satisfaction through the use of its cutting-edge technology.
Haslam’s experience spans over an 18-year career in accounting and finance. Before becoming a chartered accountant, he obtained his Bachelor of Science in Engineering and Business from the University of Warwick in the UK. Haslam moved into KPMG’s graduate program in 2001, working largely across audit and corporate restructuring before moving to Australia in 2005 with KPMG's secondment program where he worked primarily in corporate finance.
In 2014, he joined Deloitte as a director in the corporate finance team. Yet Haslam’s ambitions were pulling him away from ‘the Big Four’ and in 2017 he founded Financial Agility Consulting. "I saw a gap in the market for providing corporate finance advice to mid-market executive teams, particularly around mergers and acquisitions and IPOs,” he explains.
Shortly after founding the company, Deloitte reached out to Haslam, referring him to ELMO in order to assist with developing the company's prospectus as part of the IPO, which was successful in 2017. Little did he know at that time how the initial engagement would set him on the path to become a CFO at ELMO.
As he continued with Financial Agility Consulting, Haslam continued to work on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) projects and IPOs until early 2019, including supporting ELMO on five successful acquisitions, before he succeeded ELMO’s then-CFO, Trevor Lonstein. "It's not your traditional route into the CFO role,” Haslam acknowledges, “but the advantage I’ve gained through both my Big Four and consulting experience is a wide view of the strengths and weaknesses of many CFO’s who I have worked with. I believe this experience has provided me with a more holistic view of businesses which I find now benefits me in my role.”
The skills and networking abilities gained from both KPMG and Deloitte, along with its prestigious alumni, gave Haslam the tools he needed to navigate the industry well, but he reflects that it was in his private consulting work where he learned how to obtain his own opportunities and engagements. "That need to be resourceful and go the extra mile with self motivation has really honed my negotiation and emotional IQ skills that are so vital in my role today.” He goes on: "Learning how to really listen to the needs of stakeholders is integral to my work at ELMO every day.”
"A Modern Finance Leader looks ahead by two or three years; asks themselves 'how can we invest and lay the foundations to support further growth?’ and embraces new technology in an ever-changing landscape. To do that you need to be partnered across the company and able to communicate complicated financial data with any department in a way that everyone can understand."
To ensure a high standard, Haslam enthuses that, for him, and for any good Modern Finance Leader, it is imperative to have a great team that is both supported and appreciated by the CFO. "My team is the backbone of our finance operations and I am a big believer in empowering my team, whatever their aspirations may be."
Since Haslam has been in the role, he has expanded the team and set up both a financial planning analysis team, and a corporate development team. He identifies being “collaborative” as the key requirement for teams.
"I want the team debating ideas and talking collaboratively. I don’t stress about mistakes, but I want the team feeling confident in exploring and finding solutions. I often say, if you can't fix your issue in less than 30 minutes, share it. I believe that we have a great work culture and I am only as good as my team. I am proud of them and their efforts."
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FIVE things fintechs must do to keep investors onboard
New investors flocked to the stock market during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-eight percent of investors said they had never had a brokerage or similar account before opening one in 2020.
Low or no-fee trading options have helped accelerate the trend – nearly half of new investors said they accessed their account primarily through a mobile app. As FinTechs, how do we create the trust needed to keep new investors in the market and create a fruitful customer experience for them?
The financial industry does a disservice to individual investors if we merely offer tools that focus on making money quickly, an approach that usually backfires. Instead, the surge of interest presents an enormous opportunity for those who want to help more consumers use financial technology to educate them on responsible spending, saving, and investing in order to achieve financial wellness current fintech tools have welcomed individual investors in the door.
Now, it’s time to focus on education and improving their experience going forward. There are several ways those of us in fintech can step up to shape the future of retail investing so that it works better for everyone, starting with the following areas.
Equal access to financial wellness education
Financial health should be available to everyone — but today, not everyone has the educational resources to achieve it. One study shows that only 3.9% of students from low-income schools were required to take a personal finance class. What they aren’t learning in school or from family members, fintech companies can provide on their platforms.
The companies should move from solely offering financial services to a more responsible model of education, advice, and prescriptive choices to help consumers develop better habits and make wiser financial decisions. Not only can they empower consumers and bridge historical wealth divides, but they can also stimulate growth by opening up new consumer segments.
Just as we’ve come to expect that our fitness routines are tailored to our individual bodies, we’re also ready for finance tools that go beyond one-size-fits-all solutions. But only six percent of financial institutions say they’re using the kind of technology that allows them to deliver a deeply personalized experience. Fintech tools need to reflect that financial success looks different for each of us.
For one consumer, it may mean providing guidance on how to pay off student loans early; for another, it may mean prescriptive actions that enable them to stick to a budget for the first time; for a third, it could look like prioritizing environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments, so that her portfolio aligns with her political beliefs.
Now, we are seeing financial technology beginning to meet the demands of personalized finance in a substantial and meaningful way.
The rise of AI-Powered Advice
Big-picture advice and predictive guidance used to be a feature of high-end financial advisory firms — a perk only available to those who could afford it. But thanks to rapid advancements in data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI), that kind of holistic advice is now more accessible than ever. AI-driven robo-advisors can parse many different streams of financial information, delivering customized answers to key questions: Is it time to buy a home, or is it smarter to keep renting? Can I afford to take out another student loan?
Intelligent connectivity powered by AI can anticipate consumers’ needs and next steps, making proactive suggestions that guide them along the path to financial wellbeing. Fintech companies can also help consumers identify when their financial picture becomes too complex for a robo-advisor, and help them find a human financial advisor to meet their needs.
Focus on financial mental health
New investors are quickly finding that the market can be overwhelming. That’s not surprising, financial anxiety is common and studies show that financial stress can have an impact on mental health for some.
It’s not enough for fintech companies to give retail investors access; they also must provide the guidance and support that help consumers manage their financial well-being. Educational tools can ensure that consumers are well informed about their options.
Predictive analytics can anticipate consumers’ questions, serving them key information and insights before they ask. Features that emphasize a comprehensive notion of financial well-being, rather than short-term wins and losses, can also help ensure that consumers are keeping their eyes on the bigger picture.
Gamification for good
The surge of gamification apps has done an impressive job making investing as engaging as playing a video game or joining a social media platform.
Much of the current use of gamification emphasizes short-term thinking, but there’s also an opportunity to help consumers think more broadly about their overall financial picture. One example is peer benchmarking, a feature that enables help consumers to see how their financial habits compare to those of friends and fellow consumers.
Gamification can also be used to incentivize making smaller, smarter choices — for example, rewarding saving over making an impulse buy.
The future of fintech is about more than just broadening access to the markets. It’s about making sure more individuals have access to the tools that can help improve their financial well-being—in the ways that suit their own circumstances and needs. The potential to act within their own set of individual priorities, with their long-term financial wellness in mind is much more empowering to a consumer than simply relying on short-term, high-risk investments.
About the author: Brandon Rembe is CPO at Envestnet Yodlee. He has over 18 years of experience building high-growth technology, software, and information service companies, Brandon has worked across a broad spectrum of enterprises from early-stage ventures to global businesses.