Rakhi Aswal, the CFO of Saxo Group India shares her insights on technology and digital transformation

  • Meet Rakhi Aswal, a CA and a CPA, who is currently heading the finance function as a CFO of Saxo Group India, a subsidiary of Saxo Bank; a Danish company and global fintech.
  • From working at a US-based company as the Head of Finance to navigating her stint with a startup to administering the accounting functions and so much more as a CFO, Rakhi Aswal has pivoted her career with a predetermined goal from the start.
  • As part of the Digital Transformation series powered by Dell Technologies, we spoke to her to understand her technology and digital front journey.

Tell us about yourself

By qualification, I am a Chartered Accountant and a CPA from the USA.

From the beginning, I was clear about my ambitions, and heading the finance function of an organization loomed at the top. Since then, every step and decision has been taken with that goal in mind.

After clearing my CPA, I got the opportunity to work with a US-based company as the Head of Finance in addition to starting a global financial reporting team in India. For four and a half years, I presided over the accounting team for global operations.

After that, I got an opportunity with a startup called Astrum- Reputation Advisory. They were engaged with the workings of PR, predominantly Reputation Management of corporate and political clients. I was one of the founding members of this startup and I worked with them for a period of 2 years. I thoroughly enjoyed the stint there before I joined Saxo.

I am currently heading the finance function as the CFO of Saxo Group India, a subsidiary of Saxo Bank; a Danish company, and a global fintech.

I head the functions of the finance department of Saxo’s Indian Office. I also oversee a shared-service team that supports the accounting function of all the subsidiaries and branches of Saxo Bank across various regions from India.

Can you elaborate on the workings of your company?

Saxo Bank is a Copenhagen-based company. Saxo Bank provides a trading platform to traders, investors, and larger organizations. We provide multi-asset market access and Banking as a Service to clients in 170 countries via cutting-edge technology.

Specifically, in India, with a 1000 plus member team, we are providing IT development and back-office banking support to Saxo Bank.

What is your role as a CFO in Saxo Group India?

As a CFO, I administer the accounting functions. Besides that, my role basically revolves around legal compliances, taxation, audits, inter-company accounting of cost to the other entities, and ensuring that the employees understand and are provided support for booking of their costs and project time for proper accounting.

Furthermore, I oversee the normal finance functions like payroll processing, making sure that the expenses are processed for the employees and vendor management for procurement of products. Getting into contractual discussions with vendors or even with other entities falls under my jurisdiction.

I am also a part of the management team of India, which works very closely with the head of the India office to make sure that at all times the India office is functional to provide support to other Saxo Bank’s entities.

What is digital transformation for you?

Traditionally, automation or transformation involved the conversion of manual work to digitized data. According to me, it is much more than that.

The use of technology to make any process or function much more efficient, effective, and scalable is inclined towards transformation. It could be transforming an already digitized process or upgrading it to recent technology is also transformation according to me.

As a CFO, what is your role in the automation process?

One of the key strategic priorities of Saxo Bank is to digitize the whole value chain. In the last few years, the finance team has worked on various automation projects.

However, my team’s involvement on the technology front highly depends on what the project demands. For example, host-to-host integration was one of the standard automation solutions provided by our bankers. Even though it is a standard solution provided by bankers, not many small and medium-size companies are still using it because of their lack of understanding about it. While running this project, our bankers provided the complete technological solution for this which was validated by our internal IT team. Certain people from the IT team were involved in the customizations and development of our accounting systems and made sure that the integration works perfectly.

To help you understand the finance function role in automation, let me share some instances.

About two years back we managed a system integration through secure file transfer (SFT) mode to eliminate the manual intervention for the flow of data from the HR system to the payroll processing system.

We have also done a host-to-host integration with the bankers' system to automate our payment processes. It has made our whole payment processing extremely efficient and saved a lot of hours in this way. It was a combined effort, and it was a cost-effective way of automating payment processing.

There are also other small tasks that are done repeatedly and the result of such automation is tremendous.

One such automation was in the area of accounting of vendor invoices. We have managed to automate moving the vendor invoices from our mailbox to a folder for the accounting system, which has now eliminated the earlier required manual intervention.

Having the advantage of working alongside very talented IT experts is that a lot of resource and knowledge is available inhouse. We discuss the possible solutions with someone from the IT team and get their advice on the best way forward.

What factors do you take into consideration when making technology decisions?

Multiple factors are taken into consideration as the cost, scalability, and capacity in future endeavors.

For any automation project, we do an in-depth analysis of how the processes currently work and how we want them to work. We try to understand the new technology that can be of help to achieve the desired result. We understand the process in a systematic yet realistic manner.

Looking at its integration with our current system and its efficiency becomes important and subsequent impact of its integrations in a cost-effective way.

As a CFO, when we are dealing with a third party, I am keen to explore the details of the kind of technology. I should have the assurance that we are doing it in the best way feasible.

For example, RPA is fast becoming the most popular technology for automation. But for some of the automation projects, we have considered looking at RPA as one of the automation options but then decided not to go ahead with it because there were other efficient solutions available for our desired result.

How has automation changed your role?

As the Head of Finance six years back, the role entailed a lot of numbers and a lot of time was spent on finalizing the numbers.

Today with the use of technology and different kind of dashboards and integrations, we do not need to spend too much time validating the correctness of the numbers as such. Instead, we can get into the analytical mode of assessing the business factor behind the numbers.

Heading the finance function now, I also get an opportunity to get involved in various other aspects of managing the business like managing the CSR committee, participating in the POSH committee. I am also working on a global gender diversity project at Saxo Bank.

Do you have the IT team reporting to you?

No, the IT team does not report to me. As I mentioned, Saxo Bank is a global fintech. Both finance and technology functions are very important. The IT team provides ways to automate it. However, the IT team does not report to me. But for automation and transformation projects within the finance area, we work very closely with the IT team here.

In the past when I was working at a startup, I have had the IT team reporting to me.

Lastly, do you think a CFO has a role to play in the digital transformation of the company?

It is very important for the finance functions to stay abreast of the new technologies and staying relevant.

Otherwise, it can adversely affect the business or organization. It can hamper the growth of the whole organization. Therefore, it has become the most important area for every CFO. It is imperative to make sure that the technology or the processes are in line with the current technological advancements.

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