Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. Our guest for episode 43 is Hiten Keshave CFO, entrepreneur and established leader in finance. And it's conversation with Mitch, Hiten shares his perspective relating to automation, job creation, innovation, and the overall mindset of a successful finance leader. Let's hear his insights now.
So I know looking at your LinkedIn, one of the things you have in your title is mind shift leader. So in your opinion, when it comes to accounting and finance or just business in general, you know, how do we need to shift our mindset when it comes to artificial intelligence and the disruption that it has caused in accounting and finance.
The key aspect from a finance individual versus artificial intelligence. Now there's been a whole talk about it being a replacement of individuals and the current roles that people play. And so people are going to become obsolete in the work place. I don't think that's necessarily the case. What will actually happen is there will be a transition, the change of roles that individuals will play in business. The mindset will change to how am I going to stay relevant? What this transition of technology that comes in. And I use the example of, Excel, you know, and accounting back in those days, the general ledger is all done on paper. Those big 80 size books. And then, the introduction of, Excel came in and things just started to be done electronic, but the individual didn't become obsolete. All they did was they changed the skillset to become more relevant with time. So I think that mind shift aspect is, stay away from the negativity that, indulges around the environment and focus on well, how you can in and make yourself relevant.
Besides helping, you know, really in my opinion, I think the automation helps the accountant today. what other further positives do you think this automation, artificial intelligence, RPA has to offer to the profession?
Look, I think a RPA in itself is going to, besides efficiencies and productivity, it's going to come ultimately to a bigger business perspective from a decision making as big, you know, you will have information readily available for you to analyze, make better decisions from, look at analytics, you know, descriptive analytics, predictive analytics, using artificial intelligence based on historic data that's set in your, if you have a technology with old one to have a customer or revenue later data, you know, it extracts a extrapolate storage movement to use some prediction going forward. And you can then apply commercial acumen to that to say, you know what, okay fine, this is what's happened in the past. But going forward, things actually changing autonomy wise. So I think it's going to make businesses more proactive rather than reactive.
Well, I know making business more proactive and I told you before this call, I enjoy following you on LinkedIn and all your articles and posts. One of the things I saw was the “disruptive leader”. So is that something that you coined yourself or is that something you picked up from somebody?
I've tried to coin as many of these things myself, but there might be others who described the message in their own way.
Well, I think it's right in alignment with what you're talking about here and you know, being able to take these insights and lead the business through. So can you just kind of explain to our listeners here what you actually mean by a disruptive leader.
Look, in context to the AR, RP, RPA side? You know, I look at a disruptive leader, someone who's going to be visionary and old thinking, you know, someone who is going to look, you know, what can I do better going forward rather than, what is it that I need to do now? So thinking in the future rather than thinking in the present moment only. So, you know, often we get told to live in the present moment. But that's not only enough now with technology coming in and especially if you're a technology company, which is where I play, you know, we always have to think what is it that we can do better for clients in order to keep our business and product more relevant in that instance is do we have to introduce artificial intelligence in our own product itself that we deliver to our clients to make their lives easier and to make ourselves more relevant? You know, those are the type of aspects that, you need to look at it. So as a visionary leader, you need to look both internally but also externally in terms of delivery to your customers as well.
And now how does this, it kind of changed the benchmarks or the measure of success of the finance team when everything is not so internally focused and you know, looking at the right now, but more in the future, how do you measure that?
Look, I think there'll be certain basics that the finance team will still need to do deliver in terms of what they do today or where I think the key aspect will come in is what is finance now able to do with day financial data to make business decisions more effective from an operational aspect and a strategic aspect. How does a financial individual uses commercial acumen and strategic acumen, but improve a business other than being a backend office person, only be an office person who able to add very in a proactive manner in a strategic, a general of the business or in an operational one. So you know, there's this old term about finance business partnering. It's a big buzzword that's going around. Essentially the crux of it is don't sit on your laurels and only thinking of finance aspect. Start thinking broad based on a whole business perspective. And I look at it these, you know, if you're a CFO and you want to transition into a CEO role. You actually need to know your business holistically. And I think that's the role ultimately, that the CFO and the finance individuals will start playing.
So leading into my next question right there, I know, the role of the CFO has changed and there's a lot of talk about that. You mentioned business partnering. So in your terms, you know, who really is the modern CFO and what can we expect from that role to change even more as the industry continues to progress.
Okay. Your modern CFO for I would say is a copilot or a CEO or managing director over the business. Essentially that individual for me in the future or even currently needs to have a good understanding commercially of how business works and operation so that they can apply or provide the correct strategic guidance around decisions being made from a business perspective that have financial implications. And, I'll look at it, in the instance that from a process perspective, you know, technology is there to help enhance and, efficiencies and productivity in a business. Usually finance are the gatekeepers when it relates to implementing technology within a business, but for finance needs to understand this is not only a cost, the specter of what's the long term benefits and goals behind having such an implementation, you know, business intern. And in the same way, you know, from a product perspective if you're doing development on a technology product. You know finance guys always want to say, what's my ROI? How am I going to be making that money back? You know, from my client, which is the fair question. But at the same time, sometimes client retention, there's a massive pot from a bigger perspective and we need to understand that part of sales and marketing. Where does the client a relationship aspect put into play?
So I guess to wrap this conversation up, you know, how does all of this tie into personal or individual results? You know, how can somebody really, use what you've talked about so far today, start to develop their skills, prepare for the future, and ultimately be successful in business today?
Okay. I think individuals need to understand way the trend of the job profile that they want to see themselves playing in goals. So what is it currently, what it predicted to happen. So you're going to have to do some research, especially if you're young, you know, and you're getting into a finance field in itself. I look at a lot of guys that I mentored here locally who are CA's, a chartered account, in South Africa and a lot of them question and ask, you know, do I stay in the auditing field or do I go into a corporate world? What is it that's going to make me relevant to go into a corporate world? And a lot of that comes down to, I say you can't sit yourself into a traditional backend office role anymore. You need to start showing the necessary initiative. Having the right attitude become holistically involved in a business or wanting to learn and grow within a business and not just within a finance department itself. I think that's going to be the key outcome from individuals.
What do you attribute your learning curve to? You know, and as you were coming into a finance and where did you learn to come up with this kind of insight that you are now able to offer to mentees?
So look, when I qualified as a CA off to articles, I essentially started my own businesses and so I went the whole entrepreneurial route. So, basically dive into the deep end of a swimming pool and had sold myself out and understand what it is to make a business successful, running it from scratch. So I come with a finance background, but I don't come with, much commercial and, business acumen, you know. So I actually learned that the hard way and you know, after successfully selling businesses and relocating it to South Africa in Johannesburg, I got back into the corporate role. So I took that knowledge and I was able to get into a CFO role at a young age of 28, you know, in a global technology organization purely based on having gone to that whole journey of not only having stuck into the financial but being play, having played in the commercial and strategic roles as well. So that whole aspect as a driven my journey and my success will find my career.
And this is my last question, but what is it about finance that you, I believe really serves as a great foundation to enable somebody like yourself to just jump into some entrepreneurial endeavor and find the success. How does finance really support what you need to be successful in business?
You know, every decision you make in business ultimately as a financial impact, and that understanding that financial impact and how it's going to affect the future of your business is cool. I think that's the key fundamental decision, that or key fundamental character of being a financially finance individual with an entrepreneurial background, you know, that, is of a benefits. So you know, any individual who wants to venture out into that space, they take a lot of, knowledge with them in terms of being able to say, yeah, financially this decision is right, is not right. You know, just purely based on a return on investment perspective on putting it out there. But then when you combine it with the business acumen and the commercial acumen around it, then you get a holistic view to say, okay, fine, a return on investment may only be five years. But holistically, that ROI can, you know, double the value of our business in that five years’ time. So let's think long term and not short.
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