How a Powerful Financial Web Is Rewiring Small-Business Economy – Interview With Keri Gohman, President of Xero Americas

On the role of advanced technology and beautiful design principles in bringing together the Financial Web, we had the pleasure of speaking with the admirable Keri Gohman, the President of Xero Americas. A significant place in this conversation was given to the role of collaborative work in the financial services industry, and why small business banking in the US required stronger ties between the tech and banking community to rewire small-business economy.

Building on banking relationships and partnering with them to better service the highly fragmented small-business market is a huge priority. At the end of the day, it’s about each key part of the financial web working together in a powerful way. When business applications, financial services, financial institutions and accountants connect seamlessly, the business owner can start to put their financial data to work, subsequently rewiring the small business economy, Keri shared with us in this interview.

We hope you drive as much value and knowledge from this conversation as we did.

Keri Gohman, President of Xero Americas

Elena Mesropyan: Keri, first of all, thank you for this opportunity. For the part of our audience that may not be familiar with your work, please tell us about yourself and what you do at Xero.

Keri Gohman: Thanks, Elena. I've spent my career in financial services, focusing on solving and simplifying complex yet deeply important businesses. In my current role, as President of Xero Americas, I am leading a team of passionate individuals focused on transforming financial management for small-business owners and accountants across the Americas. We have a unique opportunity to not only automate and simplify accounting using the latest technology and beautiful design principles but also bring together what we call the Financial Web – the banking, accounting and business management tools and advice required to make businesses successful. By doing those things well, we can help support the growth objectives of small businesses, help improve their financial health and ultimately benefit the lifeblood of our economy.

Prior to joining Xero, I was a key leader of the bank executive team at Capital One, charged with formulating the digital proposition for banking. For most of my time at the top 10 US bank, I led small business banking across lending, payments, and deposits. Our team launched Spark Business, a transformed national, mobile-first offering that simplifies fee structures and money management, modernizing and simplifying banking. Part of that offering was focused on reimagined digital commerce (Spark Pay) merging online store, checkout, terminal, and on-the-go (mobile payments).

Prior to Capital One, I held leadership positions at General Electric Financial Assurance and Intuit, including general management of global services businesses, business development, sales and marketing strategy and distribution development.

Elena Mesropyan: Back in May, Xero announced its partnership with top 10 US bank, Capital One, to offer small businesses the connection to financial services they need in a cost-effective and intelligent manner. And recently, credit card feeds went live through that integration. Could you please tell us more about this service, and how exactly can/will small businesses benefit from it.

Keri Gohman: At Xero, we’re trying to address a major pain point for small business owners: they struggle to see their full financial picture. They want to see, in real-time the money coming in and out of their accounts. They also want to reduce the time they spend on financial management and for their financial information to be secure.

Direct bank feeds like the one between Xero and Capital One offer small businesses the connection to the financial services they need in a cost-effective and intelligent manner. By using a direct secure integration with Capital One’s API, small businesses can connect their Capital One card data with Xero, giving users an on-demand view of their financial profiles. The Capital One product enables customers to streamline bank reconciliation, in turn boosting productivity and reducing administrative costs.

Elena Mesropyan: How does the collaboration between technology companies and banks (with Xero and Capital One being a vivid example) affect the future of finance?

Keri Gohman: As a consumer, we expect all the apps we use to connect. We go to Google Maps for turn-by-turn directions and traffic updates, but we also want the option to book an Uber to our destination or get ratings and reviews from within the same app. Entrepreneurs have the same expectations of their business life – that all the technologies they use in their business life work together, seamlessly.

While we’re not quite meeting that bar of a seamlessly integrated financial world yet, we’re making progress with what I’d call the foundation. Today, entrepreneurs finally have digital solutions for most of their financial and business worlds thanks to advances in banking and financial technology. As a result, small businesses’ use of cloud technology is on the rise here in the US. Last year, research from Xero found that the number of small business owners running one-quarter of their business in the cloud had grown from 23.5% to 71% in just an 18-month period.

Partnerships like the one between Xero and Capital One are just the beginning. We imagine a world where all of an entrepreneur’s financial and business management applications, relationships and advisors work together seamlessly in the cloud to make business management simpler, easier and more successful.

Elena Mesropyan: How does Xero use a pure partner play to work directly with banks, rather than compete with them by releasing competitive products which threaten and disintermediate these institutions?

Keri Gohman: At Xero, we partner with more than 110 financial institutions worldwide to build a financial web that saves small businesses time and captures the true picture of their financial standing. We’re also taking that innovation to the next step: spending time and investment, evaluating how to leverage new tools like machine learning to take that further – all of which are aimed at supporting small business. Building on banking relationships and partnering with them to better service the highly fragmented small-business market is a huge priority. At the end of the day, it’s about each key part of the financial web working together in a powerful way. When business applications, financial services, financial institutions and accountants connect seamlessly, the business owner can start to put their financial data to work, subsequently rewiring the small-business economy.

Elena Mesropyan: In your opinion, what is the current state of business banking in the US? How would you describe in terms of distinctive hallmarks, stage of innovation adoption, relationships between the tech community and financial institutions?

Keri Gohman: Today, the reality is small business owners can only win if FinTech companies combine their beautiful technology with the customer trust and regulatory oversight banks have mastered over the past few centuries. Today, the global adoption of the API is giving the power back to the banking consumer. Banks in the US are increasingly favoring the secure, robust direct feeds between the data source (bank) and the consumer’s chosen platform provider. Partnerships like the one between Xero and Capital One are an example of how an industry in flux is starting to shift. Capital One created a new API, enabling small-business owners to connect their Capital One financial data with Xero through a fully digital process, giving them an on-demand view of their financial state through simplified direct bank feeds.

The world is headed towards the API-driven feeds like Capital One’s over the next year or so, especially as demand increases for open and secure banking solutions. Today, banks in the US are in an optimal position to become a key part of connecting the customer’s data.

Elena Mesropyan: What role does access to financial data play in addressing consumer needs and changing financial services industry?

Keri Gohman: Financial data creates the underpinning of payments and financial management innovation – and that integration is critical to meeting the increasing expectation that financial products work seamlessly across applications in the cloud.

In the US, banks have a great opportunity to chart their own course and set the standards for how customers can take advantage of the latest technology in a secure way. Abroad, the regulatory environment around banking data access in many countries is being dictated by the government. Legislation enacted in the UK and Europe mandates data sharing as a means to increase customer choice, efficiency, and inexpensive payments and innovation. Australia is following suit, where the Productivity Commission has just begun a 12-month inquiry into competition in Australia's financial system. The government requested this inquiry and has more recently turned to the private sector for advice on implementing an open banking scheme. Here in the US, we can set the standard in the private sector to meet the increasing demands of customers. Secure bank integrations are one-way financial institutions are taking the lead in helping business owners and consumers securely manage their financial data across all the business management tools they use.

Secure bank integrations are the very foundation of the financial web, which not only enables small-business owners to get a clear view of their financial position, but banks can also see this full financial picture of their customers. With confidence in the accuracy of data, financial institutions can expand the credit box – among other services – creating a virtuous cycle of growth among small businesses.

Elena Mesropyan: What is the role of cloud accounting and technology companies in driving the change in banking? How are they doing it?

Keri Gohman: Technology has the potential to and is driving a tremendous amount of change in the financial services sector. Let’s talk historically for a moment, financial management tools and banking haven’t fundamentally changed how people interact with their finances for hundreds of years. Certainly, innovations like mobile and online banking have made traditional banking simpler, but those technologies haven’t fundamentally revolutionized money management. The reality is that small businesses and consumers increasingly expect and want their data to provide insights that they can use to improve their financial lives. Banks and other financial institutions are adapting, but both change in large organizations and innovation in a regulated environment take time. That’s where technology comes in. Increasingly, FinTech companies and banks are working together – helping bring the best of innovation to individuals with the safety and security of the regulated bank environment.

Accounting is yet another example of an industry that is transforming. By leveraging technologies like machine learning, accounting can go from being an arduous time suck to an automated time saver. Work will become not only easier and faster, but accounting professionals can free themselves from time-intensive bookkeeping and manual data entry for the small-business owner to spend more time on value-added advisory services and even virtual CFO management. Accountants are still the most powerful influencer of the small-business owner, and they are in one of the best positions to help them take advantage of technology to turn data into insights and actions that can improve their success.

Elena Mesropyan: What are some milestones you have for Xero in the next year? More partnerships, product development, etc.?

Keri Gohman: Over the next year and beyond, our strategy is to develop deep partnerships with financial institutions in order to touch each aspect of the customer journey. There will be other partnerships down the road. Stay tuned.

As for product development, we’re focused on building more functions to help small-business owners and their advisors, including increasing the robustness of the financial web by adding key components and partners. We’re also focused on building artificial intelligence and machine learning into the platform to automate time-consuming accounting and business management functions like account reconciliation. Xero is on the cutting edge, leveraging this technology. Infrastructure changes like our recent move to Amazon Web Services enable us to move at an increasingly faster pace. As we accumulate more data from users we’ll be able to develop algorithms that dive into historical financial information and help identify if a firm will run into trouble, giving accountants and business owners the insights they need to take action and thrive.