Why Finance Leaders Should Stay Informed, Connected, and Humble
In this episode, Kingsley Chan, Director of Finance at Finn Ai shares his insights on what makes a forward-thinking, strategic finance leader, and why being informed, connected, and humble and keys to success. In addition, he shares his remote work tips on how Finn Ai was able to adapt with agility to the downturn.
Speakers: Kingsley Chan, Director of Finance, Finn Ai
Kingsley Chan, CPA, CA is currently the Director of Finance at Finn AI with 14 years of work experience in a variety of company sizes and sectors. With experience in public companies to private companies, the energy sector to the technology sector, he is currently heavily involved in the Vancouver startup scene specializing in scaling companies for hyper-growth. An alumni from UBC’s Sauder School of Business, he is both a mentor of CPA students and a creator looking to disrupt the information flow within the finance tech realm through Disrupt Finance, an organization he co-founded. On the side, he founded an apparel brand called The Uglies Brand, which looks to inspire self-confidence by preaching “you are safe to be who you are, we all have our inner uglies.”
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I would love to understand how you would personally describe the spend culture of Finn Ai What are the attitudes, beliefs and policies that you’ve built for your team around spending?
Ask Yourself – Will It Create Value? Will I Spend This if it Was My Own Money？
[00:02:26] Kingsley: I’ve kind of worked in different companies where we’ve had policies where if you need it, buy it, and I’ve been in companies where there’s no spending smart, don’t buy it, we don’t have money for it. I guess Finn AI is kind of hybrid of both, and aside from the boring stuff like departmental budgets and department heads in a nutshell I guess I always my mantra is if it was your own money, would you spend it? Do you think this is going to create value for you in your workplace or the business as a whole?
So Finn AI has been working pretty well. I mean, we’re a pretty tight-knit group, and I’ve never had issues where saying no to someone for something that they spend and giving them that spiel of like, “Hey, you know, if this was your money, would you buy?” They’re like, “Hmm, probably not.” So I’m like, “Great. Then let’s pass on this and we’ll revisit it at a different moment, maybe when we have a bit more extra spending cash.”
I love that because it kind of gives the employees responsibility for the company’s resources, and they really have to think twice. That’s really awesome. So how did they normally send out a request? Is that you normally through like an email or do they walk over to your desk (before COVID)?
[00:03:39] Kingsley: I guess there’s not a whole lot of desk walking nowadays, but – I think in a perfect world we would leverage like a great piece of software like Procurify to do that. I know you guys do a good job of sort of initiating the approval process surrounding spending. And then, instead of just spending and then asking for forgiveness, what expense have I done, you guys have the pre-approval process which is really amazing.
Unfortunately, we haven’t really gone to that level of sophistication, and we’re kind of running and kicking it old school. It’s either emails, slack, running through your department head, and then they kind of come through me for the ultimate payment or the decision making. It’s not the best answer or process, I guess. But I mean, it seems to work. Possibly down the road, we will explore integrating a good piece of software to sort of manage that process.
Totally. And I think this is always something that’s pretty interesting to hear from leaders in finance where it’s like when is the right time to actually implement something? When is it too early? So what do you think of the signs around this?
[00:04:42] Kingsley: Company size, and to the point that when it’s such a headache that you find yourself running through emails all the time saying, “Yes, no, yes, no,” compared against your budget. When you start to have all these meaningless conversations, I think that’s when it’s a good time.
At a different place when we implemented Procurify, that’s kind of like the thought process behind that. It was the amount of time spent answering questions and answering yes or no to all these requests. They just got to the point where we want to push the autonomy onto the department because it was taking up too much time. We hired people good people and we want to trust them.
Here’s your spending allotment. Do as you please with your team. Don’t come back to me for every small yes or no. We set thresholds, of course, but I think that’s kind of like common sense. When headcount goes up, and when the Finance Department has had it up to here with approving those small expenses, I think that’s a great time to look into a different tool to help manage this spending process.
What priorities did you have to shift at Finn Ai due to the downturn? How did you adapt?
[00:06:25] Kingsley: I think it’s no secret that everyone has been hurting. And when you see something like this COVID happening, everyone’s kind of holding their breath and holding their dollars a bit tighter. So we did. We cut a few things mostly surrounding the employee education budget and delaying some headcounts. So I mean, definitely it wasn’t easy because every department head wants to look out for their team. They want to maximize the amount of productivity and not kill their own team doing it, and a lot of that comes down to headcount or tool software. And a lot of those had to be delayed from an organizational whole we had to cut spend on budgeting — sorry for the education budget, which sucks. But and you know, a lot of times like my CEO, he would apologize to the team, saying like, “Hey, sorry, we’re going through a tough time. We don’t know yet the uncertainty.”
And then I’d chime in and say like, “Hey, guys, at the end of the day, let’s keep in mind that we’ve had zero layoffs.” We’re in a pretty good financial position and that’s our number one priority. We want to keep people employed. We’re happy with the people here and we want to keep paying you guys full top dollar. I know some companies went to a four day work week. Some companies that people who had taken pay cuts from the upper management. But we’ve been 100% status quo, so I remind people like, “I get it, it’s not fun, but let’s take a look at the bigger picture.” so I think that’s the win in my books.
This interview is taken from an episode of the Spend Culture Stories podcast.
If you’re interested in hearing more stories from other forward thinking executives, you may enjoy these Spend Culture episodes:
- Ryan Lazanis of Future Firm on forward-thinking accountants in the new normal
- Suzanne Shiflet from Gym Launch on running a remote finance team
- Nilly Essaides from The Hackett Group on measuring the impact of finance digital transformation
For more tips on remote work practices for accounting teams and finance leaders, check out:
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