Finance business partnering: How CFOs and product teams drive value together
In 2020, Angela Strange of a16z famously declared that every company would evolve into a fintech company. This bold vision underscores the notion that fintech innovations can emerge from unexpected sources, often from areas we wouldn't typically associate with fintech.
This concept, known as "embedded finance", represents an ecosystem of infrastructure enterprises offering banking services to non-financial businesses, letting them seamlessly integrate financial propositions into their existing products that customers already use daily. In turn, businesses benefit from additional revenue streams, increased customer retention and higher lifetime value (LTV) - all key considerations for finance teams.
And with more businesses moving into the vertical SaaS model, more product managers will own payments as a new product line, because adding new propositions (particularly as specialised as finance) is highly dependent on product teams.
Ultimately, company success will depend on how well finance leaders partner with and help orient product managers. As an experienced product leader and now CEO and entrepreneur, I’ll explain what product teams need most from finance, using payments as an example.
Two unexpected examples of payments as a product
The power of embedded finance lies in its capacity to seamlessly weave payments and fintech into our daily experiences while operating behind the scenes. However, it also means that businesses embedding and offering fintech propositions will be entering a new area they are not used to playing in.
An example of that is MindBody, originally a SaaS platform for fitness studios to manage class schedules. What started as a simple B2B subscription model eventually expanded to vertical SaaS model to also include payments on the platform, earning a 3% cut from every transaction. Today, payments account for 50–60% of MindBody's revenues, boosting the LTV of their average customer by 25% while simultaneously reducing customer acquisition costs (CAC).
Another case in point is Starbucks, which, according to SEC filings, holds $1.6 billion in outstanding balances on customer gift cards. Each time a customer reloads their gift card, they effectively loan money to Starbucks at 0% interest, which the company repays in coffee rather than cash - acting like a bank without being one.
Key principles for successful product development
For any product to increase its chances of success, it should address the following three criteria:
Desirability - product solves customers’ problems;
Feasibility - product is feasible by building on existing skills and resources;
Viability - product can be profitable with a strong business model.
When considering embedding or owning fintech propositions, feasibility and viability is often underlooked. I’ve seen teams underestimate their regulatory and compliance knowledge gaps and the commercial acumen required to successfully take their product to the market.
In a world where every business will have a fintech play, the product team will have to do its homework to assess their skill gaps and understand the viability of the product - unit economics, customer acquisition costs, expected lifetime value and more. And likewise, finance teams will have to understand the product’s desirability and feasibility to better manage their business cash flow.
Every business will need a fintech product manager
Adding payments as a product means two things, first making sure you can acquire money where you couldn't do it before (like Mindbody did by monetising payments). And second, improving the margins and the cost of each acquired payment. Many businesses opt to become regulated institutions to unlock additional revenue potential and own the payment experience. However, that also means regulatory compliance, understanding consumer purchase behaviours and navigating the fragmented landscape of payment methods.
For instance, in the Netherlands, iDEAL accounts for nearly 55% of online transactions, while in Italy, PayPal is the preferred method, closely followed by cash. Nordics is known for being a digital-first economy with only 13% of consumers using cash for purchases in Sweden.
Payment preferences vary by region, regulatory landscapes differ, and tapping into banking and embedded financial products requires expertise in commercialising, scaling, and developing these products.
The crucial partnership between product and finance teams
That is where cross-collaboration between finance and product teams is essential. If the product team solely focuses on solving customer problems without considering the commercial model, or if the finance team fixates solely on profitability without understanding the core product principles (desirability, feasibility, and viability), they inadvertently work against their own success.
For instance, suppose you're in the business of selling inventory and booking software to restaurants, and want to diversify your revenue streams. Given that you already have comprehensive inventory data on your customers, you have the potential to provide business loans helping restaurants overcome temporary cash flow and seasonality challenges. You can utilise the data to assess loan eligibility and create personalised repayment plans that align with the restaurant's incoming revenue.
The hospitality industry is frequently underserved by conventional banks and is perceived as a high-risk, unpredictable sector, giving you a greater opportunity to offer more value to customers you already know and trust.
For this proposition to succeed, your product team needs to understand its economic viability and expected uptake and, likewise, your finance team will need to understand how to manage underwriting, financial operations and repayments. Knowing the nuances of this revenue opportunity is essential for both teams to effectively plan, model and predict the financial impact on their business’ bottom line.
Finance business partnering: how to align with product teams
Before starting Payable, I spent over 10 years leading product teams in various fintechs in the UK and the US developing commercial propositions. In my last role at checkout.com, I was building platform products for leading fintech brands like Revolut, Klarna and Mollie.
During that time I learned how to leverage the partnership with the finance team to deliver products that have a clear path to profitability and success.
Here are my key learnings:
1. Align financial and product goals
Have a clear definition and understanding of your business model and how your products will generate revenue. While some products may not be immediately profitable, they can serve as effective customer acquisition tools.
Make sure product and finance teams are on the same page when it comes to understanding their product portfolio, unit economics and how the business models scale.
2. Invest in data and analytics
We all know the saying “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. Data is the common language between these teams providing evidence. Ensure your analytics and infrastructure can track usage data, measure CAC, and align with your internal targets.
Once you can track the right data points it’s important to ensure both teams can access it, as they often use different tools.
3. Share transparently and often
With the right data and context, you will see a powerful narrative unfolding. Those are the insights your leadership will want to see as it will open conversations for product and growth investments. Oftentimes that will mean sunsetting products that do not make viable sense. All in all, your finance and product teams will be better aligned to make decisions that will directly impact your business' bottom line.
Embedded finance is already part of the modern economy paving the next chapter in fintech evolution. Investing in the right product talent and aligning internal teams will set your business for success to provide better experiences for your customers and greater business outcomes for your company.
About the author
Daniel Yubi is a fintech entrepreneur and the CEO of Payable. He spent 10+ years in financial services and before Payable led product teams at checkout.com where he built platform products for leading fintech brands.
Payable is a treasury management platform for scaling finance teams. It saves time and resources by automating financial operations at scale without compromising on risk and security.