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Interview: Why a Strategic, Wider Vision Is More Important than Numbers

December 17, 2018

From seeking ways to optimize processes, to helping understand what is happening in the markets, the recommendations and decisions of a financial executive are a key element to staying competitive.

In this interview, Claudia Guzmán, finance director at Baker McKenzie Colombia, shares her experience in the role of a financial executive on topics including cybersecurity, technology, and innovation.

Q: What are you doing in terms of innovation and technology at Baker McKenzie?

A: Some four years ago we implemented the SAP system, a first for a legal firm. What we’ve been doing since is leverage this system more, and we now have a standardized way of doing things, which makes everything easier.

We are moving toward centralizing services. We already have a service center in Manila, two in Belfast, and another service center will be installed in Latin America to optimize all financial and operational tasks. We are moving toward standard reporting and centralized invoicing. In Peru and Colombia, we already have centralized invoicing.

We have also worked very hard on pricing, because we know it’s a huge differentiator and key aspect in this industry when it comes to offering services to clients and also when it comes to legal project management. This not only helps to control profitability, but also for customers to be more in control of their costs.

Systems such as SAP help you to be very orderly and careful with data, because that’s what the results depend on. This has helped a lot, because it means the quality is present from the very start of each process, whereas before, you had to carry out a quality control procedure at the end.

Q: Do you think there are risks associated with implementing new technology to a corporate financial department?

A: Risks can come from security and control of information. Things like the cloud, where information can be at risk of being tapped, for me, those would be the main risks of these technologies. That’s why we work closely with the security and data control area, and that helps mitigate the risks. Since we are a multinational company, cybersecurity is a crucial topic for us, and we are very careful and robust when it comes to IT and compliance.

Q: What are you doing in terms of cybersecurity?

A: Because we handle very sensitive information, some years ago we adjusted the IT department, making it much more specialized and robust. It’s about “bulletproofing” in the best way possible. For example, if we want to hire a new service and that particular company offers cloud services, it must go through very rigorous security filters, because we want to be in control of our servers.

With SAP, we centralized two large servers, one in Germany and one in Latin America, in order to control our data and try to mitigate risks. This way the company aims to have more control over the networks. But the company also invests a lot in training people. We train our employees not only on data protection but also on the dangers of using unknown software, etc. This training has been going on for some three or four years. The idea is to raise awareness in our employees about the risk of “opening the door” from a technological standpoint.

Q: What changes have you seen in the financial executive role?

A: I’ve worked across several industries and I think it’s becoming more important to have a much wider vision to help understand what’s happening in the markets and help the company adapt to the market.

The most interesting aspect for a financial executive is going from optimizing processes with what’s available, to becoming part of the decision making with regards to the business and where it’s headed, understand what’s happening with the competition and how to best optimize the financial processes to not lose competitiveness.

The role is becoming more varied and more about becoming a strategic player for the business. That’s my experience, I’ve been in the decision-making process for a good while. Years ago in this company, they realized that a financial executive with a strategic vision, beyond numbers, is crucial for business.

This interview was conducted by Latin Trade for Council of the Americas.