ICYMI- Consultant Webinar Featuring Brittany Russell of SAOS

We recently hosted a webinar specifically for consultants with a special guest- Brittany Russel from Strategic Accounting Outsource Solutions. In case you missed it, here is the transcript. You can also download the on-demand recording here.


I am Brittany Russell. I am a partner of SAOS (Strategic Accounting Outsource Solutions) and just as a quick context of what SAOS means, we are an accounting firm/consulting group that serves as a consultant and partner for all things accounting. 

We have two main niches, which are family office and nonprofits, and we ultimately provide the upfront consulting piece on technology, people and process, but also transition clients to ongoing accounting day-to-day from bookkeeping up to CFO. 

So that's where I come from and I'm excited to be here with you guys today to go over the banking world and the world of bank feeds and hopefully help some people get some tidbits that I knew I needed a while back on where to go from here. Thank you for having me. 

And I am also very excited to be here today. My name is Claire Robinson and I lead the product team here at FISPAN. We’ll get into what FISPAN does in a little bit, what we do touches on the embedded banking world quite heavily. That's where all of our products sit and so very excited to be partnering with Brittany and showcasing the kind of similarities and the ways that the two groups (i.e. fintechs and consulting groups), can work together within the embedded banking space. 

So thanks for listening and we'll jump right into it. There's a few different things we're going to go through today. We're going to start with how banks are thinking about ERP integrations and what our ERP integrations can do. We're then going to move on to what FISPAN is and how we fit into this ecosystem. We'll then go dive a little bit into the ERP ecosystem itself and what the various distribution channels are within it. Brittany is then going to go through a case study or a couple case studies with regards to two different clients that we have partnered to provide services to and then we'll open up the floor to a Q&A session. 

So, the first topic of conversation is embedded banking and what is embedded banking. How does FISPAN fit into the space and what does it mean? Embedded banking is the products and services that banks or third party fintechs provide to corporate clients to bring banking services into their native systems of record. And those native systems of record can be accounting systems or your ERP systems, and treasury management systems. It's essentially where those corporate clients are doing the majority of their day-to-day accounting activities. 

There are a variety of different services that can be brought in and really the value of embedded banking is that corporate clients can do. All beyond just their accounting processes, they can do the majority of their day-to-day business practices within their system of record. If they don't have any embedded banking products or services right now, they're doing a whole group of activities in their native system of record and they're doing a separate group of activities in their banking portal and this creates room for error. It creates a whole lot of manual processes and workarounds that are required. Embedded banking banking really just brings the two processes together. There are a few different ways that embedded banking is delivered, and the first kind of group of delivery method is gateways. There are mainly two types of gateways that we as a fintech company serve in this space and the first is secure file transfer. Transmission or file gateways and the 2nd is API gateways. 

We're seeing banks invest more and more into their API gateways, and there's a whole host of advantages to the API Gateway methodology, but we're still seeing that banks are maintaining their file gateways because they are so long standing, they've been in place for a while now and they are very safe and secure.

 The second grouping which we will go into the most amount of detail today is this ERP embedded method and this is exactly where FISPAN fits into this space. The second way is that clients can hook up their ERP Embedded banking services through a direct integration with their banks. So some of you on this call might have had experiences with clients that have gone about doing this type of direct integration- it's definitely great when it's up and running, it can take a while to get there and it is a very manual and IT heavy project to set up.

The third type of group of connectivity methods is the accounting system data exchange. So we see this primarily delivered by Fintechs in the market. This is a kind of third party solution that is hooking up the corporate client system of records to the bank. 

We're now going to kind of talk about some of the treasury management challenges that are solved by embedded banking and we touched on a couple of them previously. But really when clients don't have embedded banking, there is a whole team of dedicated support people to ensure that what is happening in their system of record reflects what's happening in their banking portal and some of these challenges include limited resources for smaller corporate clients, potentially SMB's.They don't have a hundred person accounting team. They might be working with accountants on the team and it can almost be one person's full time job to ensure what's happening in the system of record is matching what's happening in the bank portal. 

Second, there can be a lot of IT involvement required to set up some of these embedded banking services, and oftentimes the IT department and companies, the accounting team isn't always their first priority. They're looking at things like making sure the companies’ internet is working, making sure everyone's laptop is set up. They're not focused and they don't necessarily understand the importance of embedded banking offerings for their accounting teams. So often these initiatives are not prioritized. There's a ton of manual processes that come when clients don't have any embedded banking offering, mainly the export and import between the two different sides. Between the banking portal and the system of record. There isn't a ton of data visibility between the two different sides. And there's often incomplete or inaccurate data transmission, particularly in the form of vendor bank details between these two sides. So when a vendor changes their address or changes their bank account number, it's not uncommon that the accounting team forgets to update both sides and is only working with. 

There are also disparate systems between the bank portal and the system of record. There's not a whole ton of cybersecurity practices that come with downloading and uploading manual files between the two different sides. Oftentimes, we have accountants that have sensitive data stored on their in their downloads folder or on their desktop, simply because it's such an arduous process to ensure that the two different sides are linked.

 And then we'll dive a little bit into what bank feeds are during Brittany's case study. But we're also seeing that there are a lot of offerings for bank feeds connections out there, but a lot of them are unreliable. So Brittany, I know you have some experience with all of these challenges and maybe in particular that last one, but do you want to add any color to these?

Thanks, Claire. These are definitely all things I've run into the ones that stand out to me the most that probably resonate with everybody on the call as consultants. You know, as much as we can, we share with the client what we think they should do. But at the end of the day, we need to make sure that they're getting what they expect. They're expecting a bank feed that works and we're like, OK, we're going to promise it, but then we don't know exactly when it's going to be reliable. So that comes to the last one. But we also have limited resources in it that play into that piece because to be honest, most of the IT and if you do a direct feed, you're talking major IT costs. So you have to convince the client to do it. Or, you're trying to eat that cost to offer this bank so you didn't at the end of the day, our margins as consultants are in trouble. 

So I think that direct integration is really not going to be the solution for the long term and that's why I know all of us are probably looking for the best partners in the market. And since our clients require these bank feeds, the manual process is not gonna sustain us very long, right? It's not sustainable. It's not something that you can keep real time data. 

That's the main thing I'm hearing now is like I want my bank reconciled every day, not once a month. Maybe it used to be a thing so the manual process is not scalable. High volume, high touch. That’s not gonna happen. That reliably at least, or you just need a ton of resources to do all that. So again, hitting our team or our client teams with a lot of bandwidth that they don't have and the last one I do wanna touch on is incomplete vendor banking. I feel like this is a place where our industry in general is seeing. A lot of attempted change, but like not fully getting all the way there and I don't know. What AP tool or what not is going to actually do this? But what I do like about what Claire and FISPAN is focused on is that it is the bank, is the source of record and they have strong controls and they have good cybersecurity and the vendor data lives there. 

Why can't we use where it lives safely? To feed your source system or initiate payments from your source ERP system. So I'm liking where I see the world going for the vendor data maintenance and maintaining it safely and securely and hopefully obtaining it that way. Instead of calling. And all the things that we all have to help our clients think through the process. I think that vendor bank details, although maybe not perfectly figured out right now, it's a huge challenge in the industry that's working on being resolved and FISPAN is helping get that closer. 

And I think that's a good one to point out too, cause it might seem like a pretty minor one on this list compared to limited resources or cyber security. But this is a huge, huge pain point for clients and consultants alike, because you're often dealing with the mess of trying to reconcile the two. So thanks for those. 

When we talk about the embedded banking ecosystem today, there's five key players that we see in the ecosystem. The first is these corporate clients who are making use or not making use of embedded banking. The second is the ERP or the system of record. The third is fintechs. There's a ton of fintechs in the market, touching on different portions and different processes within the embedded banking world. The third is banks that are trying to invest and are successfully investing in embedded banking products and services and the last but not least is the consultant. And we'll dive into what the benefits of the current ecosystem are, what the opportunities are, and how we think consultants are really the key to bringing these all together. 

So the first benefit from our perspective in this current ecosystem is that it is ripe with opportunity. There's five different key players and no single player fully understands the rules of the other players, or what the ecosystem looks like, exactly who the specific players within those different groups are, and so there's an opportunity for education. 

There's an opportunity for education from consultants to banks, from consultants to corporate clients, from fintechs to corporate clients. There's a whole host of education that needs to happen in the market to have everyone get on the same page. Similarly, there is an opportunity for standardization in the market. The market is very, very crowded. There's a lot of different offerings out there that are providing the same thing in different ways or trying to provide the same thing in different ways, but there's not a ton of standardization in the offerings. 

The third is leadership. We don't have any one of these groups really taking charge and saying “this is how embedded banking is going to work”. These are the different players. These are the ones publishing annual reports on what's changing, what's going to happen, what the trends are. All of these things just mean that there is plenty of room for each player to make a mark within this ecosystem, which I think is pretty exciting. With the benefits there also come downsides, and the primary downside that we're seeing is that this ecosystem is very, very crowded. 

We have fintech selling directly to clients without their consultants or their banks being aware. We have ERP's selling directly to clients without banks really having a stake in the game. We have banks selling directly to clients without really understanding what the ERP ecosystem looks like. And we have consultants selling solutions on behalf of Fintechs selling to clients. And so the arrows in the last diagram kind of reflect the fact that there's a lot of different kinds of areas of value being transferred and there's not really a standard between them all. And so no player in this ecosystem really has a defined and mutually agreed upon role. 

It's all very crowded and confusing at the moment. With that said, the good news is that everyone is working towards the same goal, and that goal is streamlined banking experiences for your clients. If streamlined banking experiences are provided to your clients, your clients will be happy, and to be transparent, I don't know that is the goal of everyone attending is here. I'm going to stop at happy clients. But happy clients mean money and revenue for your company.

The role of ERP consultants is mission critical, especially with the state of the ecosystem. Right now it's our belief and we have a lot of experience in working with consultants to provide our services that consultants hold all the power. Clients know what they're looking for and what the goal they're looking to achieve is, but they turn to their consultants for what the solutions are that can actually achieve that goal. They put their trust and their confidence in their consulting team to ensure that their goals are met and the consultants are the ones that know the products out there that can accomplish that. So we see that the final decision or final say on what products are brought into the clients ERP or system of record is often made by the consultants. And with that, we believe that consultants are the key to unlocking embedded banking at scale. Because of the nature of your business model, it's your job to go out and understand what the marketplace looks like, what the offerings are that are out there and and what is the best product or service that meets your clients needs. And if you're the group that's doing that, and you're the group that the clients are trusting and putting confidence in to provide that. It is you that can really make a difference in this embedded banking ecosystem. So we'll now turn to a bit of an overview and what exactly our offering is. And so FISPAN is a bit of a unique fintech in the market and that is clients or our customers, our banks. But our end users are not our banks, but corporate clients. And so we partnered directly with banks to integrate into a variety of their different services, everything from different payment rails to information reporting to account to account transfers. We essentially allow banks to provide integrated products into their corporate clients accounting or ERP platforms. 

FISPAN really sits in the middle between a number of different accounting and ERP systems and a series of partner banks. We provide value for commercial clients in a few different ways. The first is we provide what we call a smart integration between banks and ERPs and this is our core offering. 

We are syncing the data between ERP systems and those banks. On a consistent basis to ensure that all details and changes made in one system are reflected in. Another is that we also provide automated journal entry postings and reconciliation for our clients.

Brittany is going to go into a deep dive into the value that bank feeds have added for two of her clients in just a little bit, but this will become very relevant during those case studies. The third is easy payments, so payments can be made directly from these corporate clients ERP systems and fed to the bank. There's no need to export a record of bills or invoices that are looking to be paid. Import them into the bank portal and pay them from there. Everything can be done within the ERP system. We also, as we touched on before, allow for easy vendor management and really accurate vendor management between the banking portal and the ERP systems. 

We also allow for real time transaction information. So we pull in balances and transactions from corporate clients accounts directly into their ERP systems. So they can make payment, run decisions, understand the holdings within each of their accounts and ultimately perform reconciliation from directly within their ERP system. And all of this really culminates in saving time and money. If there's no need to bounce between the two different systems and reconcile the two different systems we're saving corporate clients time and money. We allow for a scalable integration, so there's no IT lift required when clients are onboarding onto FISPAN. We do require the ERP administrator to be there, but we typically get the client set up, once everything's set up in our back end in the bank's back end, it takes the end-user about 15 to 30 minutes. 

We find that the clients that we have are extremely satisfied with our offering. They are particularly satisfied because of the saved time and money. We also allow or provide our own support and customer service. So that goes for both clients themselves and consultants. We have direct lines for all of the banks and direct emails for all of the banks to ensure that clients have a place to go when they have any questions regarding the integration. Part of our business model is that we rely on the banks as a distribution channel. And so we'll get into this in a moment, but we because we partner with the banks, banks obviously know what ERP systems their clients work with. And so we've had a few different scenarios where we're able to set up relationships between corporate clients and consultant groups because they're turning to their banks to say I want this integration, but I need a consultant to assist me with my NetSuite environment setup or my Sage Intacct environment setup. 

We partner with the banks and we white label our solution.. The banks are the ones selling and betting our product. And so the due diligence is already performed prior to the customer being onboarded. And lastly, our integrations require less time and resources because we're not building one-off bank connections and your corporate clients aren't building direct integrations to their banks. So we currently partner with 14 U.S. banks at the moment and you'll see the list here. I'm not going to read them off 1 by 1, but I think this might be a question that comes up in the Q & A. Is that great, but what about banks? 

We support six different ERP or accounting systems today. So on our embedded side of things, we integrate into NetSuite, Sage Intacct and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central and our non embedded solution which we call our companion app solution. We currently have QuickBooks and offerings with Acumatica coming soon. All right, so getting back to how we think this ecosystem can work together and how the different players come into play, the financial institutions, fintechs, consultants, and ERP's, everyone wants a slice of the pie. And this isn't a bad thing because all of these different groups bring their own client base, and there's an increased pool of clients to service when these groups come together. 

Similarly, the majority of these clients are actually mutual clients between these different groups. So if we think of an example FISPAN is the fintech in the space, one of our clients is also going to be the client of a consultant is also going to be the client of an ERP, they're going to be onboarded onto one of our ERP's, and they're also going to be a consultant or a client of one of our banks. And so these clients are actually mutual clients between all of the groups in this space. And we all have that same shared objective of making clients happy. And so we believe because of our place within this ecosystem, we can assist, particularly consultants, but we can be a distribution channel to allow all parties to work together and utilize each other's networks. To ensure that we're all meeting that objective. All right, I'm now going to turn it over to Brittany for two different case studies. 

Thanks, Claire. All that resonates so much with me and I'm sure it resonates with many of you. And before I jumped in, I just wanted to say I know a lot of us have a lot of power within our clients and they hopefully are turning to us for important decisions even though they don't always listen the first time around and a year later they're like I should have just listened to them. But I think we know they all want to be happy clients. We want them to be happy clients. They all are asking for bank feeds faster, closes faster accounting, faster reporting real time data. 

And so, because of those things, I think this banking space is a big win for a lot of us. Not just making sure the client  is happy, but also it means a lot more profitability for our consultancy. If we can automate them so. In this space, there are a lot of quick wins if you get with the right solution like FISPAN that I'm finding is playing a really big role in some of our clients that I'm about to speak about and I know we're all being challenged to automate innovation or you're going to get left behind. 

Let’s jump into some case studies.

My case study #1 is a single family office with over 100 clients, over 100 entities and what I want to say is, even though this may not be a niche that you focus on, it can apply to any niche, though it will resonate differently with each of you. But we had over 85 bank accounts still to do and they needed to all get activity through the GL. Now some of that comes automated in from the AP tools, but there's a lot of bank data that we needed to reconcile with the activity that's already in and then anything missing we needed to know what had not been posted, what had auto paid, all those things. And so we started out by doing it with no feeds whatsoever. We had to do the bank reqs once a month, maybe some done weekly if they were bigger accounts that we were paying bills out of and we needed to know how the cash was live. That would take 10 plus hours a month. It was absurd. I told the client we can't go to weekly or daily reqs because it takes forever to do this. Now all of us learn to do it manually first before we try to automate something. Normally we try the aggregator route first. So we turned on an aggregator. It brought in the data. And there's no support for that aggregator, right? So if you have a problem, you're… well, kinda screwed. So we found missing items. We had to reconnect to that aggregator or to the bank through that like auto login at least weekly and we kept floundering, and it created more work for us. 

FISPAN is filling in between the space of a direct integration that you would build for a lot of money and an aggregator who really isn't getting the job done. Sorry, they're just not and they're going to get beat.

 So what I feel like if I send is sitting in that middle space that can provide you with something really consistent. Bank feed but also more than that, there is a plugin that can do payables. So they're sitting in a space that I think is going to expand going into the future. Here and what we do. We implemented this across the single family office so over 80 accounts we moved to FISPAN and the onboarding process was smooth like Claire said, like once the bank has got their part set up. Once the bankers say green light an account gets created at FISPAN, they turn everything on and within 30 minutes you can have your banks feeding into the ERP system and have real time information that's available to do your reconciliations. Like I said earlier, we can't all afford to have integration built because we're just one team. 

 Who's getting paid to do all this? And again, it's your relationship with the bank. As Claire mentioned before. So if you have the right level of banking with the bank, then you will be able to obtain these fees and therefore turn it on to go to your ERP. See, there's not an additional like besides a consultant charging their client. Maybe to do the background work on getting this going for a few hours. Again, it's not a massive integration project and it's a reliable feed. I will admit that there was a time when we had. A main bank account has hundreds and hundreds of transactions per month and within maybe the 1st Months we had like a couple random transactions that were missing and I quickly reached out to the support team at FISPAN. They found them. They knew them before. I had to tell them and they pushed them in. Now on the aggregator side, if I had ever reached anybody to tell them that we had missing transactions, I would have never gotten an updated feed of the missing transactions. 

I've been doing this for probably over a year and a half. The one time I had missing transactions, FISPAN quickly found them and retrieved them for me and I didn't have to do it manually. Their quick support is really a selling point. It’s also really easy to connect new accounts too. So when you add new bank accounts, you just go into FISPAN, make sure you've connected it to what your ERP account is. And suddenly it all can start flowing. This provides about a 60% reduction in time to reconcile, and now I promise the client that we'll reconcile the main big accounts on a daily basis with no concern that we can't. A lot of it is happening automatically if you have the feed, they feed consistent and reliable like you can with FISPAN. Then suddenly you can create auto rules. And auto post rules that are rule based that you feel confident in and now your bank reconciliation is almost happening for you. 

There is a lot of power in automation. This client really has proven that out and that resulted in additional profit margin on our side or ability to help them with more value added activities instead. 

The next case study is also a very similar situation. And we actually just continue to kind of address 1 by 1 on clients who can get FISPAN, because we're ready for all of them to have FISPAN if possible. But this single family office, also large over 75 entities, was running everything manually instead of waiting. And instead of going with an aggregator. To start off, we went directly to hey, go to your bank, tell them you want XYZ level. Tell them you want FISPAN feeds. They already had the right level of banking, so it wasn't a problem and they gave me the green light last week actually, so this is a recent case study. We were live with the bank feeds ASAP because we had the bank turn on their side, FISPAN turned on their side and I was able to connect to the feeds. So, now we have reliable data that we're going to be able to create efficiencies and cut that reconciliation in half or more. Allowing more real time reporting for that client and ability to know where we stand every single week very comfortably to pay. Build so that puts a lot of power back in the accounting team's hands, whether that's handled by your consulting group or it's handled by the client side. I feel like at the end of the day, us as consultants need to bring more innovation and this is exactly what you're doing by doing both of these. So hopefully these examples helped. If there's any questions related to them, I'm happy to answer. 

Thank you to all of our participants for joining us today. If you want to learn more about FISPAN, please visit our website at FISPAN.com and feel free to reach out to us with any further questions you might have.

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