How Square is building a world-class finance organization

March 17, 2021 | 5 minute read
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By Ajmere Dale, Chief Accounting Officer, Square

How should CFOs and their finance teams deal with the accelerated pace of change these days?  For my boss, Square CFO Amrita Ahuja, finance can guide the business better through disruption if it executes on three key mandates:  

  1. Allocate your capital appropriately. Invest for the long term in your people, your platforms, your processes and your tools to drive efficiency and build products faster.
  2. Supply real-time insights to the organization to make thoughtful decisions.
  3. Moderate risk for the organization. As Amrita puts it, you can’t be bold until you know what risks you are facing and find opportunities to mitigate them.

My goal at Square is to build a world-class finance function that helps guide the business through disruption today and is bold enough to invest in future innovations that will keep us at the forefront of the global payments industry.  Amrita and I recently had the chance to speak at several Oracle CFO events on the topic of how finance can support business model innovation. We shared our experience and best practices driving innovation at Square.

Mandate # 1: Allocate your capital appropriately

Being bold is a way of life at Square—starting back in 2009, when Jack Dorsey founded the company with an idea he sketched on a napkin to give small businesses access to payment card networks. Today, we own a portfolio of 30+ products, from hardware and software tools like the Square Register and Reader, which enable sellers to meet buyers regardless of location, to financial services such as CashApp to help individuals gain more control over their money.

Our job within Square’s finance team is to enable product innovation to flourish yet provide the guardrails of what’s possible within the construct of a public company and our reporting requirements. We’ve been investing heavily in finance modernization at Square to create a world-class workplace where finance talent comes to learn how to support business model innovation—and be the next CFO at an industry disruptor.

Part of nurturing the next generation of CFOs and accepting investment risks means making sure your finance teams know that they won’t be criticized for making a mistake. The culture here at Square centers on learning from our mistakes. When something goes wrong, we hold a cross-functional meeting called a retro: we talk about how to fix the issue going forward, and then we publish the results across the company. We don’t bury our mistakes here—we bring them to light and celebrate them as opportunities to grow. I haven’t seen that sort of discipline and transparency at other companies, and I think it’s what helps people here feel like they are more than just employees. They feel a connection to this place because of the trust that is put in them.

Mandate #2: Supply real-time insights to the business

At Square, we are focused on institutionalizing processes so that we don't have information trapped in individual people's heads, but rather have that information readily available in our tools and in our software.  We're focused on automating manual processes, so that we can free up people's time to think about strategic work that enables bold innovation and growth. We also think about how we disseminate and decentralize data and insights and information. We don’t want just a privileged few to have access to that data and insights. We want it to be more distributed across the company, so we can quickly make localized decisions that help drive our business forward.

Here are some of my team’s favorite features of Oracle Cloud ERP that help us democratize information and make better decisions:

Cloud-enabled scenario planning: With the pandemic, it's been especially important for us to run multiple scenarios. Different geographies have different quarantine requirements, so our sellers have been impacted in different ways. Oracle Cloud EPM offers powerful scenario planning so we can see how new product launches and existing products might perform under different conditions. And with a single source of truth accessible to everyone, we don't need to spend time building consensus around the right numbers.

Turnkey reporting: As Square continues to innovate, we're always looking at user feedback to see how we can improve our products while maintaining profitability. Decision makers need to monitor KPIs without waiting for IT’s help to run reports. With Oracle Cloud ERP, our business users can create and automate their own reports, so they get the data they need to make timely, informed decisions, whenever they need it and wherever they may be working.

Supply chain management: Before migrating to the cloud, we lacked end-to-end visibility into our supply chain. Instead, we cobbled together a number of tools that didn’t offer a complete perspective on costs and revenue. Everything was batch processed, so we weren’t getting real-time visibility into how our hardware products were performing. Meanwhile, coordinating supply across different contract manufacturers around the world was a time-consuming manual process. Now, we can see the levers that drive demand and build a supply chain to quickly meet customer needs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner; this information flows directly into our financials for complete visibility.

Mandate #3: Moderate innovation risk for the organization

We have 30+ products and services across our portfolio to support small businesses and individual investors. Just within Cash App, we have fractional share trading and cryptocurrency. It’s important that we can measure profitability, especially when a product is new, to see how it’s performing. Do we double down on that investment based on the financial metrics? Capturing that information on Oracle Analytics Cloud really helps us focus and address those concerns. We get feedback from early adopters to see how we can iterate on products and continue to innovate to stay ahead of where the market is going.

Drawing inspiration from Oracle@Oracle

In 2019, I had the opportunity to attend the Oracle@Oracle Experience at Oracle OpenWorld, during the days when we still met in person and exchanged ideas face to face. I learned how Oracle used its own Fusion Cloud applications to transform Oracle across all its lines of business, especially within finance. Oracle is the fastest filer in the S&P 500 today, closing the books and reporting earnings in 10 days. That benchmark serves as an inspiration for my team about what’s achievable using Oracle Cloud applications. The emerging technologies embedded in those application automate routine tasks, so that we aren’t spending half of the quarter reporting on the past but using that time to focus on supporting new product and service innovations at Square.

To attract the best accounting talent, we've got to provide the best tools. Oracle Cloud ERP has helped eradicate a lot of the manual aspects of my team’s jobs. They can work on more strategic, interesting projects and be a business partner to the rest of the organization. At Square, we already leverage artificial intelligence and machine language in our offerings, so it’s natural for us to take advantage of those technologies from Oracle. For example, we're looking at using intelligent document recognition (IDR) technology to automate a lot of our AP processing.

Oracle and Square share a joint commitment to leveraging AI and machine learning to automate the mundane so that finance professionals can focus on being co-creators of enterprise value. Knowing this gives me confidence that I can make Square finance a destination for future CFOs wanting to experience how we support innovation, transparency, trust, and economic empowerment.

Learn more about how finance is supporting innovation at Square:

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