Ep. 202: Oded Zehavi - How a Digitally-Empowered Finance Team Transforms Business

IMA’s Neha Lagoo Ratnakar speaks with Oded Zehavi, CEO of Mesh Payments, about digital transformation of the finance team. They discuss how powerful new software tools and automation opportunities empower CFOs and their teams to streamline business partnering, sharpen internal controls, and simplify business operations. The good news is it’s much less complicated than you think.

Welcome back to Count Me In,

the podcast by and for
management accountants.

I'm Neha Lagoo Ratnakar from IMA,

and today I'm speaking with Oded Zehavi
about how the enormous potential of

digital transformation is finally
coming to fruition for CFOs and finance

teams everywhere. As the CEO
and founder of Mesh Payments,

Oded has a bird's eye view into how
accounting and finance professionals are

utilizing and customizing powerful new
software tools to streamline business

partnering, sharpen internal controls
and simplify business operations.

And what struck me during the conversation
was that how appropriate the word

transformation is in this moment.

It's like the buzzword I've heard a
million times crystallized into something

real for me. During the
course of this interview,

you'll hear how technology has
clearly elevated the value the finance

function is able to provide
to the business in real time.

Let's get started with Oded to see how
businesses are leaning into this exciting

new era of innovation.

So let's start with the
obvious question today.

We are all witnessing a transformation
in the way we work and finance and

accounting is one of the functions
that lends itself very well to remote


How do you think the CFO's office
has changed since the pandemic?

So people usually speak
a lot about the fact that

everything is remote now,
which is key, by the way,

by the way that finance people operates.

I will even go back in time and speak
about something that less people

are talking about, which is
why the category, which I mean,

which is spend management,

have been really driving from
the beginning of the pandemic.

And in my mind it's always start by
the fact that before the pandemic,

the finance teams were
really focusing about T&E.

So everybody were a lot of fun.

Various sales guys were traveling
and it's all about how we collect

received, how do we close the books?

There was so much noise
so many people involved.

What does does it mean? And so
many employees have been brought,

and it's really beyond the fact that
he's taken a lot of the time from the

finance teams activities.

It also created a lot of noise and
camouflage some other problems that might

have been bigger or different.
And when the pandemic started,

that was shut eliminated overnight.

So now nobody travels anymore.

No receipts have been chased.

That noise have been gone quiet. Totally.

And on top of it,

there were two other trends which in my
mind have really impact the way finance

team operates. One, as you mentioned,

is the fact that now companies
are fully remote and distributed.

So a lot of the processes
that historically the finance
team could have solved

by telling the employees, you
know, what? Come to my desk, yes,

tomorrow and we'll make this happen
have not been relevant anymore.

And last, but not least,

the fact that many of these companies
move a lot of the infrastructure to the

cloud. So now a lot of
these old on premise

licensing models have been shut down.

And now everything move to more

recurring models where you need to
pay every month a much smaller amount

with much more softwares.

So the combination of all of that
really made a huge difference

when it comes to how finance
teams need to treat spend

or treat corporate spend.

And what I'm seeing is that over the last

two years, the space
itself have been exploding.

So many great companies
have come into this space,

which are now giving very new technology,

amazing user experience will
talk about it in the second,

and last but not least, a new
business model, which in our category,


companies have been used to pay for
software that helps them control spend.

I'm amazed there are still companies
that are even considering paying for some

of the very, very old legacy platforms
on things they are not really using,

where there are so many
options like mesh in the

space that enables them to pay only
for what they use and sometimes

not even pay anything because a lot of
us have been using the model where we,

the merchant that we are paying for are,

are really paying for the service.

So a lot of transformation and changes in

the way finance team have looked at
spend management and on top of it

and you started by the remote and the
fact that companies are now distributed.

So it's not only that are
distributed, they're also global.

If we were talking, having this
conversation few years ago,

most of the US companies were
usually around this very one site

usually in one city in the US it could
be San Francisco or New York or one of

these leading countries.

The pandemic really shifted a lot of
the employees all across the US and

now there are new places where employees
from different reasons want to spend

time in like Austin, like Miami,

like all these places which are
totally outside of the where

traditional headquarters have been
based and last than not least,

why stay in Austin when you can spend
the same time and work from a much

more exotic place. And

I've seen companies that have become
fully distributed and fully remote.

And for the finance teams,

all of these challenges are
really something that is


And they have really invested a lot of
time and effort in the last two years

to be ready to give solutions or be,

give service in such a changing world.

Wow. I love that, Oded, there's
so much that has been happening,

and thank you for summarizing so
well how work, softwares, platforms,

our activities have changed
in the last couple of years.

Now let's talk about the mindset changes.

What have you seen change in the last
couple of years and is there anything that

the CFOs or the finance departments can
do to help with this mindset change?

So it's interesting that
we are talking today,

which is more or less in the middle
or the beginning or some people

out the hand of additional neutrons
to change in the mindset of

finance team or finance people,

if we can go back when the pandemic came,

everybody stopped and tried to
reduce cost and see what happens that

very quickly after a month or two, the
world, especially the high tech scene,

have really shifted into growth.
Just growth and growth and growth.

And companies have been growing
and bringing more to employees.

They're more talents and
spending more on media.

And it was really about growth. Not all,

but most of the companies didn't invest
enough time about unique economics

and controls and things that are
fundamental when it comes to business.

And we are in the beginning of a new
transformation or new mindset change where

everybody said saying to the same fine
sense things that they will say to them a

year ago, Grow, grow,
grow, stop, stop, stop.

And let's focus on the
fundamental economics

control and visibility.

And it all comes back to the fact
that now changes are happening much

quicker, but then nobody knows if
we'll talk again in two months,

what will be the mindset then,

that it will be just control,

and it might happen the same
way it was in the pandemic.

The only thing that we know that
is that we don't really know.

From what the impact for finance
teams is that they now need to have an


which is usually based on technology
automation that enables them to change

the way they operate and based
on this changing mindset.

So they need one day to have tools that
will enable them to spend more and get

more employees empowered to
spend and to do more projects.

And one day they need to say,

take the same employees and make sure
they have have full visibility of what,

how they spend.

They can in one click start canceling
some of these services that they've

just asked them to order.

And the only way to do
that in the pace that is

expected now by the industry
is to have tools and

technology to help you. So

in one way, you might say that the

change in mindset really prevent
from finance teams to act and really

make them focus on other
projects from the other end.

The great finance team,

so the ones that are going to be fully
successful are the one that knew how

to balance between following the
trends and in parallel building the

infrastructure that will enable them
quickly to be adapting themselves,

adapt themselves to the changing trends,

which that's what what really
makes great finance teams


Wow. I love that, Oded.

And you touched upon a great
topic there about speed and

transparency for finance departments.

Are there any trends that you noticed
or what can finance teams do to improve

this speed and transparency?

So historically when a lot of the
finance operation was based on paper

and receipts and invoices
and manual processes,

the ability to get enough visibility
and enough control was very tough.

Now, and going back to the
pandemic, which have digitized them,

a lot of the processes when it comes
to payment, when it comes to ordering,

when it comes to having data
sources that can expose to you

trends that are happening
outside of your organization,

that's really enables
you to try to reach a

situation where everything is
automated and based on data.

So you don't need to,

going back to the example
of pre-pandemic in some of

the old systems,

usually finance team have seen the
transaction of the person who is

traveling only two days after he
actually done the transaction.

Today with the new systems, it's all
in real time. The minute you spend,

you book your hotel, regardless
where you are in the world,

the finance team automatically
get visibility to what's going on.

They can even create
a control, by the way,

can even create a process that they
will preapproved that payments.

Because with the systems
that are exist today,

that's something that
can happens in real time.

So it's the fact that now
everything is in real time,

that there is data sources that can
help you really make wise decisions

and not just cut.

One of the things I'm seeing lately
because of the latest challenges in the

macroeconomic situation is that
a lot of finance team have been

requested by the CFO, by the CEO
just to cut 20% of everything.

That was how things were
done before because he said,

I don't have enough visibility. I
don't know, I don't have the time.

Let's cut 20% our thing.
Maybe we cut some good things,

maybe we will not cut
enough, some bad things.

But we understand that we
don't have enough visibility.

Let's cut 20% outta everything
with finance teams that
have been ready for this

situation and have clear visibility
about what's works, what doesn't work,

how we spend. They don't need to
take these types of actions anymore.

They can granularly look at each one
of the spends and decide where it

makes sense to cut because
of the new macroeconomics.

And when it doesn't make sense, because
it brings benefits to the company,

it might help the company to recover.

These are these things that can only
happen when you have enough data

and automation infrastructure, which
that's what we have seen across the board.

Awesome. I love the insights
you brought in there Oded,

and I would like to dig a
little bit deeper on that.

You brought up tech
automation a couple of times,

and of course there are a lot of things
that companies can do in terms of

infrastructure updates and putting budgets
into automation of these processes.

But right now, with the economic
downturn, like you said,

not everybody has those budgets.

And our busy accounting and
finance professionals from
around the world who are

listening to this podcast today would
like to change some things tomorrow or

today if possible.

What are a couple of things which are
low risk but high return steps that they

can immediately take to improve
things at their workplace?

So what I've seen in the market,

there are so many tools that are
either free or not expensive,

that can give you people historically
things about implementing financial

systems is something that takes six
months and require so much effort,

right? The latest advances in technology,

there are tools that can
be deployed overnight.

They are either free
or very not expensive,

and they can give you at least
immediately visibility about

what's going on. By the way,

sometimes that visibility comes from
places that are historically have

been beyond the reach of the finance team.

I usually take the example
that is close to my heart.

We are giving companies a tool that
enables them to map all the services the

employees are accessing even
without knowing if they pay or if

they don't pay for that.
So the finance team,

which historically they need to go to IT
and ask their permission to get such a

report so they can look to see if
they are spending or they are over

accessing or don't use
enough a specific product,

have the ability to get a real time

visibility about what employees are using.

If there are tools that are using a lot,

which means that they might be paying a
lot and we might want to scrutinize that

or tools that they know
that they are paying a lot,

but they see that there
is not too much usage.

And that might create a process where
they will go back to the vendor and try to

negotiate or they will ask
us to help them with that.

So in the end of the day,

it's finance team don't need to
feel that it's all or nothing.

Meaning if we implemented the very
sophisticated accounting system

maybe you were in a good shape, even
if you don't, we are in a bad shape.

There are enough tools that can first
of all give them visibility because in

the end of the day,

wise decisions are based
on fact and not based on

feelings. Especially when
it comes to finance. Listen,

we are not talking about
marketing or things that are less

tangible by definition.

We are talking about
cash flow and run rate

and things that should be very accurate.

It's very important to know how much,

when is the last month that you have
to pay your employee salaries. Exactly.

Not approximately. So what I'm,

what I'm urging finance team
is really not to say, you know,

as you said, there is a
downturn what can we do?

Let's cut everything without
even no questions asked,

just ask everybody to cut everything.

Spend a little bit more time
trying to get better visibility

of how your organization operate.

And when you will do that, first of all,
it will help you make better decision.

But more important,

it will be the infrastructure for you
for the next time you will be requested

to get this decision. And we are
not, that's not, unfortunately,

that's not the last times where
probably people need to change the way

they operate. Hopefully things will
recover and then they will need to grow.

Maybe they won't recover, and then
this will take much longer and they,

we will need to make even much tougher
decisions then we are getting today.

So don't get under, it's not about,

don't get into hysteria.
Breathe, count to 10.

See how technology can help you.

Don't be intimidated by thinking
that it requires a lot of effort and

a lot of time to implement
fundamental technology and just do it.

Wow. Those are some great lessons
for our listeners here today, Oded.

Let me pivot to your professional
career. And we were talking about it.

You've traveled around the world, you've
lived in lots of different places.

We were talking about your
travel in India, for example,

and there are lots of our listeners who
are considering going global in their

careers or having a more
nomadic lifestyle. Now,

is there a lesson that you would like
to share from your travels and your work

around the world?

So pandemic really changed the mindset of

executives and recruiters about
where they can find talents in so

many aspects, by the way,
it's not only about traveling,

it's the fact that now companies
can aim to get the best

talents in everything they are trying
to do regardless where they are.

Historically, they were really bounded
in the geography where they were based.

And if they knew somebody,
great, but it was remote,

he couldn't travel, that was probably,

would've made them decide to take
somebody that is not perfect but is much

close by, that ended.

Now companies can really
try to aim and try to

hire the best talent they can for the
specific task they are trying to achieve.

But from the other end,

it brings new challenges because
if you hire the greatest talents,

they have much higher
expectations and they are trying,

they will be much more effective,
but from the other end,

they will expect from the company
to support them in this global

environment to enable to
pay them salaries on time.

We've announced a few weeks
ago a partnership with a
company called Papa Global,

which is the world leader in global
payroll and enables finance teams or

global companies to pay
employees whenever they are.

This is a huge effort that
is coming into the place.

How do you pay the payroll and
time and accurately? And second,

these talents which will
get a lot of responsibility,

they will be in charge on strategic
project for your companies.

You should also enable them to
pay for this specific project.

You cannot expect them anymore
to do out of pocket expenses

as historically, you might have been
telling them you, that's what it is,

just pay and we'll talk
about it in the future.

So you need to have the
infrastructure to enable that.

I don't see, and I have a lot of
conversation with executives, even if,

and Covid, most of us have forgot Covid.

But I don't see the world
reversing in the way it

operates. Maybe some companies
will open again their headquarters

but I don't see what was
five years ago when companies

have forced employees to move
to specific location that's

done. And last and not least,

it means that for finance
teams, that's the new norm.

They cannot say,

you know what we will try
to move back to some of the

processes that we've been
used for so many years.

They need to adapt to these
types of behaviors. By the way,

just an example,

which not two people understand or
they usually understand too late,

which is you have an employee in a
specific country and you enable him to pay

cards or payment instruments works
differently in different countries.

You mentioned in India there are some
specific limitations to how you pay

where you are India for example.

So not only things are
becoming more complex,

you need to understand and master
things that before that you could

have just issue a card from your all
local bank and it should work well in the

territory you are based in. So from
one hand, a lot of opportunities,

but it always come next that it
creates new challenges for the finance


Some of them really enjoy the excitement
and the fact that there is new things

to do. Some of them prefer that
the world would not have changed.

That's not possible anymore.

Right. The only thing that doesn't
change is change itself. Right?


I love those practical
tips. Thank you, Oded.

Now this brings me to the
last question of the day.

How can companies and finance
professionals be future ready?

So we are not caught off guard again,

like we were the last time
when the pandemic hit.

So it's really important for finance
team in my mind to acknowledge

that it's not only about them,
it's mostly about their employees.

And what I'm seeing that
more and more finance teams

focus more and more about
employees experiences,

finance team that will be future ready
will build infrastructure that is

employee friendly, that employees
lack. Like historically,

there was a lot of tension between the
employees and the finance teams about

controls, about how employees,

what they need to do in order to help
finance team close the books in the end of

the month.

The future of finance and finance team

automation is by building an
infrastructure that employees like,

which is sometimes sounds
too good to be true.

It can be done.

And I'm seeing more and more finance team
that don't only think about their own

challenges and their own problems.
They really see themselves as enablers.

They're not only the bodyguards
of the company treasury,

they're also the ones who enables
their employees to operate with less

friction. And that's something
that is very important.

I really urge finance teams to think,

rethink about the way they look at the,

and the way they operate their
companies. Finance team, by the way,

one of the interesting things that
the finance team have become much more

dominant in the corporate
structure. Historically,

HR was very strong.
Maybe IT was very strong.

Finance was just the ones who
were handling the books today,

finance teams and especially
finance executive that becomes the,

the closest consultants
to the CEO. They are,

he listens to them a lot.

You expect them to do above and
beyond just to do the traditional

finance activities.

So for me it's really,

I'm really urging them
to take that opportunity,

grab it, don't push it
back and saying, you know,

we have enough work by handling
our own specific problems.

Use the opportunity.

I'm seeing so many CFOs that evolved
have become much more dominant.

Some of them even became CEOs over time,

and that's only because they
understood the new norm,

they understood the opportunities
that the future brings to them.

And that's really exciting.

This has been Count Me In IMA's podcast,

providing you with the latest
perspectives of thought leaders from the

accounting and finance profession.

If you like what you heard and you'd
like to be counted in for more relevant

accounting and finance education,
visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.

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Adam Larson
Adam Larson
Producer and co-host of the Count Me In podcast
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