Ep. 197: Rachel Baesler - Accountants as Business Partners for M&A

As VP of Financial Reporting and Technical Accounting at FLEETCOR Technology (NYSE: FLT), Rachel Baesler partners with internal business leaders to execute the company’s aggressive M&A strategy. She joins Adam Larson to discuss the responsibility of internal accounting experts in demonstrating how they can add value to M&A deals and other business-building initiatives.
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Full Episode Transcript:
Adam:

Welcome back to another edition of Count Me In. The podcast that explores the world of business from the management accountants perspective. My guest today is Rachel Baesler, VP of financial reporting and technical accounting at FLEETCOR Technologies, a leading global business payments company. We talk a lot on this show about the need for accountants inside the organizations to partner cross-functionally with leaders and groups, driving business performance and growth as an accounting leader at a company that has completed over 90 acquisitions, Rachel is the perfect guest to help us better understand how accountants can overcome common stereotypes and thrive as strategic business partners. So let's get started.
Adam:

So, Rachel, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today, and we're just gonna jump right in cuz we're talking about strategic partnerships today and when you're building those strategic partnerships, a common term or role today for accounting and finance professionals is business partnering. That's the term we've been hearing a lot. And so how do you ensure success when building these relationships across departments?
Rachel:

So to ensure business success, collaboration and partnership across departments is critical to the success of the organization, I was reading this Deloitte report that said that 83% of organizations want to increase the time spent on finance business partnering over the next three years. So it can be difficult to foster open communication with accounting. We're often seen as an impediment rather than a strategic business partner. So they understand that we handle the numbers and that we handle compliance, but it's up to us to, you know, articulate our value and demonstrate how we can be a strategic partner. A major component of FLEETCOR's success is our M&A strategy we've had over 90 acquisitions to date. Each of these require extensive involvement from accounting. So last year we purchased AFEX for over 400 million. They are part of our cross-border payment solutions similar to Cambridge global payments, which are all newly aligned under our court pay business unit.
Rachel:

We have noticed over time that we are getting similar accounting issues come up in these deals. So for our deal team, we created this quick reference guide and we shared it with them. So these matters that come up over and over again, they have them at the front of their mind versus the back. This helps, you know, demonstrate our value as a partner cuz they know every decision they're making and an acquisition, there is an accounting impact. It also helps just foster a relationship with them. Now they know, you know, they know my name, they know to come to me, when things come up, I can help them work through issues and they understand their accounting implications.
Adam:

So is that why it's so important for accounting and finance professionals? Because you have to be a seat at the table, no matter what's happening, whether it's an M&A, or the strategy that's being run or FP&A like all those different things are happening. Why is it so important for accounting and finance professionals to be a part of that?
Rachel:

Well, there's, you know, the compliance matters, obviously it's our job to ensure that the books and records are accurate, but also, you know, in the business environment today, all departments are being asked to demonstrate their value and partnering with other departments is how we demonstrate our value in an organization. And this also helps us, you know, foster culture of governance and compliance because you know, we have a seat at the table and we know what's going on in the business. It also helps us, you know, understand what's going on in the business. So we can better communicate with our stakeholders. You know, I'm the one preparing a lot of investor documents, right? So knowing what's going on across the organization helps me communicate more effectively with our investors.
Adam:

So what skills have you had to develop to be a successful relationship builder in this process?
Rachel:

Okay. So I read another Deloitte study and it was talking about the main competencies you need to be a successful finance business partner. And it talked about you know, being able to challenge negotiate, have, you know, commercial acumen, strategic thinking. And then one, I think for me has been critical, which is relationship management, such a simple thing, but building interpersonal relationships with people in other departments helps foster open communication and builds trust. You know, we live in an environment where we receive lots of emails. Whenever possible, I try to meet with people in person or have a face to face video call even pick up the phone, you know, you're not, you don't really have the opportunity to build a relationship when you're communicating over email, this, you know, just helps facilitate an open dialogue and create a trusted relationship. I'll give you an example.
Rachel:

I was working on this project with, you know, it was KPIs and I was having to talk to different leaders of the businesses. I'm sure it felt like an incremental ask. One of our lines of business leaders I was working with on this project. We just started chit chatting about Disney world. He has kids, I have kids, he was giving me some tips. I haven't taken my children yet. They're a little too young, but we built this, you know, great rapport fast forward a few months. And we acquired a business and he didn't understand, you know, how the revenue recognition pattern was working with one of the new products. Fast forward a few months later, we acquired a new business and we have a new product and there's trouble with the business leaders, understanding how the revenue recognition pattern works for that new product. You know, now they know my name, they know my face. They know to reach out to me, I can help them, you know, translate the, you know, the product to the accounting impact. So it helps me, you know, I'm getting to know the business that we've acquired from the business leaders and from the target itself. And you know, I'm at the front end of the issue they know to get me involved and it's just a really productive relationship and it, you know, helped us get involved early. So.
Adam:

Yeah, it's almost like you've you learned how to connect on a human side with your other collaborators and then because you connected, you developed the relationship and that allowed you to, when that you needed their help or they needed your help, you were able to connect in a better way.
Rachel:

Absolutely. I mean, you know, if I'm just shooting an email, so I'd be like, give me this, you know, or even asking politely. You know, I'm not gonna be the front of their mind when a problem comes up. So, you know, just spending a little bit extra time with folks, you know, building that connection, it really helps create a good relationship. And you know, it enables you to have a strategic partnership. I think that's really hard to just like force that on someone.
Adam:

Yeah. I was thinking, you know how it's always easy for us to talk about for as accountants to say, how do we partner with everybody else? What advice would you give to somebody who is not an accountant? How do you best partner with the accounting team? We've already talked about the human side and building that relationship, but are there other elements that we can say, Hey, this would, this would be best way to communicate. This is the best way to kind of build that relationship, especially for, with the accounting and finance team.
Rachel:

I would say, bring us in early and bring us in. Often we can't be a strategic partner if we don't have a seat at the table.
Adam:

That makes sense.
Rachel:

Yeah. I mean, we're, you know, you know, we can be seen as a naysayer, but you know, we can be a strategic partner and understanding how we can help, you know, facilitate your performance goals. You know, for example, mergers and acquisitions, they don't fall out of the sky fully assembled involving accounting on the front end is gonna help have a more successful integration of a business help you meet your like performance goals. We play an indispensable role in these things ultimately. So if we're able to get involved in the front end, it's gonna help, you know, prevent any unexpected surprises or compliance issues.
Adam:

So it's almost like you're realizing it's, whoever's leading whatever project it is is realizing that the finance and accounting team has to be a part of the table in the beginning, as opposed to, Hey, now we need to talk about numbers. Let's bring you in later.
Rachel:

Yes. So maybe you have created some kind of business case in your mind, and obviously a numbers are important component to that. So when you're bringing something to a key decision maker, you don't wanna run it by accounting after the fact and find out that, you know, the projected figures you used in something are incorrect, cuz that's obviously going to have an impact on the decision making process.
Adam:

Of course. So when thinking about the future, you know, we've gone through a lot, the last three, almost three years now with the pandemic and everything. Are there certain competencies that you feel that, you know, finance lead finance and accounting leaders would need to continue to develop to become the best business partner possible?
Rachel:

So I think finance leaders need to have great leadership and communication skills and specifically in advising and counseling, your finance and accounting function, empowering them to engage in the business to engage in operations. I also think it's really important for, you know, finance and accounting leaders, to be able to articulate our value, to share our success. You know, how we were a strategic partner in a transaction. This helps demonstrate our value in an organization. You know, a finance and accounting leader needs to be able to share the value and success of the accounting organization, to other corporate leaders that run the business units. This will help encourage getting us involved. You know, someone here is about, you know, how we helped with this acquisition and understanding this product. They have a question on an acquisition that's rolled up into their business unit, they know to come to us on the front end, for example,
Adam:

Do you have any examples where that worked or didn't work or where that somebody wished that they had done that and then you were able to help them with that, that you can share?
Rachel:

Yeah. I mean, you know, we roll out new products, part of our growth strategy. So I've had some people forecast certain revenue figures and submit the budget and get it approved, but they didn't actually contemplate like the accounting impact of that new product. So I'll have to be the bad news bear on the back end being like I'm so sorry. That's actually, my revenue figure you projected, you know, is it's not achievable because the accounting standard says X. So when these situations occur, I always, you know, I talked about earlier, sometimes you have to be pretty explicit in your value is a strategic partner. You know, I'm like whatever new products you're contemplating, I'm happy to be involved in the conversations and the budgeting process. So, you know, bring me in and you know, I'm happy to help. Yeah. I've had both the successful and unsuccessful conversations, so.
Adam:

But I'm sure those conversations kind of help lead you to where we've been talking about of becoming that strategic partner, helping educate your team members to get them to that place where they bring you in earlier.
Rachel:

Absolutely. I mean, that's the bad scenario, right? When you find on the back end that, you know, something you thought achievable is not actually achievable, but I mean, yes, they're constantly at FLEETCOR, we are truly seen as a business partner in accounting. So more times than not, we are involved in contract negotiations. We're there at the beginning to help the business leaders understand how any changes in terms and conditions might impact our bottom line, for example. So we've had a lot of success in partnering with operations to achieve our performance goals.
Outro:

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