Leading the Finance Function at a Tech Company With Pinder Sekhon

In this episode of Spend Culture Stories, Pinder Sekhon, ex Sr. Director of Finance at Unbounce, gives advice for startups planning ahead. She explains how and why finance teams should implement automation, and outlines some of the upcoming challenges she sees tech finance leaders facing.

Here’s a secret: studying finance doesn’t mean you have to work for a finance firm (or even in a finance function). Every industry (and every department) needs money-minded experts.

Pinder Sekhon is currently the Vice President of Financial Planning and Analysis at insurance company Western Financial Group, but when she spoke to us for this episode, she was Senior Director of Finance at Unbounce, a platform for building successful landing pages.

Hear Pinder speak about leading the finance function at a people-first technology company based in Vancouver, Canada.

 

Introducing Pinder Sekhon, ex Sr. Director of Finance of Unbounce

Pinder Sekhon Headshot

 

 

 

💵 What she does: Vice President of Financial Planning and Analysis at insurance company Western Financial Group, formerly Senior Director of Finance at landing page-building platform Unbounce.

💡 Key quote: “There has to be a balance between control and empowerment.”

👋 Where to find her: LinkedIn


Listen to the episode here

Listen to Spend Culture: Stories of CFOs and Company Culture


Episode summary 

In this episode of Spend Culture Stories, Pinder gives advice for startups planning ahead. She explains how and why finance teams should implement automation, and outlines some of the upcoming challenges she sees tech finance leaders facing.

A quick glance at Pinder’s LinkedIn reveals just how many industries her financial credentials have opened up for her. She’s worked in hospitality and manufacturing in addition to insurance and tech. Her stint at Unbounce made it clear just how differently tech companies operate compared to more traditional industries.

“I found that it was too rigorous around spend culture [in traditional companies],” she says. “There’s got to be autonomy given to people to be able to make those decisions. You’ve given them a budget, you’ve given them a growth target — you have to also allow them to bring in resources to hit those targets.”

That’s not to say Unbounce didn’t benefit from Pinder’s time at those older companies. 

She says of the company’s spend culture, “It has evolved a lot over the past few years. In the past, it was a bit unrestricted. We’ve since implemented some more purchase controls and approval workflows. It’s more of a collaborative culture as opposed to everybody doing their own thing.”

Having conquered tech and traditional industries, Pinder shares her advice for automating finance. She also shares knowledge on guiding companies through spend culture changes.

Top takeaways from this week’s conversation

Automate processes wherever possible 🤖

“Work smarter, not harder” is more than just a motivational poster hanging in your boss’s home office. Automating financial processes not only means less paper to track, it helps bring everyone in the company onto the same page with regards to spending and expensing. 

At Unbounce, one of Pinder’s priorities was automating manual processes in the finance department. “And to make sure that we are agile and scalable and can really support the business with insight, analytics, and reporting,” she says. “We just implemented an ERP system and we’re working on optimizing processes and setting up analytics dashboards.” 

 

Establish processes with the future in mind 📈  

The nice thing about starting from scratch is that you can implement processes that not only help you grow now but will be easy to scale once that growth has actually happened. 

To finance professionals working in startups, Pinder advises, “Don’t think about what you’re doing right now: Think about what you want to do and make sure that you build your processes with that in mind.” Specifically, she recommends, “Implementing processes that are simple, but that will be efficient and that will get you to that future state.” 

If you’re not thinking ahead, she says, you’ll end up adding too many layers to every process, which will hold you back when you’ve evolved from your garage stage to having 100 employees leaving fingerprints on your systems.

 

The way companies interact with employees is changing 👔  

Speaking of looking ahead, Pinder predicts that over the next few years, tech companies — and their finance leaders — will have to reckon with changing expectations from employees. 

Tech is a highly competitive industry, and finding and retaining talented employees is going to get even harder. “Organizations really have to invest heavily in that culture and employee engagement,” Pinder says. 

Part of keeping employees happy post-2020 will likely involve a recalibration of the approach to remote work. “Being able to maintain productivity, making sure that employees are engaged and connected when you have distributed teams, and really leveraging technology will be important,” she says.

 

Top highlights from the podcast

How Unbounce bounced back from COVID-19

[5:06] “Unbounce as a whole really leaned into the values of empathy. We ramped up internal communications, staying connected virtually but also being mindful of boundaries between work life and home life, with people working from home. We adapted so quickly to remote work. We thought there would be some growing pains or challenges, but the office closed on a Friday and on Monday, we were up and running. So that was really helpful, and great to see.”

Re-adjusting Unbounce’s spend culture

[7:56] “Previously, managers had discretion and freedom to spend on tools and initiatives that were specific to their roles or teams as they saw fit. So if a department needed something, they would go get it, but there might have been another department that had a similar software or tool. There were purchasing controls in place, but they were limited. It didn’t necessarily lead to overspending per se, but having to manage a large number of software and tools that overlapped, and it was difficult.”

The flex in tech

[12:20] “Tech is much more flexible: The traditional industries have a more rigid culture. Managers are given more autonomy and empowerment in a tech company. And because of the agility that you get at a tech company, you can really impact change, whereas you look at some of the more traditional industries and there’s more bureaucracy or red tape that you have to go through to actually get things changed. It can be more top-down from some of these traditional industries, whereas in tech it’s more of a hybrid approach. I also think tech companies invest a lot more in culture and employee engagement than some of the traditional industries.”

Be bold, ask questions, and try things out

[14:04] “Being curious, experimenting, and being courageous are the traits I think people need in the tech industry. Experimentation is important: that really drives innovation. If you fail, it’s OK, you learn from it. And being courageous — making your convictions heard, expressing your point of view — is important as well. And then being curious: ask the questions and learn. Learning is how you innovate. If you don’t understand something or you don’t know something, talk to people. Do your own research, learn things.”

Democratize your data

[22:21] “An issue that comes with startups is that you have data all over the place in different systems, and the average department in an organization who needs to look at, say, customer behavior doesn’t know how to get that data. So setting up a single source of truth where that data can be democratized is important.”

Unmasking impostor syndrome

[27:03] “Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to our perception of who we are. You might have somebody going, ‘Wow, they’re great, they’re fantastic. This person is amazing,’ and you’re inside going, ‘I’m going to get fired because I think I did something wrong.’ Which is why feedback is important: Sometimes you don’t get that feedback from others that would help you realize, ‘Oh, I can do this.’”

 

Our favorite quotes

[2:38] “Just because you’re in finance doesn’t mean you have to go into a specific industry. It’s great because it gives you so much experience in so many different things.”

[6:14] “Being new in the tech industry, during the pandemic, I thought that if I’d been at one of my traditional industries that I was in before, I don’t know that this switch to remote work would have happened so quickly and without a lot of change management.”

[21:38] “The more processes you automate, the better, because automation automatically brings in financial control. So you’ve set yourself up for growth but you also have financial controls built in.”

[24:24] “A lot of why there’s resistance to change is because people don’t understand it. Being clear on why you’re doing this, what it will mean for the specific person or departments, how you’re going to get there, and what the impacts are is really important.”


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