Technology has created new opportunities for finance executives – namely, allowing them to complete some tasks faster. However, according to Kate Bueker, chief financial officer at HubSpot, automation isn’t the “complete” answer. At HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales software company, finance professionals are combining the power of new technologies, such as data automation, with the insight and viewpoints of their team members. I recently talked with Kate about how finance executives should use these new technologies, what a CFO’s role should be in company culture and her advice for new female finance professionals.
Jeff Thomson: Technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing the everyday roles and responsibilities of finance professionals. What’s more, according to a study by Accenture Strategy, nearly all tasks in corporate finance departments will be automated within three years. How can a CFO and their team navigate rapid changes as they’re still being defined and make decisions in the face of ambiguity? As a first-time CFO, do you feel you’re at an advantage to make these decisions?
Kate Bueker: As part of our annual planning exercise, we’re taking a particularly hard look at the manual processes that exist today and prioritizing efforts to automate, which will be a continuous review moving forward. That being said, I don’t see automation as the complete answer, but rather a part of the answer that complements rather than replaces. When considering automation, it’s important to have a solid foundation of data and process and that you don’t try to solve things that are in flux.
Being new to HubSpot, I am actively learning the business and asking a lot of questions. This provides an opportunity for the whole team to take a fresh look at our current approaches and think about ways in which we can adjust to be more efficient and productive.
Thomson: While new software applications free up the finance department from repetitive and menial tasks, technology cannot replace the critical thinking skills of a veteran finance professional. As CFO, how do you balance using the new tools at your disposal against leaning back on your previous experience to make decisions and provide strategic insight?
Bueker: I recently read an article about how the Red Sox have integrated data into their team management, seeking more input of the analytics department on strategy issues. What I related to most was that manager Alex Cora doesn’t solely rely on the data and analytics team to make decisions, but rather his frequent outreach shows his need for numerous perspectives.
Data and analytics are tools that should be used as an input, not as a final answer. One needs to have the critical thinking skills to interpret and translate that data, while being able to marry that with an actual understanding of the business. Data doesn’t capture it all, so it’s imperative that we still layer in context, experience, competitive factors, etc. to make strategic decisions.
Thomson: HubSpot’s recent success and growth can be attributed to the successful conversions of its premium customers as well as an expanded number of subscriptions. However, your CRM software is available completely free. Does data analysis play a role in how the company decides which tools to include in its premium sales platform?
Bueker: Over the last few years, we have invested significantly in R&D in two crucial areas: expanding the HubSpot platform and moving towards a product-driven go-to-market motion. We refer to the latter investment as our premium model.
The goal of our freemium model is to reduce friction for our customers, making it easy for them to try before they buy, to get value from our software before we try to extract value with our paid products. We use analytics to tailor that process – to figure out what customers value, what encourages them to invite team members to use the software, and ultimately what encourages them to upgrade to our paid products.
Thomson: In your role as CFO you’re also heavily involved in the HubSpot’s culture. Why is it important for finance executives to play an active role in company culture? How does a strong company culture affect the bottom-line?
Bueker: A strong company culture can help to unite and motivate an organization as a whole. It’s the people that work here at HubSpot and the problems they get to solve on a regular basis on behalf of our customers that make our culture remarkable. The core of why people come to work every day is because of the autonomy they get to do their work and the transparency of the information we provide here at HubSpot – those are the real things that make someone love their job on a day-to-day basis.
Traditionally, the finance function is about control, but this doesn’t work in an environment of employee autonomy where we solve for the customer. Our Culture Code (which has 4 million views to date) acknowledges that long-term financial success ensures that the company will thrive and be better positioned to deliver value to our customers. We want our employees to think like CEOs and make smart choices that are rooted in return-on-investment (ROI). Finance plays a role in making sure that this decision-making framework is understood.
Thomson: You’re also co-Executive Sponsor of Women@HubSpot, which empowers women in tech and supports professional development through trainings, workshops, events and more. The business climate is not without its challenges, but women today have more voice and opportunity than those of previous generations. What advice would you give to a female professional beginning her career in finance?
Bueker: It’s important for women to have a voice and a space to share experiences, discuss the challenges of being a woman in the tech industry, talk about shedding the gender norms/biases, and collectively discuss how to empower women to advance their careers, be more confident negotiators and to advocate for other women. My hope is that my experience in the industry can help to empower women in their careers – both at HubSpot and beyond.
In terms of my advice, it would actually be the same for everyone, male or female. I would encourage all to try lots of different things and get a variety of experience. I have seen a lot of people obsess with upward movement (promotions) and therefore get very specialized with limited opportunities in the long run. As you become more senior, it’s important to understand a variety of perspectives and be able to think through impact across multiple dimensions.
Additionally, finding and/or creating a supportive network is really important throughout your career. Having people you can trust and can bounce ideas off of will help you to grow better.
This article originally appeared on FORBES