Among the more transformative chapters of Matt Briers’s finance career was his 3-year stint monitoring and forecasting margin performance inside Google’s UK operations.
“The core role was really to understand what was happening in the organization from a revenue and margin performance perspective and then help to operate the organization so that it could better drive that revenue,” explains Briers, who says that his responsibilities included an unyielding effort to expose new drivers of Google revenue “even down to keyword searches.”
“My role was to provide a hotline back to product in Mountain View,” says Briers, who notes that UK customers are known to be among the most advanced users of Google’s advertising offerings, outpacing users in the U.S. and other markets by as much as 3 years.
The insights gleaned by Briers and his team would become an important strategic voice for both sales and finance at Google and allowed Briers to add an impressive FP&A chapter to a career that up until Google might have advanced in any number of directions.
Still, his subsequent hire as CFO of TransferWise might have surprised certain finance career builders, given that Briers’s pre-Google career had largely involved consulting roles rather than traditional accounting or audit work.
Today, Briers says, his consulting background has routinely informed his finance leadership as he helps TransferWise’s finance function to sharpen its customer focus and collaborate across the organization.
Still, he admits that during his early days at TransferWise, his consulting past led him at times to too frequently focus on achieving “buy-in” across the organization. Eventually, he reports, “the two founders told me, ‘Stop trying to achieve consensus—make up your mind and get on with it!’” –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Matt Briers
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom
Briers: In all my time in consulting, we spent a lot of time working with people driven by mission statements, and I can’t honestly tell you that I believed in it back then. But since joining TransferWise, it’s kind of this slightly religious maniacal focus on mission, which runs deep, and it’s pretty amazing.
So my challenge is how do I help on this mission of pushing the product forward, such that we get faster, cheaper and easier, for a wide range of customers. The things I focus on: Are we growing? Are we getting new users? Are they putting volume through TransferWise? We know we’re being used and we know we’re useful if customers are engaged. … But when I say volume, the amount of money people are sending across borders, I worry about those metrics.
The second thing I worry about, is what’s happening to price, so not just revenue, but price. Price times volume gives you revenue, but price isn’t going down. Many CFOs might ask what is he talking about? “Why does he want about price and revenue going down? Surely he wants to drive this up?”
Well, actually, “no”, because if we’re going to be successful in the future, we know that we need to get cheaper over time. Because we believe it can be done and we believe it should be done and we can solve this problem of hidden fees that’s equal to $200 billion and it gets paid to banks. So I worry about price.
Therefore the insight that we need to be able to provide to the business is: What is the unit cost? What makes up this unit cost? Unit economics as these (measures) have been called in tech firms typically. So we provide to every team on every route, what contributes each element of the unit cost and what are its drivers? Because everyone in TransferWise is hell bent on driving down the price. But my role is to make sure that we do this, but do it sustainably so they can drop price, but only if we can drop the unit costs.