From a 25-Strong Startup to an MNC: The CFO who Thrives During Changes

Image: Eoneren/iStock

Editor’s Note: Ingo Uytdehaage, CFO at payment company Adyen, talked about how his CFO role has changed as the company grows in the first part of the interview. This week, we feature CFO Innovation's conversation with him about digital transformation and the challenges facing him as the CFO today given the pressure to grow during economic uncertainties. To read the first part of the interview, visit here.

Is digital transformation a top priority in your company or is there something else more important?

IU: Digital transformation’s something on which we’ve always focused. Since day one, we've tried to automate everything in the finance function, especially the operational flows that impact our customers.

The reason why we've to be highly automated is the huge volume of transactions we need to process. Last year, that volume hit €108 billion.

To keep scaling and evolving, we’re also focused on generating more insights through our digital solutions.

Ingo Uytdehaage, CFO at Adyen

Which financial processes have already been automated?

IU: Most of our operational functions are fully automated. For instance, we accept payments on our platforms and the processes of receiving funds and paying them out to customers across countries and in multiple currencies are also automated. One thing remains manual though: the treasury’s looking out for exceptions or issues.

Are those processes you mentioned already on the cloud?

IU: We run fully on the cloud. We’ve a private cloud solution and our accounts receivable solution runs on that too.

What do you think are the key challenges facing you as a CFO today?

IU: In this high-growth space [of payment], we need to keep scaling the business because what is good enough today may not be so in a year’s time.

Due to the exponentially growing volumes, we need to keep on improving. The finance function should always keep up with the ever-changing business environment—the ability to do this is crucial for our success in the long run.

How do you help your team make those changes, given humans by default don’t like changes?

IU: We spend a lot of time growing the team and making sure we’ve the right team members.

While I see lots of benefits from constant changes, it’s also important for our employees to be adaptable. We spend time on explaining why we need to do certain things and their underlying purposes.

At the same time, we give employees much freedom in problem solving.

When empowered, employees take pride in implementing new solutions and coming up with new ways to improve operations.

How do you work with other C-Suite members?

IU: At the beginning, the management board always gathered to facilitate discussions. When we became a 100-strong firm, we realized that there were a couple of basic principles that had made us successful and we  summarized those basic principles into what we call the ‘Adyen Formula’, which is made up of eight points and used by our employees when they have problems and need to make decisions.

This is the way we work as board till this day and the way we keep Adyen nimble. 

A crisis is a situation where a company has to carefully consider its purpose

What’s Adyen’s plan for Asia Pacific next year? What role does the CFO play in the company's business direction?

IU: We will continue to invest in APAC region as it’s a very important region for us. We believe we have a role to play in making it easier for merchants to accept payments, given the rising trend of online payment and increasing importance of mobile devices in payment.

That means we will continue to invest in the APAC team for a higher level of support to our customers.

As the CFO, I will enable growth by making sure that, for instance, we can operate as an entity and hire the right people when expanding into a new country.

The local offices should feel supported by the finance team based in Amsterdam.  We also ensure that the finance team members travel to the APAC region, especially our main hub Singapore, to help out when needed. 

Given today’s economic and political uncertainties, how have all these affected Adyen’s business in Asia Pacific?

IU: The first transaction that was made on our platform was in 2007—shortly before the financial crisis hit.

A crisis is a situation where a company has to carefully consider its purpose.

As we were able to focus on the core of our business, we survived the financial crisis while gaining lots of traction a couple of years later.

If crisis would hit again, we’d need to think about what that means for us. Our experience of Brazil’s severe recession and political instability demonstrated our ability to thrive and survive as well.

During this crisis, many merchants moved online after shutting down their physical retail stories.

Those online players became the winners, who were typically the type of customers we helped during those tough times.  Now we’ve a strong presence in the country where our business continues to grow.