Q&A » Q&A: Asif Livesey, financial controller at TravelPerk, on the return of business travel

Q&A: Asif Livesey, financial controller at TravelPerk, on the return of business travel

Speaking to The CFO, TravelPerk’s financial controller, Asif Livesey shares how the return of business travel is helping to shape the company’s tech stack

Business travel is coming back in full force this year and next after a complete slowdown during the pandemic. In fact, the industry is expected to grow by 32.8% this year and a further 24.2% in 2023, according to data from the Global Business Travel Association.

For TravelPerk, a business travel management company, this growth has placed pressure on its existing processes and stressed the need to upgrade its controls and systems.

Speaking to The CFO at Oracle NetSuite’s SuiteWorld 2022, Asif Livesey, financial controller at TravelPerk, shares how increasing demands in business travel are helping to shape the company’s finance tech stack and how his role is evolving to become more value-added.

With the business travel sector continuing to grow, what are some of the challenges you and the finance team have experienced as demand for TravelPerk increases?

Our tech stack is complicated. The front end is beautiful and customers love it. But behind that […] the back end hasn’t been built for finance, it’s not a core finance tool. We’re a product led company; hence it’s been engineered to support the front end. Reshaping this was a big challenge, just unpicking it all and essentially working out where the source of truth sits along the line of tech stack. Then add in the fact we have we have different sources of the tech stack feeding into the process for different use cases, the ultimate source of truth became a little muddled.

Away from that, a core focus has been automation. We don’t automate for the sake of it because it doesn’t always make total sense for the business. Instead, we automate where relevant and impactful. That’s kind of been our motto over the last sort of 12 months or so as business travel comes back with a boom. We’re looking to automate where it makes sense and trying to streamline as much as possible, be more efficient and then be able to step back and strategise.

You spoke about automating where it makes sense and not just for the sake of it, what are some examples of areas that you’ve decided to automate and those you’ve not?

A couple of areas that we’re targeting at the moment are banks and cash management. Mainly because we deal with seven or eight core currencies and across a large amount of jurisdictions. Managing that, the hedging involved, and just the sheer amount of transactions flowing through our books (millions and millions of transactions each month), it’s obviously hard to keep track of that, especially if it was manual. Having that automated and feeding into a TMS system via NetSuite is like a no-brainer.

We have hundreds of providers, for example with individual hotels if you think every hotel enters into a separate agreement, in terms of tracking commission rebates, cost of sales, etc – without a suitable tool to consolidate that and track it would be unbearable. Having this magnitude of volume, along with other verticals we have such as airlines, trains and cars, it can get very messy and complicated. Automating that and being able to segment it into how we need it to look is of paramount importance.

In terms of what we’ve put on the back burner, it’s mainly around automating flows in NetSuite that we can push back to our back end. At the moment, we’ve got everything coming in one direction, we want to get to level down the line when you’re sending API’s back (like a 360 view) so we’re not overly reliant on two systems. It’s not critical, given it’s not currently a huge time saver but definitely food for thought.

The decision, at high level, always revolves around impact versus effort. For example, if it takes a while and/or is costly for us to automate something when the impact is quite small, doesn’t give the team any satisfaction, and doesn’t save much time, it’s typically not a worthwhile investment for us. It’s weighing up impact over effort across everything we do.

How have the requirements you need for financial systems changed since you first joined TravelPerk?

Naturally, it changes as companies scale and grow. As a smaller company, we were fine to have a more basic system. Our legacy provider, (Exact) were good for what we previously needed but isn’t suitable for what we need today. Before the brief was incredibly simple, it was to feed all the transactions in, and as long as they were all in one place, we can work through it, whether offline or online. Back then we had a less complex structure, a couple of entities, whereas now got about eight, across four or five countries, with different currencies, and different consolidation levels at play, we can’t afford to have that level of complexity in multiple spreadsheets – we need to bring it all together.

As we become more mature, we look at stuff like SOX, and the core controls and processes around what we do. Having bulletproof security and control over our end-to-end financial processes is key. Whether it’s audit trails and information, flows from a transaction to a bank payment, having all that documented in one place is extremely important.

Then there’s also the integration itself and building a financial ecosystem fit for scale. In the past this was typically seen as just a bookkeeping tool when but now we need its all-encompassing ERP to link in and speak to different areas of the business, involving a significant amount of other teams away from finance. We don’t really see it as ‘just a finance tool’.

Finance can be a little dry on occasion. How do you bring excitement into your role and your team?

What gets our team going is building something we can be proud of, almost like a sports team. A lot of the best sports teams in the world do a lot of training all week for a big match at the weekend. At work, you don’t do that you just play the game, day in and day out. What we’re trying to incorporate now is more training to make it interesting and then obviously, the bigger picture is to build a team that we’re proud of.

If you enjoy the team and the relationship, you kind of learn from each other grow and develop. And obviously don’t get me wrong there are milestones like an IPO and ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and fun stuff like that on the way but I think it’s setting the journey and also kind of empowering people within the team to go and do it different levels of the organisation.

In the last few years, CFOs have become more strategic partners to the rest of the C-Suite team. How has your role as a financial controller also evolved with that?

Over the last few years, I think it’s changed – we’re expected to be more commercially minded. We talk a lot internally with the C-level about risk appetite now and how we can really shape decisions, whereas in the past, we were maybe more reserved in what we were doing around this. The worst thing for me now would be to be seen as not commercially minded, because that’s the direction we’re going in.

A big thing that’s come up more frequently, is the entity structuring process i.e. what the structure of our group and financial health/outlook needs to look like. Also, the way we report to the C-level and investors has changed a lot. Before it used to maybe a bit more slapdash in terms of involvement, whereas now we’re expected to get involved more directly with investors i.e. a regular cadence for interacting rather than being behind the scenes.

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