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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Robinhood faces $35mn fine from New York DFS
The company’s crypto division was issued with a wrist slap in 2020, following the red flagging of several “matters requiring attention”. Robinhood revealed it had reached a settlement with the New York State Department of Financial Services regarding the issues, which related to “alleged violations” of cybersecurity and anti-money laundering rules.
The news follows on from the announcement earlier this week that the trading platform favoured by armchair investors, which almost broke Wall Street earlier this year, has an expected valuation of $35bn following its IPO.
Critics of the platform say Robinhood encourages “risky behaviour” among inexperienced (armchair) investors. The app has also been criticised for not informing customers that much of its profits are generated by routing their trades to Wall Street firms taking the other side, or so-called "payment for order flow."
Robinhood said last month they expected the DFS fine to be at the $15mn mark, adding it would be “the bottom of the range for our probable loss in this matter”. The $35mn penalty is on top of the record $70mn Robinhood incurred from US financial regulator FINRA in June, for “lax vetting and outages.”
However, the settlement indicates the company’s IPO will go ahead as planned, despite initial concerns the investigation could see the float delayed until later this year.
Robinhood floats imminent
Despite the regulatory hiccups, Robinhood priced its IPO between US$38-US$42 per share, giving the platform the US$35bn valuation and analysts predict the firm’s debut on the Nasdaq could occur as early as next week.
Robinhood democratising investment
Launched in 2013 by Tenev and Bhatt, who were Stanford University roommates, Robinhood’s founders will retain most of the voting rights after the IPO. Bhatt reportedly holds 39% of the voting power of outstanding stock, while Tenev holds 26.2%.
The online brokerage, which came under fire for its handling of the GameStop trading debacle, which saw the platform limit stocks to investors, states its mission is to “democratise” investing and is one of the most highly anticipated IPOs of the year.
Robinhood was valued at $11.7bn in autumn 2020 following a private equity funding drive. The new valuation will mean represent a three-fold increase in the company’s market value in less than 12 months.