Early Growth Financial Services Uses Accounting Automation Bill.com to Help Them Win
Every week, Vic.ai marketing and podcast guru and host Joshua Feinberg talks to industry leaders in the accounting world to get their take on how automation, AI and technology are transforming the profession.
But more than just getting entrepreneurs and executives to talk in sound bites, he does an amazing job of getting them to open up about the hardest part of deploying technology: the specific how to's.
In this introductory podcast episode, Joshua sat down with Tina Gregory, Systems Manager and Consulting CFO at Early Growth Financial Services, to discuss the automated accounting payment software Bill.com (side note: Bill.com also happens to be one of our integration partners). At Vic.ai, as a provider of automated, AI accounts payable processing, we’re big fans of finding ways to eliminate paperwork and reduce inefficiencies.
Tina explains how an outsourced or fractional CFO might work with their clients in both the beginner and power user stages to make Bill.com work for them - both on the AP and AR side of things.
If you’re a consulting CFO looking for step-by-step ways to better work with your clients and help them leverage their accounting tech stack so that you can focus more on client advisory, this podcast is for you.
Enjoy the episode!
This episode has been lightly edited for clarity
What’s More Important Than Saving Time With Your Accounting Tech Stack? Accuracy
Tina, thanks so much for joining me today. What I wanted to start with is learning a little bit more about Early Growth Financial Services and your role within the company, how you progressed, how you ended up in your current role. So can you give us a little bit of history?
Yeah, I'll give you a brief history, thank you. And thanks for this opportunity to talk with you, it's great to see you again.
Early Growth’s been in operation for over 11 years. So we saw the last downturn too. I've worked my whole life in operations - in accounting and operations and director of investor relations for some public companies. The operations part is very much focused on really good processes to save time. And more importantly than just saving time is to be accurate.
When you've got that background in operations, you start to realize how important it is to do things right the first time. And anything that can help you do that is better for you is going to have better results for your stakeholder, whether it's the next department, if you're in a manufacturing environment or it's your client if you're in accounting. I've worked for more years than I want to count as an operating CFO and I'm currently the consulting CFO and the systems manager for Early Growth. So I hope that's helpful.
Yeah, it definitely is. So today I want to talk a little bit more about how you use Bill.com and how your clients use Bill.com.
How did you originally decide to use that as part of your core platform, as part of your core tech tech stack?
Great question. Bill.com is literally one of the very first systems that Early Growth solidified around. We're very much focused on - our firm, you know, understands that every client has a unique profile, so it's not just a standard stack that we put together for every single client.
We designed the systems around the client's needs, what industries they're in, their product life cycle, the organization's life cycle. But we did find early on there are certain platforms that have very well-built workflows. Just really insightful, thorough and it's kind of like, I like to call it the difference between an app and a platform, right? An app can do one thing and it does it great, but then the actual platform does the function and everything affiliated with that function very well.
And we found that Bill.com really did meet those needs both on the AP and on the AR side because you know, when accounting is ‘control,’ it's very important for us to have visibility. Very important for us to have really good accounting controls.
And then critically important is that we have to have systems that seamlessly integrate with other key systems and Bill.com just met all of those requirements from inception. And it continues to advance its capabilities. But this is going back - I've been with Early Growth for about seven years and Bill.com was there before me. So definitely a really impressive workflow and that's what we look at.
Just Starting Out? Sync Up and Reconcile Your Accounting Systems
Awesome. What would you say is your favorite tip that you would give to somebody that's just getting started with Bill.com? Something that you've encountered over the years that a lot of people that are new may not know about?
Okay, that's a really good question. I think the key thing - two key things, can I say two? Okay.
The first one is systems are meant for and they're designed to sync together. So really important is to make sure that you go through the setup process with Bill.com, that you do that first sync, so you pull in the chart of accounts, go through Bill.com’s process. It's very thorough and it'll set you up for success. So for a beginner, that's my number one tip.
The second tip, it seems really obvious, but it's also very important. Be sure if you're a beginner that you're reconciling the Bill.com accounts. Bill.com money in and money out every month as part of your monthly close process. Not because the system's going to make a mistake and not because you're gonna make a mistake, but it's just to keep everything aligned. And I do see a lot of folks that don't do that and then you know, three or four months down the line it's like ‘Man I think I've voided that check and now I've got this inbalance.’ The account should not be out of balance.
So those are my, if I can have two, those are my two recommendations.
The two favorite tips for beginners is to start by synching up everything and then making sure that you're always reconciling what's coming in and coming out monthly.
Exactly, on a monthly basis. Just make it part of your monthly close process. Just like you reconcile a bank account, you reconcile your PayPal account, reconcile your Bill.com accounts if you're using - and do both cause Bill.com is AR and AP. So make sure those things are reconciled.
Leveraging Built in, Automated Workflows
Cool. So at the other end of the spectrum, if you're at a conference and you're giving a session to Bill.com power users. What’s one of the more interesting tips, workarounds, ways to get more out of the platform that you've discovered over the years that someone that's been using Bill.com for three, four or five years or more may not know about?
Good, good question. A couple of things. First, definitely leverage the approvals workflow that's available in Bill.com so that you can literally set up if two people have to take a look at something and, for good accounting control it has to go through two people over a certain dollar amount. You can leverage that workflow so well in Bill.com and save yourself a lot of emailing back and forth and questions. So that's number one.
Number two is the ability in Bill.com to switch the order of the bills. You know, sometimes you get somebody entering or scanning in a bunch of bills and the last page comes first? Sometimes you dump that in and the approver’s like, ‘I can't tell what you put in here.’ Make sure you can order the pages. You can select the pages right on Bill.com that you want to include when you're entering a bill. Definitely leverage that.
The other thing I would, for a power user, the other thing I would recommend is, if you're using Bill.com in conjunction with a manufacturing or an inventory system, take a really close look at whether you want two-way or one-way sync. Normally you're gonna want one-way sync because there's item receipts coming in. So really do a good job of setting that up with your inventory system and understand the interface between the two.
And then lastly, and this is another one and then the last one I would say is if you're a power user, absolutely. If you can set up a system where you've got one repository for an expense submission and tracking, another repository for everything that's being paid out of the company, literally everything, and use Bill.com for that - and then sync everything over into your master accounting system. The reason to do that, boy, at the end of the year when you've got to file 1099’s, all you do is you go into whatever 1099 platform you're using and you can literally just download, you know, sync over, download the Bill.com information. If you've done a good job of keeping your W-9 and vendor numbers in there and you've done a good job of putting ‘EXP’ in front of something that's a reimbursement, your 1099 process is so much simpler than trying to use it in the master accounting system.
Because Bill.com’s keeping track of what went out on the AP side.
They are on the AP side. And also, with Bill.com, your vendors can change their bank information themselves. It's not like they've got to come to me and I've got to change it. So they in that case could upload W-9’s, let you know their address change, let you know their business name may have changed and you'd better get another W-9. Because of that capability and the direct communication line inside Bill.com, because you can write to the vendor and say, ‘Hey, I need a new W-9’, those capabilities for power users I think are very, very helpful. Time savers.
Again, just really leveraging the built in workflow in the platform.
Your Technology Systems Have to Talk to Each Other
It sounds like the tip as well about the manufacturing systems and inventory tracking systems would be hugely helpful too, to make sure that you understand who’s like the master on the data?
Exactly Joshua, exactly. We've seen - it's not that there's issues but the more systems that have to talk to each other, the more you have to start looking at what the impact of the syncs and the flows of information are going to look like. So I'd say probably 80% of the time, if we're syncing up with an inventory system and reusing Bill.com, we're gonna really want to look at maybe moving to a one-way sync so that the master accounting system is the one that is governing the data. Because again, like I said, if you, if you've got this corollary inventory system out there, it's sending over item receipts and unless you're really, you know, unless you're really paying attention to what's coming over into your other systems, there can be mistakes made.
Scaling Your Practice with Automated Accounting
So how do you figure this out with a new client? What’s your exploratory process workflow? Is there like an audit that you go through initially - how do you figure out what's the right answer?
Yeah, so exactly what you said, it's kind of like an audit. We have an onboarding call, we make sure we have the benefit just as your company does of always having some conversations before we engage with a client. So we have kind of an idea of what their structure is, what their focus is, what their challenges are. But then we also have an onboarding call.
And right on that onboarding call we're live discussing and setting up systems, whether it's a system already in place that the client's using and we need to figure out how that's going to work with other systems. Or, if we're doing a raw clean setup and we have mixes of both or partial or sometimes a transition, a system that's really just not working very well or, or maybe spreadsheets that aren't working right.
So during that process, we are looking at, ‘Okay, you're going to use this particular general ledger system as your master system. You're going to use Bill.com for AP and AR or just AP. And that's the platform you're gonna use, fill in the blank and other system for expenses where you're manufacturing, you know, satellites.’
And so you do need a complex inventory management, procure to pay system, essentially - use the pay part with Bill.com but if you’re using the procurement, let's make sure that that system is talking with all the other systems we've got associated that are relevant. You know, the expense system - that's not going to be relevant, but for sure Bill.com is going to be relevant. And for sure your accounting system is, cause you're going to be doing valuation and cost of goods sold project, you know, costing on that system.
So that's when we would figure out, okay, we've got this client using a manual inventory system. We need to move into something that's a little more advanced. Oh but we want to use Bill.com as well? So we have to make sure that those systems can talk to each other in a way that the client can manage and understand and the way that the client can scale.
That's the other thing we're always looking for, Joshua, is the ability to scale and the best systems that scale are the ones that integrate well with other systems. Right? So there's no switching. Oh I've got to go now to the big intermediate system. So that's another important consideration and something we do address right in the onboarding process because we know our clients are going to be successful for the most part. And they have to scale rapidly. We can't have these stop steps in between.
I noticed that there's a video right on your homepage and the case study of the testimonial from the client actually mentioned specifically scaling faster. I can’t remember what the company's name was, but.
That's really important. I mean right now it doesn't seem so important. Current economic environment scale is probably the last thing people are thinking about. But in the longer term you can really leverage good systems with good built in workflows like Bill.com, you can really leverage those for a very long time without moving to a bulky, maybe sometimes even overbuilt and very expensive enterprise or ERP system. So our goal is always to be able to scale seamlessly and cost efficiently.
The Challenge of Using a Standalone System
Another related question is, when you are doing onboarding and you're taking over a client that may have been working with somebody else before - that originally set up Bill.com - what's the biggest mistake that you see that other accounting finance professionals make when they're setting Bill.com up for one of their clients?
Yeah, it's a really good question. I think it's just, the one that we see that seems to be most troublesome is when we have clients that may have been working with someone else that have not integrated the systems, Joshua. So we'll occasionally have a client that's using Bill.com but it's not synced to their accounting system. They're using it as a standalone system, which it can be, which you can do, because that's how flexible that system is. But the problem with that is then you've got all of these records that have never been synced or work together. So it's a lot of work to historically go back and pick a point where you're going to start the integration, go back and make sure that you're not duplicating anything. So we do see that very frequently.
Actually the other issue we see is, as I mentioned, the beginning of our discussion here, we see where sometimes it's not been reconciled properly. So there'll be floating things out there, voided checks or returned items that never really got washed out properly between Bill.com and the master accounting system. So we have to clean that up.
But besides that, even when a client or another firm hasn't fully leveraged Bill.com properly or hasn't leveraged it to its fullest extent - because it's such a robust system, we can usually get it to the point where it needs to be and make sure that it works really seamlessly going forward. And that again, speaks to the design of the system.
Platforms that Offer Visibility into your Expenses - Especially Now - Are Vital
That sounds like it's a combination of not having the point in time correctly of when the cut-over is going to be made. It sounds like some of it’s not being meticulous enough about reconciling on a regular basis, which goes back to one of those tips you mentioned earlier with the power users. Yeah. Yes, that makes a lot of sense.
So if you think kind of at a macro level, if you look at like Early Growth Financial Services, thinking about your overall business strategy, outsourced accounting firms, outsource CFO firms, what do they do - What do you see as the biggest opportunity going forward for a firm like yours to be able to leverage Bill.com as part of its core core stack, its core toolkit that it uses with clients?
That's a great question. I think that the right now, and that's your question, is so well timed, because right now where a lot of our focus is - because all of us are uncertain as to the length or depth of the current economic downturn. And so it's really important right now to have a lot of visibility into your vendor obligations, into the structure of how your vendors are structuring their terms - all of your expenses. And all of your outflows.
And so, Bill.com lets you have that visibility and lets you collaborate on the platform. Like I said, you've got group approvals. So in the group approval process, I can ‘task’ someone at the client or in on my team, ‘Hey you know what, we need to look at every single expense here in every single contract we're paying. So at the $500 level you are doing all the approvals. I want you to take a really tough eye on every expense that you're putting through for approval. And let me know the ones that we might be able to decrease, cut, pause, whatever it is with a payables and even an AR system.’
I'll get to the AR part next, but we're talking right now about visibility into your cash obligations. With a platform like Bill.com you can do that very effectively on the AR side.
The other thing, again because of the current economic conditions and even when things do get better, we do want our clients to be trying to pull forward revenues, right? So if they make it easy, if they give enough easy ways for their customers to pay them, which Bill.com enables as well. You can pay on Bill.com at no cost to the payer, right? Even a very large invoice and we pay 49 cents or whatever the fee is, right? So we can pull forward, right? Our receivables, we can see where our receivables are, we can track them inside the Bill.com system. We can set up recurring invoicing that again all will sync to our master accounting system.
It helps us to really look at how, what we can pull forward and really catch things when they start to go maybe past terms and let us know to make that gentle collection phone call.
So it's interesting. So not only has it been helpful in time, six months to a year ago, you anticipate it being actually even more valuable now for forecasting. And having a better real time view on what's going on. Both the receivables and payables side.
Your whole team has that view, Joshua. I mean, it can be the senior accountant that's working with us. ‘Hey, check everything $500, give us the list of what you think can be cut out. And then the next approver - you're at $2,500, you start looking at what's inside of this that you can cut.’ So yeah, I mean it's always been very helpful, but especially now where you have that ability to collaborate, talk to one another, communicate with one another on the platform and have good visibility into what your cash obligations are going to be - that’s really important.
System Functionality, Like AI, Let’s Humans Get Back to Being Human
Excellent. That's really, really valuable.
So we talked about what a beginner should be thinking about when they're just getting started with Bill.com.
We talked about when you run into some veteran users at maybe some conferences or networking and there you're trying to figure out what would add value to them at a whole different level.
We talked about the big mistakes that people tend to make around timing and getting sloppy with reconciliations.
And then we talked about overall what it means to a company like Early Growth Financial Services to be able to use Bill.com as part of its core tech stack tool kit for clients and the services and value around that. Yeah, it's been, it's been super, super helpful.
Anything else about Bill.com you think that would be especially helpful for our listeners to hear?
The capability now to make international payments is also intriguing, right? That expands the usability of the platform. It expands the capability of a lot of our clients to have a really integrated, simple, manageable, simple, one stop place for looking at every payment that goes out. So that's a really nice feature.
I'm just looking forward to Bill.com advancing certain capabilities. We rely a lot on our really good vendors to always bring more functionality in addition to the good work to build in workflow, really good functionality, added functionality, things like AI, OCR, the ability to read documents, right? And help us make classifications to save a lot of the manual work so we can focus on the analytical work. So we very heavily rely on our good vendor systems. That's a lot of the reasons we choose them - how much are they going to continue to advance this capability the way we need them to? So that becomes very important for us. And that's something we absolutely look at. How are they leveraging AI, rules setting, OCR, you know, the ability to do the things that machines do really well so that humans can really focus on client facing issues and whether that's cash flow management or growth.
The True Value of Automated Accounting for Outsourced CFOs
That makes a ton of sense. So it's basically freeing up your team to be able to move up the value chain. Provide more outsourced CFO services, more analytics, more recommendations, more consulting around helping them that actually grows their business as opposed to just taking care of coding.
Exactly. And that's where the value comes, Joshua. I mean, paying a vendor timely is important cause you know your vendors are really good, one of your very important stakeholders, like team members. But when it's giving strategic advice like right now on the CARES act or whatever it is, that can sometimes be invaluable. Right? And so to have a system that can take care of the background stuff for you and free up your time to focus on that, that's just a win win all the way around.
This has been super helpful. What's the best way for our viewers or listeners to learn more about you to learn more about Early Growth Financial Services?
Okay, well great. You can go to our website. My email is tina at earlygrowth com. Feel free to ask, you know, connect with me for any questions and of course they can contact you too, Joshua cause I always look forward to talking with you.
I look forward to speaking with you as well. Thanks so much. This has been super helpful.
Thank you for your time. Thanks for listening everyone.
Take care. Bye bye. Bye.