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Bots named Rosie and Voltron are key in Smucker’s finance function

December 7, 2021, 11:32 AM UTC

Good morning, 

Snacking on Smucker’s “Uncrustables,” the crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich treat, is made possible through automation.

“It is a highly automated process from baking bread all the way through the packaging of the product and putting it into the freezer,” said Smucker CFO Tucker Marshall. They produce 1 billion of these sandwiches per year, Marshall said. And automation is also baked into the company’s finance function, he said. 

On Monday, during Fortune’s Emerging CFO virtual conversation, in partnership with Workday, a panel of finance chiefs discussed advancing the automation agenda and where their companies are at in the process. Smucker has been on the journey for 24 months, making progress by first identifying highly repetitive and manual processes that can be automated, Marshall said. The company has incorporated its first bots in the payments and payroll areas, he said. “And candidly, we’ve had to name our bots,” he commented. “An example would be Rosie and Voltron because they actually are active people who are in your systems day in and day out.”

Honeywell is about “midstream” in the automation process, said Mike Spencer, VP and CFO at Honeywell Connected Enterprise. “It’s a very high priority for everyone from a finance leadership standpoint,” said Spencer, a former Microsoft exec. “But it ebbs and flows based on, I would say, the challenge that you’re trying to automate.” He continued, “I think part of the journey of this entire dynamic we’re talking about is to get folks [in a] growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.” Spencer tells his team that automation is about advancing the overall agenda for the company, he said. But sometimes “changing the mindset is one of the toughest challenges,” he noted. 

“We have a lot of homegrown tools in our finance systems world,” Kelly Gast, CFO at Bayer, said. Gast agreed with Spencer that convincing those who’ve used the same tools for a long time to do things differently is “one of the bigger challenges.” Bayer is “very early in our [automation] journey,” she said. The company had been advancing in using automation for reporting and manual tasks. “Then we had a big acquisition of Monsanto, [and] through an integration like that, we actually lost some of that progress,” Gast explained. “And so, we’re now trying to catch back up.” 

Eileen Tobias, CFO at Komodo Health, a startup that provides software-driven health analytics, has been evaluating finance systems to speed up closing, forecasting and planning processes, she said. “I’m sure at some point we’ll get more into the AI and the predictive analytics,” Tobias said. 

However, with advances in automation, A.I. and machine learning, finance talent will need expanded skills sets, Gast said. “A strong accountant, a strong analyst, those skills are still really important,” she explained. “But we need the people who are going to think about what’s next.” A viable employee may have a degree in information technology or data management with a link to finance, she said. 

Predictions for the future of finance? The CFOs mentioned a continuous closing process, using A.I. and machine learning in forecasting, and using broader data sets, all five to 10 years from now. 


See you tomorrow.

Sheryl Estrada
sheryl.estrada@fortune.com

Big deal

FlexJobs’ report released on Dec. 6, Remote Work Statistics: Navigating the New Normal, examines the impact of remote work on the workplace now and in the future. Sections of the report include talent and retention, job satisfaction, employer costs saving, and mental health, among other topics. About 51% of employees reported being more productive working from home, according to a FlexJobs’ survey of more than 2,100 employees. Respondents said top reasons for increased productivity include fewer interruptions (68%) and more time to focus (63%). "The majority of employees have responded very favorably to remote work, with many now strongly inclined to pursue a permanent remote career," Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of FlexJobs, said in a statement.

Going deeper

As employee health and wellbeing continue to be at the forefront, a new report by Fortune, Insulin’s deadly cost: Ultrahigh prices in the U.S. mean many diabetics can’t afford the medication they need to survive, highlights America’s most expensive chronic disease. "Some patients pay 50 times as much as others for the same insulins; and the highest prices are reserved for those least able to pay them," Geoff Colvin writes.

Leaderboard

Elaine Paul was named CFO at Lyft (Nasdaq:LYFT), effective Jan. 3, 2022. Paul replaces Brian Roberts, who is stepping down but will remain an advisor until June 2022 to assist with the transition. Since 2019, Paul has served as CFO and VP of finance for Amazon Studios with responsibility for portfolio and financial planning for Amazon’s global slate of original film and television programming, studio operations, and Prime Video marketing finance. Prior to joining Amazon, Paul was CFO of Hulu for six years. Before Hulu she spent 19 years at Disney in senior finance, strategy and business development roles, including as SVP of corporate strategy, business development and technology.

David Garrett was named CFO at iECURE, a biotech company. Garrett joins iECURE from Dynacure, where he served as CFO and managed led its IPO process. Previously, he held various roles at Nabriva Therapeutics, including VP, corporate controller and head of investor relations and senior director, business planning and analysis. At Nabriva, Garrett led all Wall Street-facing activities, completed over $150 million in equity capital raises and oversaw all SEC reporting and compliance functions. Prior to Nabriva, Garrett held senior-level finance roles at Covis Pharmaceuticals, Auxilium Pharmaceuticals and ViroPharma and was a manager at KPMG.

Overheard

“Law firms are doing whatever it takes to ensure associates are happy. They are very difficult to replace, particularly in areas like M&A and private equity and . . . the [big] firms have done really well this year.”

— Mark Jungers, co-founder of recruitment firm Lippman Jungers Bala, on U.S. corporate lawyers expected to receive record bonuses this year due to the boom in mergers and acquisitions since the pandemic, as reported by the Financial Times.

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