When Omar Choucair joined financial-close software company Trintech five months ago as CFO, his priority was to help the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business make better use of its data, a task he undertook with his financial planning and analysis (FP&A) team.
"The data was available, but I wouldn’t say it was presented in a very digestible form," said Choucair, who started his career as a public accountant with KPMG. "So, we’ve been very focused on capturing and organizing the key elements of a SaaS so it’s in a form that people can really look at, and make decisions and say, 'Why did this happen last week or last month versus three months ago?'"
The tool he and his FP&A team designed enables executives to break down bookings, revenue, expenses and other metrics from a variety of perspectives.
"It’s the click down," he said this week in a CFO Thought Leader podcast. "'Okay, so now give it to me by business unit, and within the business unit, give it to me by the different service offerings.'"
The system is a work in progress, but at this point executives have access to a more useful analytical tool, Choucair says. "When the CEO and the executive team receive this information, they can quickly zero in on what the issue is as opposed to spending time going through 10 or 15 or 20 slides." he said. "I think that was really the key for the FP&A team to figure out: how do you get those golden nuggets out?"
To help put their data in perspective, he and his FP&A team compare it to the data of public companies they think are similar to Trintech.
"There are a lot of key performance indicators (KPIs) that we’re tracking with a peer set of companies in terms of our retention rates, attrition rates, growth rates, customer acquisition cost (CAC) and lifetime values (LTVs)," he said. "I think what’s great today versus a couple of years ago is that so many of these public companies are publishing their KPIs through their investor data sets or through their normal 10-k and 10-Q disclosures. There’s a lot of information that companies can mine in order to see how they’re doing versus everybody else."
Changing CFO role
Trintech was founded in 1987 and today operates as a SaaS business to help CFOs close their books faster and make it easier to get the data onto their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.
The company’s software complements the way the CFO office has been changing in recent years to be more strategic, he says, and gives CFOs a way to get a higher ROI out of their operations.
"It’s a rapidly growing space," he said. "A lot of opportunity in terms of how CFOs organize the financial close process, and how they can automate many of those processes to close the books faster."
In addition to financial metrics like revenue and expenses, he studies the non-finance metrics shedding light on the company’s sales pipeline.
"That’s probably the one area we need to spend more time in terms of all the metrics," he said. "The digital marketing spend, demand generation spend — all the spend into the marketing side, and really see how that plays through the sales pipeline."
Trintech’s customer success team is a user of the operational data he collects, and his goal is to bring together the financial and operational metrics in a way that will become more useful to customer retention and other goals.
"There can be a lot of benefit of merging the financial metrics with the operational metrics," he said. "We’re just on the front end to do that. First of all, [we need to] diagnose what that needs to look like and then go out and find the data and have it all in one platform so it’s repeatable and it’s accurate and do all that on a daily or weekly basis."
After working 10 years in public accounting at KPMG, Choucair joined Evergreen Media, a radio station owner, in the 1990s and helped it grow from 15 stations to 150 after the FCC relaxed rules on ownership.
"In the middle of all that were all the growing pains that a finance person would have," he said. "The need for capital, equity, and debt capital. There was the strain on the business in terms of rolling up the numbers, and back then there was not all the SaaS applications you have today, so most of it was done in the old-fashioned way of Excel spreadsheets."
After helping to prepare the company for acquisition by Clear Channel in the late 1990s, he moved to a number of technology companies as CFO, including one in which his head of FP&A, controller and assistant controller left days after he arrived.
"What I kept telling myself was, you’d get through it," he said. "Working 10 years at a big accounting firm, you get prepared for a lot of uncertainty and painful events, so it was unexpected but it wasn’t something that brought you down."
The experience showed him the importance of having a trusted team in place.
"Loyalty is critical," he said. "For me, it’s loyalty and competence. And the sooner you can find these two, the better off you’ll be."
The lesson helped him a few years later, when he was CFO of another technology company, where he revamped its sales driving tactics and compensated its distributed inside sales group.
"We engaged a couple of consultants to help us validate our assumptions and our objectives and what our outcome would be and then we launched," he said, but the effort led to soul-searching within the company because it took nine months rather than the three they thought it would take before they saw improvements to their profit and loss (P&L) sheet.
"It was painful for the company, but we just had to keep our eye on the prize," he said. "We realized there were some salespeople who weren’t going to quite make it, and some that needed to be heavily restrained. We went through all of that, and there was a lot of doubt, and issues with our performance.
"The whole business was saying, 'Well, the finance team really needs to get us through these hard times,'" he said. "Looking back, it was extremely painful. I’ve talked to other CFOs and CEOs and go-to-market on the sales team is one of the hardest transitions you can make."
Building a tool to better analyze company performance data, by comparison, might seem easy.