Led by finance: Juggling finance challenges of a fast-growing company

After 14 years in the finance departments of multinational tech companies, Pip Spibey, FCMA, CGMA, took on the challenges of integrating a startup with aggressive growth targets.
Pip Spibey, FCMA, CGMA

The CFO of Travelport Locomote has her work cut out for her.

Pip Spibey, FCMA, CGMA, took on the role in January 2016, when UK-based Travelport and Australian startup Locomote teamed to simplify the approval, booking, and expense management for corporate travellers worldwide.

At the time, she had worked 14 years in the finance departments of multinational tech companies, four as financial analyst at Xerox and Dell, and ten in various finance director roles based across the globe including financial planning and analysis for Travelport in the UK.

Spibey is now based in Melbourne. At Travelport Locomote, she heads the finance function of a business that increased revenue 175% in Australia in its first year and aims to accelerate its growth globally. In a company expanding that quickly, her main focus is to ensure financial stability and efficiency, Spibey said.

Risk management, controls, cash management, and a keen eye on profit are key to efficiency as she juggles the challenges of a fast-growing company, she said.

Risk management. To stay ahead of the curve, Travelport Locomote tries hard to balance employees' freedom to experiment and make mistakes with the necessity of cost controls. The company has a rewards system that encourages employees to pursue ideas by offering them time off from regular work activities to experiment with new service and product prototypes through digital simulation, and complimentary meals at a restaurant or movie tickets.

Cash flow management and cost controls. She and her team check the cash flow regularly to ensure Travelport Locomote can pay suppliers on time and follow up with outstanding debtors. Liquidity is important particularly in a technology startup where costs tend to be high and revenue tends to be low for the first few years, so this needs to be managed closely, with flexibility to delay costs or reduce them if required. To carry off this balancing act effectively without damaging supplier and customer relationships, Spibey relies on frequent reports. For example, she receives cash forecasts weekly, monthly, and quarterly.

She has implemented a purchase order system, so Travelport Locomote has improved on spending and can ensure the correct level of approval is gained. She has also implemented an accounts payable timetable to eliminate ad hoc payments and better manage cash outflows.

The team has increased focus on measures such as days sales outstanding and streamlined the company's bank accounts and approval requirements for making payments. Spibey has also implemented monthly cost centre reports to senior leadership so the team has visibility and responsibility over its own department's spend rather than managing everything centrally.

Accountability. At Travelport Locomote monthly results are posted on white boards and on touch-screen monitors mounted on the walls of a communal area. That includes results of marketing campaigns, sales, roadblocks, priorities, and projects completed.

"We're very open as a management team," Spibey said. "Everything is displayed at all times for all [employees] to see." Clients do not have access to the area, she said.

To further increase accountability, Travelport Locomote also holds lunch-and-learn sessions to teach finance basics to nonfinance employees. One such lesson, for example, is on accounting rules that apply to government grants available to innovating tech companies.

Knowledge sharing is key in a fast-growing company and inherent to Travelport Locomote's culture. The company has implemented collaboration software by Atlassian called Confluence that allows all employees to share and edit information, encouraging new ways of doing things and fostering innovation. It also provides a reference library for new employees as well as a central hub of information on company policies that can be updated as required.

Internal controls. Filling out expenses is time-consuming, receipts get misplaced, and employees often categorise expenses incorrectly. To help clients manage travel expenses and ensure the correct level of control is in place, Travelport Locomote has partnered with a US-based expense company (Expensify) not only to complement its internal systems, but also to provide a full end-to-end solution for customers.

Employees take a photo of their expense receipts. The company uses software that scans data such as the date of the expense and the amount spent from the receipt and automatically categorises it, which means the only information employees have to enter manually is the name of the guest they entertained at the meal they are expensing.

Ultimately, Travelport Locomote is leveraging technology to reduce human error and improve internal controls at the same time as reducing the burden on employees.

"We look for technology to make things easier," Spibey said. "That's our priority."

Sabine Vollmer is an FM magazine senior editor. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact her at Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com