In the unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19, many of our day-to-day activities have had to move online — including our finances. With nonprofits and mutual aid groups meeting the needs of more and more unemployed Americans, Shareable sponsor Tipalti is stepping up to offer their financial services tool for free to groups disbursing emergency payments to those in need. We caught up with Tipalti’s global controller, Paul Henderson, to discuss best practices for financial teams during the time of the coronavirus, the role of Tipalti in the crisis, and the future of work.
Casey O’Brien: Can you tell me a bit about your role with Tipalti?
Paul Henderson: I’m the global controller; I oversee the accounting operations for the company on a global basis. That includes everything from your normal monthly close and accounts receivable, accounts payable, all the way through to financial and external reporting. We have a four-person team here in the U.S. and then we have another four-person team in Israel.
How has the coronavirus crisis impacted your work specifically?
It has in the sense that with the U.S. team I was used to being in the office together. There’s a lot of daily interaction that you would normally have, just being able to talk across the desk about accounting issues or processes or something. You could fix it there on the fly, so that’s definitely changed with everybody working remote.
There are a lot of companies that normally — even if other folks might be working from home part-time — keep finance in the office. With this crisis, what advice might you have for other companies that are in this same boat of trying to navigate doing something remotely that has never been done that way before?
I think first and foremost, it’s making sure that you’re having frequent, regularly scheduled communication with your team. So, for example, we have a team call every morning, 9am. It’s usually pretty quick. It’s really about just making sure we’re all on the same page of what we’re going to take care of that day and really focusing on the important things. I make sure that the team knows that they can have access to me any time throughout the day.
I think the other thing is making sure that you’re utilizing cloud technologies for your ERP [enterprise resource management software]— your employee expenses — using a lot of the collaboration tools like Google Drive and Zoom and Slack. Those are all tools that we use to make sure that we’ve got regular, constant communication. We use NetSuite as our cloud ERP, so we can access it as long as we have internet access. We can work together and collaborate on things as we’re trying to get our daily work done.
And you haven’t had any concerns around security with those collaboration tools?
No, all the tools that we use — including our own tool Tipalti, which we use for our accounts payable part of our process — all have appropriate controls reviews around their service that are performed by consultants and accounting firms to validate that the security is appropriate.
If companies were not using financial platforms like Tipalti before, but now might be interested in switching during the crisis, do you think that your tool is something that could be implemented and learned remotely?
Absolutely. When we did our own implementation of it and integrated it with NetSuite, a lot of us were not in the same room together. In fact, with our team in Israel, we did all of that training remotely as we were working through the implementation, and continued to provide that feedback on an ongoing basis. It’s definitely helpful and it doesn’t require everybody to be in the same place. That’s the beauty of the tool. Somebody in one location can get the invoice process started, and then different people that have to approve it are all in different locations, but because we have the tool in place, it’s all fairly seamless.
And it also allows folks to still get paid during this crisis, even if there’s no one in the office to be dispersing checks?
Yes, exactly. There has really been no slowdown in our ability to pay our vendors, and I think that’s the same with our customers. They’re still able to keep paying their vendors through our tool as long as they’ve got the capital coming in on the other side.
Great. I wanted to hear a little bit from you as well about your initiative to try to support COVID-19 response from nonprofits and mutual aid groups.
It’s pretty exciting for us to be able to contribute. We have a program right now where we’re waiving our platform fees for guilds, nonprofits, and trade associations and trade groups. This will enable them to be able to quickly and efficiently make payments out to their members using our tool. And again, they can do it all from home — they don’t have to have their employees in the same place to be able to work. They can use our tool to do that.
For folks that have not used the tool before, are there some resources for them to learn how to use it?
Yes! Part of the implementation includes our team working with them to train them on how to use it, especially tailored to their use case. So, different companies may have different ways they want to use the system and make those payments. Our implementation team works with them to design it the right way. When they go live, they have the knowledge and the understanding of how the system works within the context of their processes to make those payments fairly easily.
Have you seen some interest in that already? It seems like it was just recently announced, but I was curious what the response has been from folks.
I know of at least one trade organization that we’ve been working with to help them use our tool to make payments to their members. [They are now] able to provide some relief funds to their members.
That’s great news. How do you think payment platforms like Tipalti can serve as leaders in this time when folks are really trying to navigate doing things in a different way?
If you think about a company that is impacted fairly significantly by the shutdown, but they still want to be able to keep good relations with their vendors and make payments where they can, there’s a lot of data within Tipalti that they can be using to schedule out their payments and plan cash flows based on what’s coming in. I think that’s something that companies will find helpful. There’s also a lot of traditional companies out there that are still in the mode of physically writing checks, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t be doing most every payment electronically.
Right. In a way, Tipalti is better-prepared for a shutdown than a lot of other companies because you’re pretty used to doing a lot of things remotely anyway.
Absolutely. I think when we get to the other side of this, you’ll find a lot of companies really taking advantage of what they learned to be able to be more nimble in case of future issues like that.
I think it’ll be interesting to see how the work environment changes after this is all done. Do we find that maybe we don’t need to have everybody in a single office? Maybe we can be just as efficient and effective remotely with the new tools that are out there now.