INTERVIEW HOUSE OF EXECUTIVES 26 / 05 / 2021
And it’s not just the role of colleagues that has changed; the customer of today is no longer the same as the customer of ten years ago. Iris Lopes, managing director of SpendLab, explains: “The CFO is much more active in thinking about the future of the business and helping to guard the company’s DNA. Gut feeling is given just as much importance as knowledge of the figures.”
For more and more companies, this is also automation: having the accounts audited, looking for unjustified payments, forgotten balances and even fraudulent transactions by suppliers. The originally Dutch software company SpendLab has made this its specialty and is headed by a Belgian managing director: Iris Lopes.
Iris may still have Belgian nationality, but the Dutch sounds that come through when she talks reveal that she has been in the company of our northern neighbors for a very long time. “I have been working in the Netherlands for seventeen years,” she explains. “Currently mainly from Eindhoven, where SpendLab has its headquarter. I actually like those typical Dutch characteristics: the openness, the directness, the lack of hierarchy. But be careful, I do try to find the golden mean. Occasionally I massage the Dutch directness away a bit with some Belgian restraint (laughs).”
NO COFFEE BUT TEAMS
SpendLab currently has offices in Eindhoven, Amsterdam and Miami. The Belgian team has been based in Eindhoven for the past year, to intensify international scaling. In Portugal, Italy and the United Kingdom, the company is working closely with partners. It is this international expansion that currently consumes most of Iris’ time. “The Miami office we started up in March last year, about the same time corona broke loose. It’s our hub for the U.S. and Latin American markets, but from there we also work Australia, where we work with one of the largest IT manufacturers and service providers in the world. Corona has made all that a lot more complex. Fortunately, as a technology-oriented company we had already come a long way in terms of digitalization, but we still had to make major changes to our internal organization. Our sales, for example, used to consist mainly of visiting customers and having a cup of coffee together; now the majority of our customer contacts take place digitally via Teams.”
SpendLab chases large amounts of customer data through a self-developed platform supported by machine learning, deep learning and algorithms. So among the hundred or so employees, there are many IT and tech people, but soft skills are also becoming increasingly important in her business, Iris says. “Of course IT and technology are hugely important with us, but it’s not everything. The human aspect still counts: empathy, empathy with your customer, knowing how to get a message across, persuasiveness… this has become even more important than before. Our managers are therefore bridge builders, people who have mastered both the professional technology and the soft skills. This is also a focus point in our own internal training. You never learn something like that one hundred percent at school; I believe very much in learning on the job.”
FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY
Along with that attention to soft skills, the way work is done has also evolved tremendously over all these years. “Judging purely on KPIs is difficult if you are constantly working remotely,” says Iris. “We ourselves have also had to learn to give our people more freedom and at the same time to link more responsibility to it. I can also see that this is fairly generation-specific. People in their twenties and thirties are asking for this approach: give me a certain, well-defined task and a certain amount of time and I’ll make sure everything gets done. Without the need for constant monitoring.”
Not only has the role of colleagues changed, the customer of today is not the same as the customer of ten years ago. Iris: “The role of the CFO has changed so much. In the past, he or she mainly had to deal with figures and delivering reports. Nowadays, a CFO is much more actively involved in thinking about the future of the business and he/she helps to guard the company’s DNA. Gut feeling is given just as much importance as knowledge of the figures. Here too, the human, ‘soft’ aspect has come to the fore.”
The field of audit recovery has evolved tremendously in recent years. When the service started, it still involved an enormous amount of manual work to arrive at an outcome. “Excel nerds,” laughs Iris. “The amount of data we used to handle in three months, we can now perform in a few days. Processing a million invoices five years ago took us about three to four months to come to an understanding. Now we can do that in a day. This increase in speed has also allowed more room for human intervention.”
“We leave the pure computation to automated tools. Our job now is to find insights, provide evidence and communicate with the customer. We not only identify, but also come up with solutions to prevent and reduce risks in the future. These solutions are implemented by our partners where we provide the data service. This also involves much more risk management: what has been missed by the internal processes, why and what can we do about it? This has also had an impact on our business model. We used to work mainly on a project basis, very ad hoc. Now we try to enter into a much more continuous relationship with customers. They grow with us and vice versa.”
House of Executives: SpendLab was a partner in C-WEEK, our spring digital conference. As part of it, we meet one of their own executives, the managing director.