This month’s Executive Insight section features Aaakash Moondhra – the Chief Financial Officer at PayU, a leading payment services provider. PayU capitalises on its payments heritage and expertise to deliver financial services in high growth markets, supporting over 200,000 merchants with over 250 payments methods and reaching a potential consumer base of nearly 2.3 billion people. What sets the company apart is that it builds FinTech services around the unique local conditions the company finds in its target markets. By making payments and other FinTech solutions as easy as possible for local populations, PayU hopes to have a real impact on the growth ambitions of its customers.
In his 20-year career, Aakash has worked in range of financial and other roles at companies as diverse as Snapdeal, Andersen Consulting and AT&T, Bharti Airtel Group and Baring Private Equity. Here he tells us more about his role as a CFO and his achievements, while also offering a valuable insight into the FinTech industry.
You joined PayU in September 2015 – how would you evaluate your role over the last year? How has it impacted the company and its performance in 2016?
It has been an extremely interesting journey and there hasn’t been a dull moment yet. On a tactical level, there’s been the daily cut and thrust of working with the wider company to beat our monthly financial targets.
At a corporate level, one of my main responsibilities is to help set the strategic direction of PayU. Over the past year, I’ve worked on several major initiatives which have put us in a good position to deliver on our growth goals. For instance, putting in place a unique, centralised and federated operating model across our existing disparate technology platforms, which will enable us to scale rapidly while also benefitting from cost efficiencies.
I’ve also supported the strategic growth of PayU through important acquisitions, such as Citrus Pay in India, which are critical to our move from being a payments business to delivering FinTech services across the growth markets we operate in.
Finally, one of my main tasks since I started at PayU has been to establish an even stronger operating discipline and to build a very objective and deadlines-driven culture. The project management mindset I’ve helped instil across the organisation puts us in a great place for 2017.
What is the achievement from the past twelve months that you are most proud of?
In September, we acquired Citrus Pay, the Indian payments business. This is the largest all-cash acquisition in India’s FinTech history ($130m), making us India’s largest e-commerce payment process company; something we’re all very proud of. The deal is hugely important to growing our footprint in India, which is one of the most innovative FinTech markets in the world and one of our key focus markets.
On a personal level, I’m very proud of the role I’ve played in the transaction. This, of course, included financial and due diligence activities, integration of the two companies, developing a joint business plan and developing a process to support future growth; I also played a part in the relationship side of the deal, working closely with my counterparts at Citrus Pay to ensure it went smoothly.
Aside from that, my other achievements this year have been around enhancing our workforce. I’ve helped put in place a more focused culture and encouraged every member of the finance team to consider PayU as if it were their own business. The idea is to get everyone thinking like an entrepreneur to drive innovation and growth. This has been augmented by some great hires within finance across different regions.
What would you say are some of the challenges of being the CFO of a fast-growing company?
The great thing about being in a fast-growing company is that every challenge is also an opportunity. There will always be barriers, but it is our role to convert these challenges into opportunities.
The main task is to get the balance of priorities exactly right. There are trade-offs to be made – high-growth against risk management for example, or investment against cash flow – but these can all be managed with the right strategic vision for the company.
Then there’s inorganic growth. Acquisitions are important for companies with big ambitions, but there’s a danger that M&A activity can get out of hand and deals are made for the sake of making deals. The CFO is essential here; taking a dispassionate view of every transaction and only allowing those with real strategic merit to proceed.
High-growth businesses also need to be nimble. In practice this means we must be able to zoom in and zoom out at the same time. Some issues demand a detailed examination, while most can be viewed from 60,000 feet. It’s exactly this requirement that makes working for a high-growth company so interesting; and if the skill can be mastered it provides an agility around decision-making that can help drive growth.
How is the role of CFO changing in fast-moving organisations?
In recent years, the role of the CFO has started to transform. In the past, the CFO’s primary role was to help balance the books and ensure compliance. Today, the role is far more strategic; the CFO is tasked with keeping an eye on the macroeconomic environment and charting a course through turbulent markets.
Historically, the CFO’s relationship with business partners was ambivalent, particularly if financial considerations meant that the CFO had to block a project. Today, the CFO is seen as an enabler to innovation, working closely with every function to ensure the company is moving with speed. The CFO’s relationship with the CEO is also evolving. While still reporting in to the CEO, the CFO is also becoming a sounding board for the CEO’s ideas, and a good CFO will look to voice a different view to encourage debate.
That’s not to say the old duties have gone away. Indeed, in a world where business fraud feels like it’s growing and corporate hubris appears to be on the rise, it’s more essential than ever that the CFO is a beacon of fiscal responsibility.
How do you overcome the challenges presented by the ever-changing nature of the sector?
The FinTech sector is a dynamic sector, and it can sometime be hard to know what’s around the next bend. Fortunately, most of the challenges we encounter can be overcome with common sense.
For example, as we operate in a wide range of geographies and markets it makes sense to have the right internal controls, processes, policies and communication channels in place. Similarly, it’s vital to stay on top of what’s happening in the markets in which you operate; being ready to make quick changes when required. It goes without saying that monitoring risk should be one of the key concerns of the CFO and a task carried out regularly and rigorously.
In my view, the CFO role is more about people management than it used to be. CFOs need to oversee talent, ensuring they have the right people in their team and then working to keep them engaged and motivated. The CFO also needs to ‘muck in’ with the business when numbers are in danger of not being met, and be ready to have those difficult conversations when business people sandbag their numbers. Concurrently, CFOs need to establish themselves as figures of trust and respect within the organisation. It’s a fine balance, but one any good CFO should be able to make.
Finally, let’s not forget the ‘KISS principle’ – many times we see issues that are made out to be more complex than what they really are. I constantly remind myself of the ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ principle to make sure I get to the heart of issues quickly.
What do you anticipate for the global FinTech industry in 2017?
In 2017 we will see growing levels of payments innovation coming from all corners of the globe, challenging that of the most developed markets.
At PayU we have first-hand experience of high-growth markets such as India, Latin America and Eastern Europe, and we are already starting to witness impressive payments innovation as governments and entrepreneurs capitalise on the smartphone revolution in these regions and citizens’ increasing access to digital channels.
That is one of the most thrilling things about my industry today: the continually shifting focus of innovation.