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CFO Insights

A surging digital revolution has changed the way we work. And after a tumultuous year, executives understand the need to lead with new strategies, tools, processes, and approaches that promote adaptable growth. Carrie Foster, CFO of Frontwave Credit Union, and Katherine Edenbach, CFO of Emburse, will share whatโ€™s on their minds as they lead financial operations in a resurgent economy.

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Season 2 Episode 2
Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:00:00] Hi, I'm Grant Johnson, chief marketing officer at Emburse. Welcome to Emburse on the mic, a podcast series where we dig into the topics that impact our business and lives, managing expenses, processing invoices, making payments, and discovering ways to eliminate those time consuming error-prone manual tasks to help make our lives easier. In our last episode, we discussed the future of payments. Today's episode is all about CFO insights. We'll hear from two chief financial officers and how they approached a very tumultuous year. They'll share what's on their minds as they lead financial operations in this resurging economy. With me today is Carrie Foster. She's the chief financial officer at Front Wave Credit Union. Carrie Fossas, a CPA who has worked in the financial services industry for 20 plus years. I'm also joined by Katherine even Borke as chief financial officer of Emburse. Katherine is responsible for financial strategy, accounting, treasury, financial reporting, planning and analysis. Katherine, Katherine, welcome and thanks for joining today.

Katherine Edenbach, CFO at Emburse: [00:01:20] Thanks, Grant.

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:01:21] Thanks, Grant. Great to be here.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:01:22] Glad to have the both of you. Well, let's just start off, Katherine, with a question for you. It's been one heck of a year. How did the pandemic shape your views on current priorities and initiatives?

Katherine Edenbach, CFO at Emburse: [00:01:33] So last year, the pandemic really shifted our priorities to focus more on cash management, spend visibility and also spend control. And that really has carried over into our priorities for the current year. We plan to use our analytics tools to drive more visibility into spending patterns and help us identify areas for improvement. In addition, we're starting to see our employees asking about a return to business travel so both employee safety and cost controls over travel spending will become much more of a priority, especially in the second half of this year.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:02:10] Yeah, that's a really good point as we return to the office and travel about how to do that in a more responsible way. Thanks for sharing that. How about you, Carrie? How did the pandemic impact your company's plans for 2020? And has that uncertainty or other issues sort of rolled into 2021 so far?

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:02:29] Well, the short answer to that is that 2020 derailed every plan that we had for the credit union. We were very concerned and unsure of how the pandemic would affect our business and how it would affect our credit union members. We started planning some best case, worst case and likely case scenarios to try to think of everything that could go wrong and what we would do to manage in each situation. Similar to what Katherine was talking about, we really started cutting back expenses and only focusing on things that needed to be done in the current environment. So we canceled a lot of facilities improvements. We canceled all travel and we started stocking up on PCs and other equipment so that we could have our employees work remotely. A lot of that has carried over in 2021. We're hoping that as vaccines start to become a little bit more common, we can start our come back to work strategy and that our employees can start traveling again the way they were prior to the pandemic.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:03:28] Yeah, that's really a lot of our customers are approaching this return in this sort of stepwise fashion to see how this works and we can do more of it and so forth. You both mentioned cash management. Cash flow is key to focus for all businesses. How did you approach managing cash to ensure the operation could operate smoothly?

Katherine Edenbach, CFO at Emburse: [00:03:50] As you mentioned Grant, cash management became a huge priority in 2020 as we started to see cash receipts from our customers slow as many companies began to conserve cash because of the economic uncertainty. They just didn't know what was coming with that, with the pandemic. As we managed cash, you know, we look at the timing of cash inflows and obviously having as many customers as possible pay electronically helped us to make those cash inflows much more predictive, especially if you are charging a card or using direct debit, because then you're actually controlling those cash inflows from an expense perspective, utilizing an AP or invoice tool to ensure that finance has visibility to invoices in a timely manner. They're not just stuck out. They're sitting on someone's desk and finances and aware of them. And that expenditures are approved and within budget is also really, really helpful. It helps to eliminate any surprise expenditures that weren't anticipated during your cash planning process.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:04:53] Yeah, that sounds very comprehensive. And I think you'd noted earlier that sometimes customers who pay. I check it's kind of hard to get to the office in these turbulent times, and but you certainly need to get the check picked up. So it's great when customers can leverage the tools out there for automating the payments. That's great. How about you Carrie any thoughts on that from your perspective?

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:05:18] Definitely, Grant. Being a credit union, a lot of our cash flow comes from our members depositing money into their checking and savings accounts. So a lot of our members were really holding onto their money and we found that we had an abundance of cash that we weren't expecting. And with the interest rates plummeting 150 basis points, we had all of this excess cash, but we weren't earning any money on it. Our Fed account went from 15 million to one hundred and fifteen million. So with the interest rates also decreasing, we had a lot of members who were paying off their loans or refinancing their loans. So that brought in a whole extra layer of cash that we had to make sure that we were investing appropriately. But we weren't comfortable investing all of it because we weren't sure how long the pandemic was going to last and when the economy was going to be opening back up. So it was a lot of temporary and uncertainty as far as how we were going to manage our day-to-day cash. We're still in that uncertain zone at this point, but we have started doing more investing than we would have done otherwise because of that pandemic.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:06:22] Well, it sounds like on that front we've had a very prudent as well as pragmatic approach. Right, because we just none of us knew sort of how we'd be coming out of this. It looks like, at least in the US, we're starting to get to a better state of, you know, and so forth to get back to offices if they so choose or hybrid situations like a lot of companies. Question for you. Carrie, did any of our solutions from Emburse help you with the key initiatives or the cash management?

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:06:47] Absolutely. We've utilized the Emburse Certify expense reporting software for several years now. And Frontwave is a really big fan of yours. The service that we've gotten from your sales team, from your implementation support, they have all been just a pleasure to work with. And we're actually in the process of rolling out your accounts payable software on the first of May. We decided to switch to your accounts payable solution during 2020 because of all the reporting capabilities and efficiencies it provided. I mentioned earlier that we had employees who are working from home and we actually had to have our accounts payable clerk go in two days a week just to cut checks. And so we wanted to keep as many people at home as possible. But because of the manual intensive steps of our current accounts payable software, she had to keep coming in. When we switch over to the Emburse accounts payable software, we're very excited to start eliminating unnecessary steps that really don't add value to the whole process. Things like scanning invoices or stuffing envelopes or cutting checks. We're trying to do similar to what Katherine was talking about, making it electronic payments so that our employees can continue to work remotely, they can continue to be safe working from home, and we can eliminate unnecessary steps and find efficiency. And that way our staff can start doing more value-added things like analytics and the reporting capabilities that the AP solution is going to offer us. I'm very excited about it's going to be able to help us track expenses by vendor and by general ledger account. And to Katherine's point earlier, the budget variances, that's something that we've not been able to do at accounts payable level. And so we're really, really excited to roll that out next week.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:08:35] Yeah, that sounds very exciting. And you really touched on what's central to the Emburse brand mission, which is to humanize work, to remove these time consuming manual error-prone tasks and give employees time back so they can get a better balance in their lives, you know, spend time with their families, community and as you said, carry on these value-added tasks that help move the business forward rather than just consume time. So that's really exciting. And congratulations on adopting that. A question for you, Katherine. This balancing act seems next to impossible, right? You've got a globally distributed company like Emburse and a lot of our customers. How did you leverage the analytics and spending patterns to help inform the budget holders and their spending behaviors?

Katherine Edenbach, CFO at Emburse: [00:09:21] So what we try to do is really try to identify large pockets of spending and that could be driven by either high-cost items or a large volume of lower-cost items. And it's in some are more obvious than others. For example, hosting costs for us are a huge expense and our dev ops team was able to make significant reductions by consolidating vendors and obtaining volume discounts. But there are smaller things to which we were able to identify using our expense management tools, because as I think a lot of people are aware, these tools are used for so much more than just expensive travel. You know, there's all sorts of costs that are running through employees credit cards, especially in a decentralized environment. So we spotted areas where we had a number of individuals, for example, expensing individual licenses for a software tool that we also had a corporate license on. So there are all different ways to sort of look at the data and find patterns. And my team is very excited about our new analytics tool and the different ways that we're going to be able to slice and dice data to get at different information to continue to drive improvements in this area.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:10:34] Yeah, that's another interesting point you make. You know, we've all adapt to this remote work and Zoom, you know, you have to communicate and collaborate, you know, versus in person. Maybe it was a little easier; you'd bump into somebody in the hallway. But just to get that visibility is great to have tools so you can get insight and better manage the financial operations. Got a question for both of you. It sounds like, you know, both companies overcame a number of obstacles. Were there any surprise silver linings that you discovered during these challenging times?

Katherine Edenbach, CFO at Emburse: [00:11:06] So one of the silver linings we noticed was the realization that we as a company could be more flexible with our employees' time and location and still get work done. And I think we're going to see more of that going forward with employees choosing more flexible schedule options are only committing to be in the office a few days a week. As you mentioned, Grant, this really aligns to the Emburse mission of humanizing work, creating smart technology that enables people to spend less time on tasks that take them away from the things that that really matter, whether that's family or higher value work.

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:11:42] I couldn't agree with you more, Katherine. I think that we definitely saw the silver lining with becoming more resilient and more flexible, even though there was a lot of uncertainty. We pushed our way through it. And our CEO used to say that everyone was always going to be in person. Now his mindset has been switched. And so he's much more open to having that flexible work environment. When we've done surveys with our team, the work-life balance that they've been able to have now that they can work remotely is really made a huge difference in our retention of our employees and makes us a better employer. So we're really excited that we're able to start analyzing processes and really get down to what we actually have to do and what we're doing to eliminate extra steps. And we're really excited to partner with Emburse and our vendor partners to help us to be more efficient so that we can concentrate on our main task at hand, which is to serve our members.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:12:38] Yeah, that's great to hear. You both mentioned having a little more flexibility, agility, and more resilience in the business. And I think we've all adapted my baby better than we had to out of necessity. But it's had some other benefits that really improve the employee experience, which in turn, you know, as you mentioned, Carol, you've had a good experience with Emburse. And, you know, part of it, you know, we make sure employees are well taken care of and they're happy in their roles and they understand the importance of making sure customers succeed. And so that reflects well, with your feedback. You know, beyond the support you provided the team over the last year, are there other ways that you help them ride out the storm or how Emburse products and services assisted Yukari?

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:13:22] We had a lot of Zoom meetings, which I'm sure you can relate to, but we did play some games to break up the monotony. One of my favorite ones was 'Whose refrigerator is this?' So each of us took a picture of the inside of our refrigerator and we posted them up and we had to guess whose it was based on the contents. And we also gave our employees a lot more leniency as far as doing team lunches, sending out care packages. We ended up having a lot more reimbursements for that type of activity. And the great part about that is that they didn't have to log into the network to do it. All of your software is Web-based so that they can either take pictures with your phone or they can log in right over the Internet to submit their expenses and to get reimbursed. So we said before, we're really big fans of the Emburse expense reimbursement software and we get a lot of use out of it, especially during covid.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:14:14] Well, that's great, but I can't help but saying, you know, the picture of the refrigerator, maybe part two is what's inside the refrigerator. Is it time to go shopping again? Oh, all right. Well, be back through our normally scheduled programming here. What are other ways that you have normalized your routine from the past year? I mean, is there any part you'll keep that you say, hey, this is an interim change, but actually it's become a new way of how you run your operation.

Katherine Edenbach, CFO at Emburse: [00:14:40] So before the pandemic, I personally had never really worked remotely. Even in the early days of the pandemic. I was in the office almost every day dealing with some administrative tasks. But when my son went back to school on a hybrid schedule, I switched to going into the office on the days he was in school and working from home on the day he was home. I found that I really could get a lot of work done working remotely, and so while I don't intend to fully work remote as I get a lot of benefit from seeing and working with coworkers, I do think that I'll continue to work a couple of days a week from my home office. And in addition, we also put into place a number of daily stand-ups, not long meetings, but just quick short meetings where the team could connect. And I think we will continue those going forward as well, whether we're in the office or where remote.

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:15:32] I'm happy to see, Katherine, that even though we're in two different industries, we're doing very similar things as far as structure and meetings and things like that. We're doing some similar things to at the daily stand-ups. I fought working from home when I was told to work from home. I fought it tooth and nail. I did not want to start working from home because I was very comfortable coming into the office with my two screens and getting my things done. But once I started working from home, I really appreciated the quietness, the lack of disruptions. And when I was in a meeting, I was in a meeting. And when I was not in a meeting, I could really focus on the tasks at hand. But having a combination or a hybrid schedule going forward, I think would be really beneficial, especially if there's a big project that requires a little extra attention. But I just started working in the office full time this past Monday, so I am back to the office again and I have missed that employee interaction, seeing them in the halls, catching up on their day. But I think that going forward, having a nice combination of both would really make for the best work environment for not only me but for the rest of our employees here at the credit union.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:16:36] Yeah, I think that applies, as you compare in our industry and yours, a multitude of industries where the new approach is some sort of hybrid. And in fact, when you're trying to add staff or you said, well, you've got to be able to drive here. Well, not necessarily some roles. Yeah. You've got to be able to be in a branch office. That's one thing. Or you could just be a remote office or a 'remote home' if you will, and if you can collaborate and communicate and produce, you know, working from home and you can be part of a distributed team successfully. So that's been great to see how the work world has evolved based on what's happened around the world. Here's a question for both of you. If you could send a message back to yourself in early 2020, and other than what stocks to pick, what else would you say to be mindful of or to do differently?

Katherine Edenbach, CFO at Emburse: [00:17:27] I definitely would have made it a priority to switch as many customers as possible over to electronic payment methods. It was always something that was on our list of to-dos, but it just wasn't at the top. And one of our biggest hurdles during the pandemic was getting customers' checks because they were sending checks to offices that were no longer occupied. We had to get those checks forwarded. I was going into the office to pick them up. I had a lot of company mail coming to my house and it really ended up slowing down our cash cycle. So that obviously became much more of a priority during the pandemic. But if I could go back in time, that would have been something that I focused on a lot earlier in the process.

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:18:10] I think I would go back and go to as many concerts and as many sporting events as possible, and I would have gone to Disneyland because I've never been there. So besides that personal items, I think that I would have just gone back and told myself that no matter what happens, you're going to get through it. You have a strong team full of smart people and that you're going to overcome it. And we have wonderful vendor partners that we had great relationships with, such as Emburse that are going to hold our hand and get us through it and to make us better as an organization.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:18:39] Yeah, well, that's great to hear and I totally agree with you. And in retrospect, you know, I would have done that sooner had I known I was going to be on hiatus for a year or something like that. Well, Carrie and Katherine, it's really been a pleasure talking to you both. It's just amazing. You kind of just met each other briefly as we were prepping for this podcast. And it sounds like you've known each other for a while. There are so many things in common, our businesses. That's just great to hear. So thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.

Carrie Foster, CFO at Frontwave Credit Union: [00:19:05] You're welcome.

Katherine Edenbach, CFO at Emburse: [00:19:05] You're welcome.

Grant Johnson, CMO at Emburse: [00:19:06] And please stay tuned for our next Emburse on the mic episode. We're going to be talking about how digital transformation has impacted the entire area of spend management. And if you'd like to learn more about Emburse, please visit Emburse.com or send us a note to hi@emburse.com. That's "h" "i" at emburse dot com. Talk to you next time.