When CFO Bea Ordonez started out in finance more than two decades ago, she learned a valuable lesson from her manager. She was the most junior person on a consulting team when she realized a client had failed to make an important regulatory election. Her manager’s response to the crisis, Ordonez said last week in a CFO Thought Leader podcast, surprised her.
“She looked at it and said, ‘Well, Bea, look. We’re not doctors and nurses. It’s not life and death.’”
Today, Ordonez is CFO of OTC Markets Group, a major player in over-the-counter stock trading, and the lesson continues to resonate with her.
“It’s super important, obviously, what we do, and we take it seriously and I take it seriously,” she said. “But sometimes you need perspective. If you can drain some of the drama out of it, you’re better positioned to solve the problem. That advice I didn’t realize is as important as I do now. Take a step back. Almost everything can be resolved and, even if it can’t be, it’s not life and death.”
Keeping an old company new
The challenges Ordonez is facing these days have a lot to do with keeping the company thriving at a time when the over-the-counter trading market is evolving.
Two decades ago, the company operated in a market where trades were conducted with printed quotes and phone calls, and company information was scarce. Today, trades are conducted digitally and the company operates a market for about 10,000 U.S. and global securities, provides a suite of services for issuers and broker-dealers, and operates a licensing business for the market data its trading operations generate.
“We try to constantly adapt,” she said.
Key to staying relevant, she said, is not to assume your perspective is sufficient to understand what your customers want. Instead, you need to “really engage with them, really talk to them in an ongoing way to understand what their challenges are and to bring products and services out that help solve for those challenges. Unless you’re listening to them, and helping to solve their problems, you’re not going to make it.”
To help her stay on top of customer needs, she looks at sales and pipeline numbers, which shows the relative strengths of the company’s offerings, and churn and voluntary renewal rates.
“When we look at our most successful products, we have renewal rates that are in the 94-95% range, so we watch that closely, particularly when we make changes [to products] or to pricing.” she said. “It’s a good indicator of the utility we’re providing to issuers relative to the value.”
Since the company generates about 90% of its revenue through subscriptions or contract renewals, she also looks closely at annual recurring revenue (ARR), she said.
At a more granular level, she looks at the performance of individual units in its trading business. “We’re looking at the number of broker-dealer participants, what consolidation we’re seeing, the number of securities being quoted, and how many broker-dealers are quoting them,” she said. “In our market data business, we might be looking at the number of subscribers in terms of professional users, and then operating efficiency metrics, revenue per employee, and operating margin.”
Ordonez started out in London as a tax accounting consultant with Arthur Andersen and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Her first finance chief position, when she was in her 20s, was with a broker-dealer start-up in Bermuda.
“On paper, at least, I was woefully under-qualified for that role,” she said, but “I worked really, really hard and really learned the business from the ground up. There’s something about working for a startup that really gives you exposure to that business that you wouldn’t otherwise get at a more established firm. It really built my confidence in a lot of ways, and gave me exposure to the multifaceted aspects of building a business, from finance to operations to sales and so on.”
After helping to build the company into a 70-person operation, she was asked to relocate to Atlanta to help transition the company’s operations to the United States. She considers that experience particularly important to her professional development because she had to build a finance operation from scratch, relying mostly on young college graduates.
“What was great for me in terms of a formative experience was hiring all of those people, training them, watching them grow, which is really rewarding, and building a culture and creating a work ethic that even to this day I’m proud of,” she said.
The finance organization she oversaw provided support to operations in markets around the world, including in Asia, which meant having staff who could work through the night.
“I always made it a point to work some of those shifts at least some of the time and it was awful,” she said. “But it gave me an understanding of what the challenges were and it also, hopefully, showed my team I was there with them.”
When she moved four years ago to OTC Markets Group, a publicly traded company, her task was considerably different, since the finance team was already established.
“I really didn’t need to make any changes,” she said. “I have a great team, good processes to get all of [the reporting] done. So, for me it’s been about shifting the focus to provide better, more actionable data to the business lines, technology, management, and so on, and helping us drive forward to be a better organization. So, our key objectives are around alignment, better goal setting, and better resource allocation.”
Meeting those objectives will require her and her team to be nimble, because more changes are coming to the trading business.
“There’s a lot of disruption in terms of the exchange space generally,” she said, “new entrants, conflict between broker-dealers and exchanges, between exchanges and their regulator. So, there can be tremendous disruption to the market, and more specifically to our space.”
What’s more, the company’s regulator is looking at revamping its rules. “The [Securities and Exchange Commission] released a number of papers over the summer that touch on important aspects of our space,” she said. “That gives us a critical opportunity to continue to frame the market and how we serve people. It will be part of my focus … considering the impact of that.”