Businesses that regularly use analytics in finance aren’t just focused on the tools they need but understand how data-driven decisions are products of efficient analytical processes – from raw data to actionable insight.
Neha Mittal, the VP of Finance and Strategy at MarketInvoice, knows this well. She works with a company that offers business loans and invoice finance to small businesses, syncing their financial data with the MarketInvoice platform and using that information to offer business finance solutions to help grow businesses by providing capital flows.
Previously she had been a strategy consultant working to develop the MarketInvoice product suite, helping the sales and growth strategies. Now she is also the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for MarketInvoice – the first female fintech CFO of a firm in the UK.
Neha began her career as an engineer, getting her education from one of the best universities in India – the Institute of Technology in Delhi. She was one of three people who was recruited by Deutsche Bank, which was looking for people to work in its London office.
The technology-loving student picked up a taste for finance straight away. She says: “When I interviewed with Deutsche Bank, I wasn’t a finance expert by any means. But the great thing about finance is the logic and quantifiability of it – if you’re good with maths, numbers and analysing data, you can pick up a lot of the concepts very quickly.”
Blending tech and financials
Neha worked at Deutsche Bank as a trader for six years and with a team of three people, she launched the bank’s Fixed Income Exchange-Traded Funds (ETF) platform (which was the second largest in Europe).
She says: “Through the financial crisis, I helped grow and manage a £13bn portfolio [assets under management], which was immensely valuable as while everything was crashing, we were building something of value.
“Analytics was a big part of my role, as well as setting up pricing, exchange rates and databases. At a very young age I was growing the platform but also benefited from counsel from access to senior management. This helped accelerate my understanding and to raise the profile of the portfolio and drive more sales.”
Neha wanted to get away from day-to-day trading, so pursued an MBA at Wharton Business School to get formal training in finance. At the same time, she was working closely in the technology sector by setting up two start-ups of her own – Ambitioni, which concerned big data in career services, and Laddoo – an instant messaging platform for businesses.
“Fintech is helping real businesses”
From there, Neha joined MarketInvoice and the world of fintech, combining her passions for technology and finance, helping real businesses with real world problems.
She believes businesses from all industries should make the most of fintech. Neha says: “Fintech is exciting because it’s helping real businesses. When I was at Deutsche Bank, I could see the financial crisis unfold and how many businesses were operating in an old-fashioned way, with indecision.
“With fintech, your business can improve things, make things more efficient and allow themselves to use data to understand risk better.”
“Risk versus reward”
Data analytics is certainly the key. “Even if you look far in the past with finance, data has always been crucial,” says Neha. “Finance is all about risk versus reward and to understand risk properly, you need data. It’s happening now in all industries – you have a lot more access to data, which you can use to make better decisions.
“I’ve seen a wide range of technology used for analytics and reporting. From small businesses using Excel to the big Deutsche Banks that use ERPs, where everything is integrated. It depends on the size of the business.
“Financial reporting used to be simply about reporting and attention to detail, making sure everything was stable and safe. Now it’s a step beyond – you use big data and KPIs to make big business decisions.
“At MarketInvoice my team does the reporting, while I will look at these numbers and use them to make strategic decisions on pricing and what new markets we should be looking at. I work very closely with the CEO and CIO, making sure the business is going in the right direction.”
Evidence shows that there is embedded optimism among financial executives and a collective appreciation for what it takes to succeed with analytics, realising that batch processes and pre-built reports don’t cut it anymore. According to technology and services company Aberdeen, a clear majority of financial executives report having the highest level of maturity when it comes to analytics:
Source: Insight-ready Finance – How Mature is your Competitive Environment, Aberdeen Group
Importance of analytics in the finance world
Finance has long been associated with traditional reports and dashboards but today’s businesses need to be more sophisticated and mature with the way they use analytics. Essentially, you must understand data in today’s business environment.
Today, finance managers have a fiduciary duty to track and report on performance by accessing data from across the company – for example, sales data that fits the top line of the income statement, supply chain and operational data affecting cash flow, and the balance sheet that gathers information such as asset data and outstanding receivables.
Businesses that make the best use of analytics have common characteristics. These include:
1. The measurement and management of the right KPIs
According to Aberdeen, businesses with pervasive use of analytics in the finance department are three times more likely to have clear and consistent performance indicators in the form of KPIs, compared with other companies that have little or no KPI management. These companies can frequently measure and map KPIs to the overarching company business strategy.
2. People in non-technical skills that have analytical skill
In today’s businesses, you don’t have to be a business analyst or a data scientist to make use of data but it does help to have analytical skill and curiosity. Aberdeen says the top users of analytics are 2.4 times more likely to have people with strong analytical capabilities in non-technical roles.
3. Real-time data capture and analysis
The faster financial executives can gather, integrate and analyse data, the greater the benefit to the business. Those with a better depth of analytical usage in finance are 2.3 times more likely to have real-time data and analysis capabilities.
Cloud and AI are here to stay
Before the rise of fintech, the financial services industry may have been hesitant to adopt the cloud due to security concerns, as understanding of technology was limited. But things have certainly changed – in March 2017, the Cloud Industry Forum reported that the UK’s overall cloud adoption rate had reached a high of 88%, an increase of 5% from 2016.
The cloud is now central to innovation, with financial services perceived as being an industry that is particularly dynamic and cutting edge. It means there’s no need to build on-premise datacentres and servers, which means businesses don’t need to invest in dedicated hardware and software. Businesses can now buy into the infrastructure of a secure cloud service provider.
“The MarketInvoice system is completely based in the cloud,” says Neha. “That means we can scale, whether we’re serving 10 or 10,000 customers. In the future when we get 20,000 more, we can do that in the blink of the eye.
“We’re also heavily into machine learning, using the information we’ve gleaned from the businesses who have worked with us to make better decisions when it comes to risk underwriting with new customers that come to us for funding. And remember, technology like the cloud, AI and machine learning isn’t specific to fintech.”
A need for diversity in senior finance positions
According to the Financial Times, there is a gradual but notable increase in diversity at CFO level, although progression for female representation at CEO level remains sluggish.
According to data from investment support firm MSCI, out of 2,470 big global companies, 203 had a female Chief Financial Officer in 2016, just over 8% of the total. This was up from 6.8% in 2015.
However, Neha says: “We need more diversity in finance, with more people from different backgrounds coming in at a senior level. As a woman in a big business with a lot of resources like Deutsche Bank, you have lots of women at the junior level. Yet when it comes to VP level, you see a lot of them dropping out. We need to work hard to correct this and get more women in at board level.
“I have a young son, so I took a break for maternity. I was fortunate enough to come back and join MarketInvoice. I feel like a lot of women going on maternity will drop off and not get the same opportunities or support to get to senior positions.
“One thing that worked in my favour and will work for others is confidence. Half the battle is won if you believe in yourself and project yourself as somebody who can deliver and has a right to be at the table.
“The first battle is with yourself. You must believe in yourself that you have the experience and skill set to be there as much as anybody else. The second step is lots of networking – go out and talk to people and don’t sell yourself short. Create opportunities for yourself – it’s a simple truth that today, you still have to push harder as a woman.”