Ann Bakker: “Finance Has a Seat at Every Table.” How Technology, and Problem Solving Power Finance Careers

As a finance veteran with decades of experience in the field, Ann Bakker has witnessed a host of changes, ranging from improvements in technology to the advancement of women. Bakker spent nearly twenty years at Kellogg, one of the largest food makers in the world, in roles that spanned planning and analysis to revenue growth management. 

As an undergraduate student, Bakker started out in science but switched over to accounting, inspired in part by father’s career as an accountant, and eventually earned an MBA in Finance. As a young woman starting out in the business world at the time, there was little in the way of dedicated mentoring opportunities compared to today. But she quickly saw the appeal in using accounting and finance to analyze and solve problems. 

“Earlier in my career, I supported the innovation team at Kellogg, and part of my job was to ensure the new products made money,” Bakker recalled. “It was always a challenge because the marketing and brand people wanted to add more expensive ingredients, and the sales team wanted to sell at a lower price.  To work on that puzzle with cross-functional teams was both difficult and fun.”

Working at a major multinational firm, Bakker was tasked with everything from developing bonus plans to financial forecasting and defining strategy, at times steering finance teams through periods of change and financial uncertainty. Financial planning isn’t done in a vacuum, she quickly learned: Financial skill provides endless opportunities for collaboration. 

“Finance has a seat at every table and — to quote Shirley Chisholm — if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair,” she said. “I loved the fact that I could sit with cross-functional teams and work together to drive a positive business result.” 

Alongside improved reporting tools, many more women have entered the finance profession since Bakker first started out as an auditor at a consulting firm before eventually joining Kellogg. 

High-ranking women in finance were much less common at the time she launched her career, and “watching that evolve, and mentoring other women, has been very rewarding,” she said. 

Meanwhile, technology is helping to empower finance professionals, both in terms of allowing more time for analysis and insights and boosting the value that finance brings to a broader organization. It also allows for a great deal of career development, Bakker added. 

“It’s not unusual for people to move in and out of finance to other functions because of their strong analytical skills and ability to work with many different teams. I’ve had a couple of sales-related roles; others have moved to functions such as logistics because it’s analytical,” she said.  

“Fundamentally, it’s about how you use data to drive insights.”

As big data opens up a new world of information for planners and analysts, repetitive tasks can increasingly be automated instead of manual. According to Accounting Today, 94% of accounting professionals believe that task automation will help their businesses grow, and could also usher in a new era of financial advisory services. 

The pace of innovation will only accelerate from here, Bakker said. 

“Technology is allowing the automation of many activities that financial analysts, for example, would have done in the past,” she said. “And that frees up time for those analysts to help support business improvements, and to provide insights to cross-functional teams in a way that makes finance much more valuable than I think it had been in the past.” 

That underscores a valuable piece of advice for up-and-coming finance professionals in the years ahead:  “Be bolder: In how you work through projects, and in your goals,” Bakker added. 

Found Pennies, a $500B+ Opportunity

Twenty years ago there were men on trading floors wearing yellow jackets screaming at one another negotiating a price in real-time. These trades had to be verified by the Mercantile Exchange, confirmed by a team of people in the brokerage’s finance department, and checked again by the actual buyer’s finance team. It was very much a manual process.

As electronic trading became common, volumes increased and high-frequency trading (HFT) took hold of capital markets, the challenge of matching orders to receipts was no longer a human-scale problem and the spiky-haired geeks like me were asked to lend a hand.

I wrote a piece of software that automated the process of matching trade requests with the corresponding confirmations from the Mercantile Exchange to create an efficient, scalable way to do this work with a higher level of quality.

About a decade later I found myself in advertising where billions of digital ads were processed per day, each flowing through a variety of ad networks, real-time exchanges, and DSPs. Each new campaign required a new insertion order (IO) generating volumes of monthly invoices. Even in a fully digital world, inaccuracies were rampant so we hired a services firm to manage accounts payable to avoid wasted spend. Further compounding the problem was the variability in price across different media channels including, digital, broadcast, regional and local TV, and out of home.

It was 2015. This time in the shipping industry. I was searching for a solution to match the highly variable freight costs of our customers to their invoices from the shipping lines, 3PLs, and suppliers. The only option available was professional services groups who would take documents such as an ocean freight contract and match it to the eventual invoice for a given shipment. Understanding these service solutions were simply people with knowledge of shipping we hired a small team in the Philippines and sold a freight auditing solution to our customers, none of which had an existing solution in-house or otherwise. Even at software prices, our service had an immediate ROI.

In the first year, we processed more than $25M in freight invoices and discovered more than 30% were incorrect. The following year, nearly $100M and the inaccuracies were overwhelmingly in favor of the shipping lines.

The reality is that every Controller, VP Finance, and CFO knows there is gold in their invoices but the cost of discovery is simply too high. It requires teams of people who are themselves prone to the same errors that created the original inconsistencies. Some large companies make the decision to outsource discovery to large consulting firms which according to Gartner saves companies on average 53%. Others choose to outsource auditing to payment networks thus being required to hand over the keys to their payment process, a less than desirable situation for all but the most desperate firms.

Technology allows humans to accomplish things they otherwise could not. We created OpenEnvoy because eliminating AP fraud is no longer a human-scale problem.

If your company pays for variable costs such as freight, media, or even legal fees, we would love the opportunity to help. Try us and if you don’t see an ROI in the first 90 days, we’ll give you your money back.

The Smart Way to Audit Invoices

It’s time to automate invoice auditing and improve your bottom-line. Controllers, VPs of Finance, and CFOs know there’s money to be protected and saved by reviewing every invoice received, but the cost has always been too high. Did you know?

  • 73% of business invoices go unaudited as it’s considered too expensive(1)
  • 53% in cost savings can be realized by performing invoice audits(1)
  • 25% or more of your monthly invoices received contain errors

That’s where OpenEnvoy comes in. We identified this opportunity and created software that can eliminate AP fraud so it’s no longer a human-scale problem.

With OpenEnvoy you start matching invoices within a matter of minutes, not months, thanks to no-code integrations and out-of-the-box connectivity to most major ERP systems.

We created OpenEnvoy so you can get:

  • Software solely focused on automating invoice auditing
  • All invoices matched to originating documents, down to the penny
  • AP Fraud and careless supplier invoice practices eliminated
  • Repetitive tasks automated freeing people to focus on more strategic, complex projects that bring greater value to the business
  • No consulting fees or additional service fees

1 Source: Gartner Research, 2019

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