I interviewed Joshua May, Consulting Manager EMEA for BlackLine. We discussed BlackLine’s fintech offerings, ESG and interest rates. Below is a transcript of his answers.
I note from your website that BlackLine was founded in 2001. Can you tell me a little about who started the company and what the original aims and goals of the company were and how, if at all, those goals have changed over the last 22 years?
BlackLine was founded by Therese Tucker, our current co-CEO, with the mission of helping customers replace their use of Excel with a suite of accounting software. We made the conscious decision in 2005 to focus solely on accounting automation and control functionality. Fast forward to 2023 and BlackLine has more than 4,000 customers globally, 1/3 of the FTSE 100 and CAC 40 and almost half of the DAX 40.
Our vision for financial operations management is guided by our commitment to every customer’s transformation. We attribute our success to the close relationships we’ve built with these customers. So, whether we’re developing a new solution or making enhancements, we start by thinking about our users first. This helps us as we develop solutions and services to meet—and exceed—the needs of our customers.
Your website mentions 3 software solutions: ‘Financial Close Management’, ’Accounts Receivable Automation’ and ‘Intercompany Financial Management’. Can you tell our readers a little about what each of these pieces of software do?
All of our solutions are designed to make our customers lives easier, with a focus on three key areas. Firstly, the financial close process. This is an infamously tedious and time-consuming process made up of lots of individual tasks, so BlackLine’s Financial Close Management solution streamlines and automates these processes. This helps improve the accuracy of financial data and frees up time that people can spend on more valuable activities, such as financial analysis and forecasting.
Secondly, BlackLine’s Intercompany Financial Management solution centralises and automates end-to-end intercompany accounting management. The platform allows different legal entities and business units to create, approve, review, and reconcile intercompany transactions across currencies and geographies in real time.
Then there’s Accounts Receivable (AR). The software automates key AR processes, freeing up valuable time and reducing risk. It can also automatically process and analyse customer payment behaviours, which can make the businesses’ cash flow and forecasts more predictable.
What’s more, BlackLine’s Cash Application capabilities transform the order-to-cash cycle by significantly reducing the time it takes to apply cash to open invoices. When customer payments are received, BlackLine Cash Application uses AI to accurately apply payments to customer invoices in your ERP.
You show a strong commitment to ESG values as evidenced in details about your workplace improvements, in your volunteering drive, and in your governance diversity record. Can you tell us more about this?
We’re committed to doing our part to create a more sustainable and equitable world. Founded by one of the first (if not only) female tech founders to take her company public, diversity, equity and inclusion are deeply rooted in our core values at BlackLine.
Every BlackLine employee shares responsibility for diversity and inclusion in our workplace by making those around them feel welcome, valued and accepted. Women represent 50% of our board of directors, and 40% of our directors are from underrepresented minorities. While we are proud of what we have achieved so far, we know there is still more work to be done. We believe we are making progress – for the second year in a row, diversity was the number one driver of engagement in our global employee survey.
What’s more, our environmental efforts span across all our BlackLine workplaces, focusing on energy, water, and waste efficiencies in our everyday operations.
We’re also particularly proud of our community work. We partner with charities to provide volunteering experiences that bring together BlackLine employees, partners, and clients. BlackLine matches employee donations to human services-focused charities and provides opportunities to give back through virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities.
The website states the axiom ‘data drives decisions, decisions drive actions, and actions drive outcomes.’ In this process data is the starting point from which better decisions and outcomes will follow. What systems do you have in place to mitigate against data being wrongly reported?
Ultimately, companies come to BlackLine because their traditional manual accounting processes are not sustainable. In traditional financial reporting, data is being pulled manually from too many sources, making it difficult to know if all data points are being accounted for correctly. A reliance on clunky spreadsheets and rote, repetitive processes that are prone to human error, means a higher risk of inaccurate reporting and misstatements.
Automation solutions like ours help companies move to modern accounting by unifying their data and processes, thus driving accountability and minimising the risk of errors. These advances in available technology mean there’s really no excuse for misreporting today.
What are your thoughts about the current lending climate: we have global interest rate rises, 4 banks that have failed and continued problems in supply chains. Has this impacted the risk appetite of funders of invoice finance? What are your thoughts about the possibility of the current banking crisis escalating?
It’s important to acknowledge that businesses are facing challenging circumstances right now. Very few will have experienced the combination of economic, business and geopolitical headwinds we find ourselves facing, and the reaction for many will be to enter ‘survival mode’.
A recent BlackLine survey found that 55% of CEOs are worried their organisation will face higher costs as interest rates rise. 45% are worried that customers and prospects will have less to spend, which could impact their organisation’s sales and revenue. Because of this, a lot of companies will be torn between pursuing growth and finding cost efficiencies.
Within this context, ensuring F&A has a clear role in decision making and planning has never been more critical, but F&A can only help the organisation make strategic and informed decisions if the insights contained within financial data are readily available.
One of the key things our research found is that C-suite executives and F&A professionals think real-time visibility over cash flow and other financial metrics will be key for combatting the economic pressures of the next 12 months. While cost-containment might be front of mind, investing in technology that provides accurate, near real-time data that allows organisations to pivot quickly and adapt to market changes, could help to safeguard growth in the longer term.
Through automating the right processes, businesses can have far greater visibility and control over their data, enabling smarter, faster decision making. If companies work to improve the way their F&A departments operate, they will benefit from more reliable, accurate insights that could make navigating the economic storm that little bit easier.
And finally, is there anything else you would like to talk about that you think would be of interest to our readers?
Throughout much of our history, BlackLine’s offerings have primarily served to address the financial close gap that existed between the ERP and Consolidation, replacing numerous manual and spreadsheet-based processes for close to 4,000 companies. We’ve built an incredible company and reputation on that.
Now our mission is to provide our customers with a truly indispensable platform. We know our clients think in terms of processes rather than products, and their main focus is on tackling specific challenges, rather than implementing technology. As the category-leader in our space, we bear the responsibility of bridging this gap for our clients by combining BlackLine’s tools to offer practical, high-impact solutions that are easy to implement. We’re well on our way in this direction, and I’m personally excited to see how we progress.
Many thanks to Joshua for the interview. Also, many thanks to Jamie at Kaizo PR for arranging this interview.