Lauren Bahr, VP of Finance at Occupier — Death to Spreadsheets?
Lauren Bahr, VP of Finance at Occupier, discusses the destiny of spreadsheets and Excel, why people still use them despite technological advances, how to keep the finance and accounting professions alive, and why the future of finance lies in automation.
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Lauren Bahr, VP of Finance at Occupier — Death to Spreadsheets?
No one denies Excel’s contribution to the business world and how it took operations to the next level. However, it’s time to admit that there are use cases that have outgrown spreadsheets and can make the lives of finance professionals easier.
Whether spreadsheets will soon become part of the past is a burning topic among finance professionals across various industries. In this episode of The Role Forward, Joe Michalowski chats with Lauren Bahr, the VP of finance at Occupier, a lease management solution that breaks down the silos between finance, real estate, and facilities departments. They discuss the destiny of spreadsheets and Excel, why people still use them despite technological advances, how to keep the finance and accounting professions alive, and why the future of finance lies in automation.
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Lauren has over 10 years of experience in the finance space, where she started her career in the audit practice at PWC. She then transitioned into a consulting role where she helped emerging growth companies with their month-end financial reporting requirements. Lauren served as the Director of Accounting & Finance at Neocova, and is now the VP of Finance at Occupier.
- We must keep the finance and accounting profession alive. A new statistic from the AICPA discovered that 75% of CPAs are expected to retire in the next 10 years — but college students are not racing to study accounting and finance. The way to keep people more interested in the finance profession is to change the stereotype of finance professionals from “bean counters” to strategic contributors that are critical to the business’ mission and success.
- Excel will always have its place among finance professionals. As technology develops and new solutions appear, many people still won’t say goodbye to the methods they are used to due to the comfort level and universal language and understanding that Excel provides across the finance industry.
- Automation saves time and leads to faster and more accurate decision-making. It’s critical for finance departments to look for solutions that free them from repetitive tasks and allow for more focus on flexibility for critical models and forecasts that provide decision-makers proactive, strategic insights into the business.
Episode Highlights from Lauren Bahr
10:04 — Are We Close to Saying Goodbye to Spreadsheets?
“I would love to get to that place where we can eliminate them entirely. I don’t think we’ll ever get there, but it would be a nice place, if we put much less emphasis on it. […]
I do not care if you are amazing at Excel in the future because I want you to be leveraging software, and I’m more curious about how you think through problems and your analytical skill set.
Being able to generate the coolest Excel formula of all time is amazing to some folks, but it is not where I want you to be focusing your skill set in the future.”
15:48 — Excel Is Like a Safety Net
“Excel is sometimes hard to combat because people are comfortable with it. People have been using it for 30 years or as soon as they have gotten out of college, and they’ve been using it for the past ten years.
When people are that good at Excel and building files in a way they’ve done historically, sometimes it’s hard to fight that good fight of bringing them over into software that could do it better for them.
And so, with people reverting to Excel, maybe they didn’t fully lean into the software. And it could be Mosaic, or it could be Occupier, but they never leaned into the software to understand its capabilities and how it could solve those edge cases that you thought you could only do in Excel.”
24:23 — Efficiency Is What Makes Various Software Solutions Life Saviors
“We had our board meeting this week, and getting your board package ready can sometimes be daunting because you have different sources of truth for different areas of the business. You are sometimes calculating items important for your metrics like churn, expansion, and all that fun stuff.
Sometimes, it’s very difficult to calculate based on your source of truth. Layering in Mosaic made that process a lot easier because it already did all of the consolidations for you. So, you didn’t have to run around; they already had the charting for you.
And then the other thing is being able to do things on the fly. The morning of the board meeting or after the board meeting, there were certain questions about metrics and different scenarios, and you’re able to do it much faster because you already have the data plugged in.”
Table of Contents
[00:00:00] Lauren Bahr: What you learned in college may not help you in your career. That when I fell in love with accounting, I am one of those nerds that just loves numbers, loves understanding the language of the business, but I fell in love with it because it was very black and white.
[00:00:18] There was debits, there was credits, everything, balance, and flow together so seamlessly.
[00:00:50] Joe Michalowski: Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Role Forward podcast. My name is Joe Michalowski, and this episode is brought to you by Mosaic, a strategic finance platform that transforms the way business gets done. And today, my guest is Lauren Bahr, the VP of Finance at Occupier, a lease management solution that breaks down silos between finance, real estate, and facilities departments.
[00:01:07] Joe Michalowski: Lauren, thank you so much for joining me today.
[00:01:09] Lauren Bahr: Thank you so much for having me. And what a wonderful introduction to Occupier.
[00:01:15] Joe Michalowski: Thank you. I try to get the one-liner. I go to the website, and I’m like, “Okay, how do I do this without giving, like, the entire spiel about what this is.
[00:01:23] Lauren Bahr: I love it. I said, I didn’t even give you that, and you made that all by yourself. That was wonderful.
[00:01:28] Joe Michalowski: It’s, like, content background. It’s what I do. This is what I’m here for. Cool. Well, you know, the first thing I wanna say before we even get into anything, I was really excited the first time we chatted. We just randomly stumbled upon the fact that we both went to Providence College, so go, Friar.
[00:01:41] Lauren Bahr: Yes, yes. It’s always a great day to be a Friar.
[00:01:45] Joe Michalowski: Yeah, so we get a Friar-filled podcast, which this isn’t about that, but I needed to mention it anyway.
[00:01:50] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. I love it.
[00:01:51] Joe Michalowski: But before we, before we get going into main topic, obviously, just want to get a quick background on you, the work you’re doing at Occupier, how you got there, you know, the normal, normal background.
Lauren Bahr Introduction
[00:02:00] Lauren Bahr: Yeah, definitely. So, I started my career at PwC in the audit practice, then transitioned into more of a consulting role where I helped emerging growth companies with their month-end financial reporting requirements. So, basically, I would go into our clients that had really, really big disasters blow up, like, material weaknesses, words that you don’t really want to hear a lot.
[00:02:26] I’d go in there and help them clean up the mess and then set them up for success for future month-end closes, audits, all of that fun stuff. Fast forward now, I’m the VP of finance at Occupier. We are a lease management software, as you mentioned, and it’s really a very dynamic role for me because, of course, as VP of Finance, I’m very critical into the finance element of
[00:02:53] that world, but then I’m also very impactful in the product development and sales and marketing of our lease accounting product.
[00:03:01] Joe Michalowski: Oh, it’s cool. This is, I always like those ’cause this is the second or third time we’ve got a guess that, like, it must be really cool to be in a position where you’re, like, at a company that is now selling the kinds of things that you would be involved in.
[00:03:11] Lauren Bahr: Oh my God.
[00:03:12] Joe Michalowski: That’s what Mosaic has. Like, we have finance people all over the place.
[00:03:15] Must be really nice.
[00:03:16] Lauren Bahr: Oh my God. It’s amazing because, well, first of all, in my experience before getting to Occupier, I had gone through so many different lease accounting implementations with different software, with using Excel, different software providers and things like that and so coming to Occupier made me uniquely qualified for my role because I am the customer.
[00:03:42] I have gone through this before, and it also made it really, really easy for me to identify how great of a product Occupier is by bringing everyone around the same solution.
[00:03:56] So cool. I, the product team must either really love you or “hates” is a strong word, but really not like you ’cause I’m sure you’re just like, “Hey guys, like, what if we just tweaked this one little thing? I bet it would be great”. And they’re, “Oh my God. That’s a lot of work.”
[00:04:08] Yeah. You know, they have mentioned that, you know, maybe they wouldn’t ever build an accounting product ever again because it is really hard to do and yeah, but hopefully they enjoy working on it.
[00:04:20] Joe Michalowski: It’s for the better. It’s
[00:04:22] for the better. It’s all for the better. Well, awesome. I mean, really cool to hear your background. Always love it. It’s a really basic question, but it’s just fun to hear how finance people get to where they are ’cause it, I’ve found that it’s, it’s never really a straight line.
[00:04:35] There’s always some kind of, like, there’s the consulting people, the accounting people, the, it, kind of
[00:04:40] Lauren Bahr: Oh yeah.
[00:04:41] Joe Michalowski: all meshes together.
[00:04:42] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. Definitely.
[00:04:43] Joe Michalowski So, love that. But the main topic we’re gonna talk about today, and I, I don’t wanna, like, overblow it, but I kind of feel like it has to be titled like “Death to Spreadsheets question mark” because you and I
[00:04:52] spent some time talking about how, like, you’re a finance person who just wants to get outta spreadsheets, so love that. But the first thing that you brought up to me was the stat about, like, the future of finance or, like, the future of CPS. I was wondering if you could just, like, reiterate that for people and, like, set the stage for why we’re talking about this.
The Future of Finance, Spreadsheets, and the CPA
[00:05:11] Lauren Bahr: Oh my God. The future of finance is looking a little grim based on some of these statistics, and it’s, I recently heard, published by the AICPA, that 75% of CPAs are expected to retire in the next 10 years, which is mind-blowing to me. But then layering on top of it, the pipeline of CPAs is also not there.
[00:05:37] The number of college graduates aren’t really racing to study accounting and finance, so you’re not really going to have people replenishing the CPA pool. And it’s like this challenging question for, well, one, are we going to become extinct, or am I going to become this rare artifact of having my CPA?
[00:05:59] Or on the other hand, how do we get people more interested in the finance profession?
[00:06:06] Joe Michalowski: Yep. I think it’s a perfect topic, and we are going to talk, like I said, about, like, spreadsheets, so I want, as we go along, all your hot takes on spreadsheets and texts and things like that.
[00:06:18] Lauren Bahr: I know. Yeah. The first time we met, I probably came off a little hot. I probably realized that you were a fellow Friar and I was like, “Okay, guards down. This is what I feel about spreadsheets.”
[00:06:29] Joe Michalowski: I loved it. I was like, “Oh my God. Finally.” ‘Cause it usually, I mean, I talk to a lot of people who are like, “Yeah, you know, it’s like a mixed bag. Like, spreadsheets are still great.” And I, I don’t begrudge anyone, but, like I, I work in marketing, spreadsheets are not my first love. And so, it was nice to hear somebody from your world, like, “Hey, like maybe we should get out of this a little bit.”
[00:06:47] Lauren Bahr: Well, yeah. Definitely.
[00:06:48] Joe Michalowski: Before, before we start, just, like, you know, we’ll be nice to spreadsheets a little bit, but we’re gonna go, we’re gonna go into it a little bit hard about what’s wrong with them. But is there anything else other than kind of like the, the daunting task of just living in spreadsheets that you think might contribute to this kind of future outlook?
[00:07:07] Anything that we’re not gonna focus on today?
[00:07:09] Lauren Bahr: Definitely, I think people, simply put, don’t want to be bean counters anymore and looking at the past and analyzing past transactions. People want to be aligned to a greater purpose, and sometimes a greater purpose isn’t easily aligned to a historical finance and accounting role. And a lot of organizations right now and their finance and accounting elements are so
[00:07:38] very, very manual in nature, leveraging a lot of Excel spread, spreadsheets. People love them. And so, it can start to be this really mundane, different month, same closed process, and you get, like, on this wheel, and you just are, keep continuously doing that. And so, the processes definitely have a lot of room for approvement
[00:08:01] but then accounting is also very challenging because there’s new standards and regulations coming out all of the time. And of course, AC 842, the new lease accounting standard that Occupier helps being one of them, but that’s just one of a dozen that, you know, come out every 5 to 10 years, so it’s just difficult to keep up with the accounting standards, knowing that you have a lot of manual processes that at the end of the day,
[00:08:31] you don’t really have a lot of time to do things that you wanna do, the more forward-looking strategic finance initiatives.
[00:08:39] Joe Michalowski: I, as Mosaic, we are, you know, strategic finance is our, our baby. We love it. And so, I love that answer.
[00:08:45] Lauren Bahr: Yeah.
[00:08:46] Joe Michalowski: And like I said, I mean, I, the goal, the goal here, I guess, is not really just to be like, “Hey, spreadsheets are terrible, and everything’s awful,” but if the reality is that, you know, you’re not wanting to be that backward-looking, like, spreadsheets are not helping the cause, right?
[00:09:00] Like, it’s kind of the, the origin story for why you’re stuck in that system.
[00:09:06] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. Yeah. Hey, I love a good Excel formula, probably more than the next. I love a very clean working paper. I’m here for that. It’s just the future of it.
[00:09:19] Joe Michalowski: Yeah, maybe not so much. I, I wanna talk about that because I wanna, I’ve had this conversation, I think twice on the podcast. We actually have, it’ll be nice ’cause I think the episode when I’m, that’ll release right before yours is also about somebody who’s like, he’s really into spreadsheets, and he’s like, “I don’t know about, like, kind of ditching them altogether.”
[00:09:39] So, it’ll be nice to kind of have the two working against each other, but I think usually it comes down to like, “Yeah, you know, like, we need a bit of both on either side. There’s certain cues cases for one over the other. I want to know, from your perspective, like, what the future looks like in terms of spreadsheet usage.
[00:09:55] Are we just going Scorched Earth, like, “Let’s get rid of these things all together. Death to spreadsheets,” or are we a little more measured than that?
[00:10:04] Lauren Bahr: You know, I would love to get to that place where we can eliminate them entirely, but I don’t think we’ll ever get there, but would be a really nice place is that we put much less emphasis on it. Like, I would love to not be handing out basically Olympic gold medals if someone is amazing at Excel. Like, I do not care if you are amazing at Excel in the future because I want you to be leveraging software in a way, and I’m more curious about how you think through problems and also your analytical skill set.
[00:10:39] You know, being able to generate the coolest Excel formula of all time while is probably pretty amazing to some folks, not really where I want you to be focusing your skill set in the future.
[00:10:52] Joe Michalowski: Makes a lot of sense. I think those people that do like the Excel, like, the financial modeling competitions or whatever, they might come after you, but I think otherwise you’re probably…
[00:11:00] Lauren Bahr: I mean, they’re probably really great. But again, you know, being, living in Excel, you have such a risk for manual error, just calculating basic formulas and correctly missing cells, missing tabs, it’s time-consuming, hard to recreate, layer in, adopting new accounting standards, it means a new process. Not probably anyone on your team is an accounting expert in that area and having all of the data points that you need,
[00:11:35] so you’re, like, leveraging Excel may not be the best thing for, you know, those areas.
[00:11:42] Joe Michalowski: Yeah. I wanna, I wanna be, give full disclosure here. Occupier recently Mosaic customer, so very, very happy to have you on, in the Mosaic kind of customer base. So, I want to be clear, I’m not digging for plugs for the company. This is not gonna be like a, “Hey, this is why you need to buy Mosaic kind of thing,”
[00:11:59] but I’m curious, like, what was the relationship with spread, what was the spreadsheet kind of environment like at Occupier, maybe before, when you had first gotten there? Or, like, what’s it been like since joining Occupier and before kind of putting Mosaic in?
Occupier’s Experience of Outgrowing Spreadsheets as a Series A Company
[00:12:13] Lauren Bahr: Yeah, definitely. So, to set the stage, Occupier is a series A startup. We finalized our series A at the end of Q1 of this year. And yes, thank you. Thank you. It’s very, very exciting. And basically, since then, we’ve just gotten to work to set the foundation across the business, and sales and marketing, customer success, product, and finance is no different.
[00:12:39] And before, you know, when we were going out to raise our series A, it was a very simplified financial model that we leveraged Excel for, and I did have some amazing formulas in it and all that fun stuff. As we kind of turned the page and entered it into Series A, it became evidently clear that, you know, in this market, we really need to be able to run way more analyses than I can handle in Excel.
[00:13:09] So, for me to build the foundation of the finance team and to really expand myself, because, you know, we’re Series A, I’m the only one on the finance team, and I need to be able to do things very quickly with a high precision of accuracy that software was the only option for me.
[00:13:29] Joe Michalowski: Yep. I mean it’s what we hear from a lot of our clients, why a lot of people, it’s like, it’s almost, like, there’s this mid-market of, like, the finance world that, like, Series A, like, more mature, like, Series D startup where, my wife works at Liberty Mutual, it’s the example I use all the time. I have friends that work in finance there.
[00:13:45] It’s like, you know, just entire team’s dedicated to, like, one small workflow
[00:13:52] Lauren Bahr: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:13:52] Joe Michalowski: that is just one part of your, like, many hats at a company like Empire
[00:13:56] Lauren Bahr: Yeah.
[00:13:56] Joe Michalowski: or any of these, like, startups. So, you know, totally hear you on that. It makes a ton of sense to me. I don’t know, I, I don’t envy the position of having all those hats to wear for sure.
[00:14:07] Lauren Bahr: You know, it’s good. It’s really, it’s a really, I’m very fortunate to be in this position. It’s great.
[00:14:12] Joe Michalowski: Yeah. So, I, I want to, we’re gonna get into a little bit more about, like, where the pitfalls were for that spreadsheet usage, but I wanna start with the good. We’ll, we’ll be nice to spreadsheets for now, because obvi, I mean, it’s like, since the eighties, it’s like the defacto FP&A tool.
[00:14:28] There’s a reason why it is. So, I, I’m curious, like, what are the good, like, what are the benefits of being in spreadsheets? What does it allow you to do that you’re like, “Okay, like, this is just not something software is equipped to handle just yet.”
The Benefits of Spreadsheets
[00:14:40] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. You know, some of the good is that one, a lot of people are comfortable with Excel, and it’s this universal language that if you give them this Excel file, they’ll be able to navigate it pretty quickly. And the other thing is being able to quickly run a kind of back-of-the-napkin scenario, if that’s what you wanted to do, just to kind of play around with it so you can kind of, you know, using Excel if that’s what you wanted to do,
[00:15:12] it can be a little bit simpler if you are just trying to just kind of, you know, do a simple scenario.
[00:15:22] Joe Michalowski: Yeah. Is that, is that what, you know, as a company that sells this kind of software, like, the goal is to avoid people getting onto the software and, like, to us, churn is, like, people that revert back to spreadsheets. Anyone in this space is like, “Okay, like, we tried to implement this tool, and now, like, we’ll just go back to the tried-and-true spreadsheet.”
[00:15:42] Is that the crux of it? Like, it’s just simpler to do it? Or, like, why do you think people go back?
[00:15:48] Lauren Bahr: I think it comes down to comfort, people, you are trying to, and this is also when I was in the sales process with Mosaic time, and time again, I felt like there were so many similarities between Mosaic and Occupier because we’re both fighting against Excel. And when we look at our competitors, it’s, you know, a bunch of other lease management softwares, but then Excel, and it’s really sometimes hard to combat because people are so comfortable with it.
[00:16:19] ‘Cause people have been using it for, you know, 30 years or as soon as they have gotten outta college, and they’ve been using it for the past 10 years. And when people are that good at Excel and very good at building files in a way that you know they’ve done historically, sometimes it’s just really hard to fight that good fight of bringing them over into a software that could do it better for them.
[00:16:45] And so, I think with people kind of reverting back to Excel, maybe they didn’t fully lean into the software, and it could be Mosaic, it could be Occupier, but they never leaned into the software to understand all of its capabilities and how it could solve those cases that you thought you could only do in Excel.
[00:17:09] Actually, Mosaic is able to do that too, and you just have to, like, learn and understand from your CSM and how to, how to build what you wanna build.
[00:17:20] Joe Michalowski: I think it makes tons of sense. I mean, obviously, especially in, like, this high-growth kind of startup company world, you’re wearing so many hats. Like, no matter what department you’re in, it’s like you’re moving back and forth between so many things, and sometimes, like, that comfort zone is just what you need.
[00:17:35] It’s like, “You know what? Like, I want my life to be at least to feel easier for
[00:17:39] five minutes. Like, maybe I’ll be better off in the long run, but give me, like, five minutes of a break ’cause I know what to do.”
[00:17:44] Lauren Bahr: That’s a very good point. Like, I just need, and I just need five minutes in Excel. I just need to do some hotkeys. Okay?
[00:17:51] Joe Michalowski: Just, oh my God. I, God, I, sometimes I feel bad ’cause I’m hosting this podcast, and it’s just, I, that, that would make me sweat if I was like, “You know what? Go ahead, go spend a half hour at Excel and see how you’re doing. I would not enjoy my time.”
[00:18:05] Lauren Bahr: Yeah.
[00:18:07] Joe Michalowski: It’s, uh, it’s not where I live. It’s just not. And so, I want to, I, I think it makes sense that the comfort zone, like, the flexibility of spreadsheets, it, it all makes sense, but I think what I, I wanna spend, like, the bulk of our time doing is talking about kind of like the, the breaking points because you, you can get through, like, there’s, I don’t know, multibillion-dollar companies that are just doing everything in Excel. So, it’s like, it can take you wherever you need to go. But I guess, like, I want to talk a little bit about what, what makes you make the switch.
[00:18:37] So, you know, there’s a lot of companies like Mosaic that are popping up, like, these FP&A solutions. Why, why is demand getting stronger? What are those breaking points where you start to say, “Hey, this spreadsheet is not gonna do it for us in the long run.”
FP&A Solution Use Cases
[00:18:50] Lauren Bahr: Right. Yeah. I mean, demand is getting stronger. Just looking at the past couple of years and what finance teams have been forced to model out, it’s no longer adequate enough for your company to build one model, one forecast for the next year, and that’s your base case, and that’s your operating model, right? Now you have to build, at a minimum, five scenarios of all of your base case for best case.
[00:19:20] Worst case, worst case with a debt fundraise. Best case with a debt fundraise. What if you did it in June? What if you did it in December? And so, you are constantly having to shift the data ever so slightly because you want to be looking at different scenarios so that you can faster that the forecast is no longer going to be set in stone in December for the next year.
[00:19:46] It needs to be extremely flexible to be able to accommodate if business is performing well. Can you flex up? Do you have to flex down? What about headcount? Can we add in more flexible headcount hires? And so, I think that has really, really put a pressure on the need for an FP&A, FP&A software, especially if you are someone like me.
[00:20:11] I’m the only finance person on our team. In order to be able to do all of these scenarios, I need to leverage Mosaic. I must. I don’t have a team of one person does revenue, one person does expenses, one person, I don’t, unfortunately, that’s not the world I live in, but that’s okay because I can do more with less by leveraging,
[00:20:35] you know, Mosaic. And I think that can be held true for a lot of different areas of accounting and finance. You know, like, for instance, there’s revenue software out there for 606. There’s lease accounting software like Occupier out there. All of the goals of these software still come down to the crux of wanting to do more with less.
[00:20:59] Joe Michalowski: Yes. The scenario planning example is very, very top-of-mind for me right now. I’m currently working on, like, a large guide for our own website, so I wanna follow this thread because the thing that I can’t pin down really is, like, you mentioned that it’s no longer enough to just have, like, your one model.
[00:21:17] Like, what, what changed in that? ‘Cause it’s not like this is it, it’s not, like, high-growth startups are new in the course of the last, like, three years. Like, they existed 10, 15 years ago, so why is it that, like, more recently, finance is under this pressure where maybe they weren’t in, like,
[00:21:33] Lauren Bahr: Yeah.
[00:21:33] Joe Michalowski: 2010 or something?
[00:21:34] Lauren Bahr: Right. I think, well, in 2020, there was such an uncertainty of the business, right? And you had to start being incredibly flexible and start thinking through in more of a strategic partnership way for, like, talking to folks, “Okay, if we change this, how is this going to impact?” Because people were just trying to survive at that point in time.
[00:21:58] Right? And then you layer in 2021 being extremely, extremely hot market for VCs, now coming into 2022 where that hasn’t dried up completely, but it’s gotten a lot more competitive to get the right funding at the right valuation mark. And so, now we have an even more pressure of, “Okay, we need to be able to survive for X about of months.
[00:22:25] How do we get there? How do we get there if we exceed our sales forecasting? What if we miss it by 10%? What do we have to do for headcount in that scenario?” And so, it’s more agile in nature and being able to, like, kind of roll with it, instead of, “Okay, this is it. This is what I forecasted in December.
[00:22:45] I can’t believe that I, my cash now, was off 12 months later.” Like, that’s not kind of, like, you have to be able to provide value to the organization. I think one way that you can do that is by bringing a dynamic forecast that helps kind of weather the storm.
[00:23:05] Joe Michalowski: Love the weathering storm angle. We use it, we used it liberally, for a bit there and we still are. Um, I, makes a ton of sense. I, do you think this is, like, the new, I’m not gonna say it ’cause everyone says, “the new normal.” I don’t wanna say it like that, but is it because, like, that, that happened 2020, and it’s kind of been this, like, little roller coaster for the last couple years, is it now,
[00:23:29] like, no matter what happens, it’s just the normal thing now?
[00:23:31] Lauren Bahr: It seems like it’s going to be, now that people have said, “Wow. You guys can do this? Why don’t we just do this all the time? Why weren’t we doing this before?” And yeah, it definitely seems like there’s always gonna now be this pressure to, to continuously reevaluate business performance.
[00:23:52] Joe Michalowski: Well to, I mean, not to roll it back to the grim times of those stats that you provided, but it does give you some, some extra job security of the CPA environment.
[00:24:01] Lauren Bahr: I know. I know. Would it be a hot commodity in about 10 years?
[00:24:07] Joe Michalowski: Now, you are right now, Lauren, come on.
[00:24:08] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. Right.
[00:24:09] Joe Michalowski: Amazing. I, the scenario-planning one, is so good. We’ve talked about that internally a lot. Are there other sort of workflows, use cases that are making your life easier with software versus, like, maybe, like, five years ago?
[00:24:23] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. You know, it’s, we, this is top-of-mind because we had our board meeting this week, and just the process of getting your board package ready can sometimes be daunting because you have different sources of truth for different areas of the business. You are sometimes calculating items that are important for your metrics, right?
[00:24:46] Like, churn, expansion, all of that fun stuff and sometimes very difficult to calculate based on your source of truth, and so layering in Mosaic certainly, certainly made that process a lot easier because it already did all of the consolidation for you and so you didn’t have to kind of run around and
[00:25:09] basically, they already had the charting for you. Now, this is really starting to sound like a spiel on Mosaic, but so,
[00:25:15] Joe Michalowski: It was not the intention.
[00:25:16] Lauren Bahr: it was not the intention. So, that was one thing that helped us. And then the other thing is, you know, being able to do things on the fly, you know, the morning of the board meeting or just after the board meeting, there were certain questions about metrics and different scenarios, and you’re able to do it
[00:25:35] so much faster because you already have the data plugged in, it’s just a different filter on something. So, it speeds up a lot of things in my mind.
[00:25:46] Joe Michalowski: What is, so I love to hear that. We love to hear it from, like, Mosaic customers because, but we talk to the finance people, we don’t talk to the board members at, like, you know, Occupier. So, what is, what does it, like, do for your board meeting? Like, what do you get out that by being able to move faster, like are, is it more confidence in your investors?
[00:26:08] Do you get more, like, strategic advice from them because you’re not, like, because you’re able to do it on the fly? Like, what’s the benefit there?
[00:26:15] Lauren Bahr: I think it, we ultimately look better as an organization to our board because we’re able to pull things together quickly, and it gives us a little bit more credibility to your point of, yes, we know the numbers, “We know what we’re doing here. We think we know what we’re doing.” And then
[00:26:33] Lauren Bahr: it does certainly, once you are able to untangle some of the webs of your metrics, it does lead to more questions that are better suited to help you grow versus it may not have been uncovered before.
[00:26:52] Joe Michalowski: Sure. I, I think it makes a ton of sense. It’s like, I mean, it’s why, I mean, you bring on the board members and the investors because, like, you need money to grow, but, and presumably to also get, like, their advice on, like, what to do. And I guess if you’re just sitting there trying to figure out if your metrics are correct in the first place, you don’t really have time to, to get so.
[00:27:09] Lauren Bahr: Right, Right, right. Yeah. You wanna just analyze the metrics that put them together.
[00:27:15] Joe Michalowski: Yeah, exactly. Alright, so we’ve got scenario planning, we’ve got board reporting, like, what other, what are the other, like, big rocks of, like, your job as finance leader that, you know, any automation or any sort of like software solution? It doesn’t even have to be like, I mean, we’re talking about the FP&A world, but it could be anything really,
[00:27:33] like, what kind of manual processes have you sped up through automation in any case?
[00:27:38] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And so, we’re the big rocks, especially as it relates to a software company, relates to all of, like, the quote-to-cash process, quote-to-cash meaning when someone signs a contract with Occupier to when Occupier receives a cash for that quote process, a lot of things can go wrong in that process.
[00:28:02] One, you could have a quote that doesn’t have all of the necessary information in it that you need to validate that, “Yes, in fact, this is a contract and we are good to go. Does it have all of the information to send out an invoice? Did we send it to the right person for the right amount at the right cadence?
[00:28:21] Are they annual, monthly?” So, there are a lot of things that happened before you actually get paid. And so, automation can really help speed that up quite a bit and then layer in sales tax on top of that. This is near and dear to my heart right now ’cause we’re also automated in this process right now, to make sure that
[00:28:43] one, we’re sending all the invoices for the right amount to the right person, collecting all the cash that we can, and then remitting sales tax to the right state and city municipalities for the right amount that we charged the right sales tax to our customers, we collected when we needed to, didn’t when we didn’t have to.
[00:29:03] And so, that is a really big focus area for me right now.
[00:29:08] Um, but it could also be as simple as automating accounts payable as well.
[00:29:17] Joe Michalowski: Sure. The sales-tax one I kind of want to drill into a little bit because I’ve been seeing more and more people talk about this, and we had, I don’t know what you’re using, but we had the co-founder of Anrok,
[00:29:26] Lauren Bahr: Oh, I love her. I’m assuming that you met the one that I met.
[00:29:29] Joe Michalowski: We had Brad. We had Brad, not Michelle, but we love her as well.
[00:29:33] Lauren Bahr: Yeah, she’s great.
[00:29:34] Joe Michalowski: Yeah, so, like, we, we didn’t talk specifically about sales tax, I don’t think I realized at the time when he was coming on, like, how complicated this task was for
[00:29:44] Lauren Bahr: It’s really complicated.
[00:29:46] Joe Michalowski: our audience. Yeah. So, like, what, what are you dealing with? Like, how are you kind of getting through it? Like, what are some of your issues?
How Sales Tax Illustrates the Need for Advanced Software Solutions
[00:29:51] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. So, some of the issues are, there is a, God, what is it called when you, hold on a second. Okay. I know this now. Okay, so there is something that’s called Nexus, and if you have Nexus in that state, then you are required to collect sales tax. Nexus, per se, per city changes vastly. Also, layer in on top of that, that not all software sales are taxable, all based on
[00:30:28] city, state, all that legislation, and all that legislation is changing frequently. And I am a CPA, but I’m not a tax expert and, uh, so, there’s a lot to know, a lot to process with all that information. Then you have to remit sales tax out to all of these agencies. They all have different remittance schedules.
[00:30:53] Some are quarterly, some are monthly, some are quarterly, but on odd schedules that are a quarter delayed. And so, it is kind of one of those things where a lot of startups, in my experience, push collection of sales tax and doing it right for, like, way ahead, and then they are now ballooning out into this massive sales tax issue.
[00:31:18] We’re not doing that at Occupier. We’re trying to fix it, but that is one of the more complex issues. And, you know, even, like, not to brag about Occupier, but, you know, what we’re solving for, Occupier for the finance teams is also really challenging. AC 842, the number of data points that you need in order to implement 842 is vastly different than the current standard 840, for instance,
[00:31:49] you have to know your renewal terms, you have to know your termination options. Lease term is not this objective item anymore because you need to be able to say, “No, I’m going to exercise my option in five years. I have a crystal ball, and I’m gonna do it.” But that is what the standard is requiring you to do now.
[00:32:09] And so, you need a lot of data points. There’s not a lot of experts in 842 if you can believe it or not, ’cause no one has a desire or the time ’cause they’re doing so many manual processes in other areas because they can. They don’t have time to become 842 experts. And so, what we do is we take all the data, we put basically your lease document into a lease abstract within our lease administration platform that real estate teams and legal teams, HR teams,
[00:32:42] all of those teams will highly leverage that will feed directly into our accounting module, which walks you through, step by step, all of 840’s pillars. It makes it extremely easy to comply with 842, gives you all your journal entries, helps you with your implementation. When it comes to financial statement disclosure time, we also generate all of those.
[00:33:06] And so, there’s things out there that can help you with different areas of the business, whether it’s sales tax, revenue, AP, lease accounting with Occupier there, which is exciting because, you know, the finance realm needs, needs, it needs all the help that we can get.
[00:33:26] Joe Michalowski: Yeah, when I, when I first started at Mosaic, I, there was, I think the website was, like, two months old. There were, like, three articles on the website that our co-founders, like, had kind of dreamed up, and one of them was, it was called, uh, “SaaS Eats Everything,” like, including the world of finance. And I think it was a callback to, like, some Andreessen Horowitz line.
[00:33:45] And the reality is, like, a big part of that article was talking about how every other department has had, like, a tech renaissance. Like, in marketing. Like, I have HubSpot, and, like, sales has Salesforce, and it’s like, and what was it? The line was like, “The biggest thing to happen to finance was, like, you got Google Sheets. Like, you just got a cloud version of Excel.” And it was like, “Wow.
[00:34:06] Like, we really, we made it.”
[00:34:08] Lauren Bahr: I know. What’s so funny about that is that one of our co-founder, both of our co-founders, Andrew and Matt, say that all the time, because real estate does not have a HubSpot, does not have anything to help the real estate function out. I’m not kidding you. We have customers that have their leases stored in their filing cabinets.
[00:34:31] One of our customers recently had to send over a lease document to us so we could abstract it. They physically took it off the wall and sent it to us. It was in the wall with
[00:34:44] Joe Michalowski: Stop.
[00:34:44] Lauren Bahr: thumbtack.
[00:34:45] Joe Michalowski: Stop it.
[00:34:46] Lauren Bahr: I swear. And so, to say like, again, finance and real estate, where we are in our processes, very, very similar, and we’re just trying to move the needle forward to bring it ahead
[00:34:59] ’cause real estate’s important, typically the second largest expense on any income statements. So, hey, we wanna, wanna make sure we’re capturing it all.
[00:35:09] Joe Michalowski: Absolutely. I mean, well, especially now, like, I mean you think about, like, flexibility, like, people are, like, working from home more, and it’s like, do you, do you need that really? Like, I mean all these San Francisco offices that are like 90% empty ’cause no one’s there, it’s just like, you gotta, you gotta be able to manage that in a faster way.
[00:35:25] Lauren Bahr: Oh my gosh. Yeah, they, I heard that office is a new retail, meaning that the way that you manage your office space ’cause office has historically been really easy, you know, you only have, you know, a few leases depending on, obviously on how big your company is, but a few leases standard, long-year terms, all that.
[00:35:48] But now it’s transitioning because of this hybrid workforce. People don’t know the best strategy, and so they’re really just testing it out. And in order to be flexible with your real estate strategy, you kind of need to know what’s in your lease documents. Unfortunately, I don’t think they can be thumbtack to the wall.
[00:36:09] Joe Michalowski: Not ideal.
[00:36:10] Lauren Bahr: To be able to best utilize that lease.
[00:36:14] Joe Michalowski: Yeah, probably not. I could sit here and chat with you about this for a long time. I, I have a few more questions, but the la, the last spreadsheet-related question I want to ask is, like, either about the lease process or the sales tax, pro or tax process, whichever workflow, like, are these things, like, we talked a lot about, like, kind of automating those. Are they just things that you’d have, like, these massive spreadsheets?
[00:36:34] Like, what, like, how do you manage leases in your spreadsheet
[00:36:36] Lauren Bahr: Yeah, I mean, you have.
[00:36:37] Joe Michalowski: versus, like, automating it?
[00:36:39] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. You have this massive spreadsheet and at this point in time, based on my role at PwC and then technical accounting to, of course, my role as VP of Finance, Occupier, I have seen my fair share of spreadsheets, and some of them, I have been very impressed with. Others, not so much. But there are these massive spreadsheets, usually how they’re designed as each lease is a separate tab, and then
[00:37:06] at the very front of it, they’ll have a consolidation journal entry of all of the leases in that portfolio. And more times than not, when they’re going through the Occupier implementation process, they may have realized, “Oh, shoot. I hard-coded a box that I shouldn’t have. Oh, shoot. I actually had an escalation in month 13, not month 14,
[00:37:31] so I’m gonna have to fix all of that stuff.” And things naturally come out of the woodworks of the historical Excel-based files were not done correctly or, like, “Shoot. This whole time I’ve been pulling November entries for December because of how my formula was written.” Like, it’s very, very evident in some of these, in some of these files that it’s not the best.
[00:37:56] Joe Michalowski: It’s so funny. You mentioned, like, how similar, like, Mosaic and Occupier are ’cause, like, we have the same things like, “Alright, we’re implementing Mosaic. It’s like, oh my God, my CRM data makes no sense right now.”
[00:38:05] Lauren Bahr: Oh, yeah. I did go through that for better or for worse. We went through that as well.
[00:38:10] Joe Michalowski: Yours was perfect, Lauren. We, no, Occupier’s CRM data was immaculate.
[00:38:14] Lauren Bahr: Right? It was perfect. Well-designed from the start.
[00:38:19] Joe Michalowski: Just from day one, you knew what you were doing.
[00:38:20] Lauren Bahr: Day one. We knew. Knew it all.
[00:38:23] Joe Michalowski: All right, cool. So, I, I, I, like I said, I don’t wanna take up too much of your time. We’re coming toward the end of the, the time we allotted. I, I have two more questions, and one is like, one is higher level, but we will stay on the spreadsheet for now.
[00:38:37] It’s like, if I just, if I snap my fingers and I was like, “Great. Spreadsheets are gone.” Like, everything, everything you’ve ever wanted to automate is automated, and you’re good to go. Like, everything, every challenge we’ve discussed so far no longer a problem. What is, like, your day look like? Like, what do you want to be spending your time doing other than probably, like, maybe taking a vacation when you couldn’t before?
[00:38:57] Lauren Bahr: I mean, I was gonna say, I think it would mean summer Fridays every day.
[00:39:02] Joe Michalowski: Here you go. But I think it goes back to the original point of how do you get people motivated to come into the finance and accounting profession. Wholeheartedly, I think it’s by giving them more analytical and strategic initiatives versus being in the bean counter realm.
[00:39:23] Lauren Bahr: And if everything was automated at the sound of my fingertips, kind of like snapping, that would allow us to have more time to get out of the weeds of the transaction-based processes that we have, get outta the weeds and be able to step above and look down and say, “Okay, this is how the numbers are working.
[00:39:47] These are how they’re interrelated, and I’m going to be able to make better decisions now that I’ve had a chance to digest the information,” instead of just, “Okay, now we’re on to next, and we’re onto the next.” We had no time to pause and reflect on what the numbers meant.
[00:40:06] Joe Michalowski: Makes a ton of sense. Sorry, I’m meeting myself, my dog just going ballistic upstairs. If you can hear him, I’m sorry. It’s just, it’s what podcasting from home would do.
[00:40:13] Lauren Bahr: Right. Yeah.
[00:40:14] Joe Michalowski: You understand. You run your own podcasts.
[00:40:15] Lauren Bahr: Yeah. Yes.
[00:40:17] Joe Michalowski: So, I think that all makes sense. I, it, it falls in line exactly with what, you know, we talk about a lot, and like you said, you tied it back to that original point of just kind of motivating people
[00:40:27] to be in this profession. And so, hopefully, Mosaic and every other piece of software that you implement can inch you a little bit closer to that world. I know it’s not quite as easy as just snapping your fingers, but someday.
[00:40:39] Lauren Bahr: It’s our duty to get the profession to stay alive. Mosaic and Occupier’s in the world.
[00:40:47] Joe Michalowski: I think we could do it. I believe in us.
[00:40:48] Lauren Bahr: No pressure.
[00:40:50] Joe Michalowski: No, no pressure. Providence College needs it ’cause Providence College has a lot of finance and accounting majors that this profession keeps you on.
[00:40:55] Lauren Bahr: I know. I know. Yeah.
[00:40:59] Alright, so I, I have one last question for you. We ask everyone that comes on, it can be about spreadsheets if you want it to, but it doesn’t need to be.
[00:41:05] Joe Michalowski: Just wanna know what is something you know now that you wish you knew at the start of your career?
[00:41:09] Lauren Bahr: Yes. So, speaking of Providence College, what you learned in college may not help you in your career. That when I fell in love with accounting, I am one of those nerds that just loves numbers, loves understanding the language of the business, but I fell in love with it because it was very black and white.
[00:41:33] There was debits, there was credits, everything balance and flow together so seamlessly. But when I got out into the real world, it’s not all black and white and finance.
[00:41:48] Joe Michalowski: Surprise.
[00:41:48] Lauren Bahr: I know, and it’s not, you’re going to be living in this gray area, and you need to be comfortable embracing that ambiguity, whether it’s in contracts, whether it’s accounting, not following suit with every accounting standard, whether it’s ambiguity in financial forecasting and being able to make you know, assumptions based on
[00:42:12] actual data, logic, but there’s going to be ambiguity out there for you. Unfortunately, it’s not all black and white. Although, I do love Providence College for giving me the foundation of the accounting base in finance base that has led me to here.
[00:42:30] Joe Michalowski: There you go. I was, I was gonna say I hope everyone at Providence College is blocking their ears right now.
[00:42:33] Lauren Bahr: I know. I was like,
[00:42:34] Joe Michalowski: “I don’t wanna hear it.”
[00:42:34] Lauren Bahr: I don’t think it’s a Providence College knock. I think it’s more of just accounting and finance in general.
[00:42:42] Joe Michalowski: Yeah. I mean, well, you could have been an English major instead and just been, like, and then you go to your professors, and they’re like, “I don’t know what you’re gonna do with this, but I hope you enjoyed your four years.” And here I am, hosting a podcast with you. So, look, look at how we ended up.
[00:42:53] Lauren Bahr: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
[00:42:56] Joe Michalowski: Oh God.
[00:42:56] Well, I think it’s a great answer. That’s my favorite question. I say it on every episode because I’m just curious how finance people think about their careers, and it’s, you know, I have not, they have not failed me once. I enjoy that answer every time. It’s always good.
[00:43:08] Lauren Bahr: You’re like, mine was, “Don’t go to college. It’s a waste of time.” I’m just kidding. That’s not what I meant by that.
[00:43:15] It was not my takeaway, so hopefully there’s some, some, I don’t know, maybe some high school senior listens to this, and it’s like, “Well, I’m out. I’m not going.”
[00:43:23] Lauren Bahr: “I’m not going, I’m not walking, mom.”
[00:43:26] Joe Michalowski: It’s over. Oh, God. Well, wanna be respectful of your time. I will let you go reluctantly ’cause I’m enjoying this. But as we come out on time, want to give you the stage. Where can people go to learn more about Occupier, to connect with you if you’d like to? Anything you’d like to plug? The floor is yours.
[00:43:42] Lauren Bahr: Awesome. Yeah, you can come find us at Occupier.com. We have amazing resources. If you are one of the lucky ones, looking to implement AC 842, we have amazing lease accounting knowledge resource hub. It has memos, it has calculations in spreadsheets. Now, everyone loves a good spreadsheet around here, and so we, it really simplified the standard to help get you guys through that implementation.
[00:44:10] If you want to connect, connect with me on LinkedIn, I’m Lauren Bahr. You can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I hope that someone reaches out to me that’s listening.
[00:44:22] Joe Michalowski: Okay. That’s the challenge. I will take it upon myself to make that happen.
[00:44:27] Lauren Bahr: Perfect. Thank you.
[00:44:28] Joe Michalowski: We will make it happen. Well, Lauren, thank you so much for taking the time. I know you are very busy with all of the hats you’re wearing at Occupier, but this was a lot of fun, and just wanna say thanks for being on The Role Forward.
[00:44:37] Lauren Bahr: Well, thank you. Thank you. Now I have time to do this ’cause I have Mosaic.
[00:44:41] Joe Michalowski: Oh, look at that. We’re clip, we’re clipping that and sending it to the team.
[00:44:44] Lauren Bahr: Yeah, right?
[00:44:45] Joe Michalowski: All right. Thanks, Lauren. We’ll talk soon.
[00:44:47] Lauren Bahr: Bye.
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