GlobalFintechSeries Interview with Amit Mathradas, President and COO at Avalara
Amit Mathradas, President and COO at Avalara joins us in this chat where he discusses the impact of digital transformation trends in finance and how they are impacting customer service and daily operations in a remote working world.
Tell us a little about yourself Amit, we’d love to hear about your journey through the years in tech. How has your time at Avalara been since taking over as COO in 2019?
I started my career in tech with Dell where I oversaw the company’s sales of third-party monitors and displays as a product manager. I spent 14 years in various roles at Dell as I worked my way up to serving as the general manager of Dell Small Business. After Dell, I spent some time at Web.com and then went to PayPal where I served as the general manager of the company’s North American small and medium business unit.
My time at Avalara, since taking over as COO, has been exciting and challenging. Our teams have been working diligently to innovate tax compliance automation for customers around the globe. Even amid the pandemic, we have consistently delivered new products and enhanced capabilities to help businesses automate nearly every aspect of their compliance obligations. It’s incredible to see how technology can be applied to an age-old requirement, like tax compliance, and reduce a tremendous amount of the burden that businesses and individuals have been struggling with for centuries seemingly overnight. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can continue to innovate in the world of compliance to serve more customers.
We’d love to hear a little about your experience leading the team at Avalara through the Covid-19 pandemic, take us through the initial months in 2020 as lockdowns were imposed and the shift to a remote model became necessary; what was the year like at Avalara and given your experience, what key takeaways do you have to share?
When the pandemic hit, like many companies, Avalara was prompted to go completely remote at the drop of a hat, and we didn’t know how this would turn out Fortunately, with the quick thinking and support of our internal communications and workplace experience teams, our executive team was able to move swiftly to put a transition plan in place to get our employees out of offices safely and efficiently.
When the lockdowns were initially imposed, we focused heavily on keeping employees up to date on office closures, operating procedures, and keeping themselves safe. After we successfully transitioned to remote work, we invested heavily in supporting our employees and leadership. We deployed tools to track aggregated employee engagement and productivity, so we knew which groups needed more help. We also deployed mental, emotional, and physical health programs. We enlisted the help of outside mental health experts to participate in internal activities, empowering our employee resource groups (ERGs) to extend resources and events specific to their represented groups, investing in programs to relieve stress and burden on employees, and equip our CEO with personal communications tied to employee well-being and support. I have personally participated in multiple virtual executive ask-me-anything (AMA) sessions via Slack to answer employee questions and exchange ideas.
From my experience, the biggest takeaway for any business during a time like this is to ensure that you are making your employees’ health and well-being top priority. Business continuity hinges on your employees being able to do their job safely and effectively, so investing in technologies and resources needed to engage and support them is critical. I would also stress the importance of consistent, transparent communication from your company leaders to keep employees connected and informed.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced banks and financial institutions to embrace more digital transformation- when it comes to bigger institutes choosing a fintech partner to support initiatives here, what are some top thoughts that come to mind?
COVID-19 has forced nearly every industry to embrace more digital transformation. From widespread remote work to the need for cost saving efficiencies, the adoption of technology has certainly been accelerated by the pandemic. For financial institutions specifically, I think it’s interesting to see how digital transformation has picked up when it comes to two key areas – customer service and employee costs.
The pandemic has radically changed consumer behavior and increased the use of digital banking and financial tools. As such, investments in digital products and services is on the rise as financial providers work to serve customers in the safest and most convenient way possible. On the cost front, a distributed workforce created by widespread remote work has forced many institutions to rethink their backend systems. The need for cloud-based, integrated systems has never been greater than it is today. Institutions have seen the value in cloud-based technologies that span everything from IT services to HR to employee productivity to keep business operations connected and minimize redundancies.
In what ways have you seen Blockchain impact global finance trade and global fintech innovations? How do you feel technologies like Blockchain / AI will further impact how this market shapes up?
Perhaps one of the biggest impacts blockchain technology has had on global finance trade and fintech innovations is how it has helped migrate paper-based and manual processes into secure digital environments. These manual processes put a huge time burden on businesses and leave room for ample mistakes and discrepancies.
Moving forward, the impact of blockchain and AI technology will continue to be visible across the fintech market. For Avalara specifically, we acquired Indix AI technology in 2019 to aggregate, structure, and deliver global product and tax information through our automated solutions. AI and natural language processing (NLP) will continue to be critical technologies for us as we continue to map this critical transaction information for automated compliance.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the global fintech startup marketplace- can you talk about some interesting innovations you’ve come across? Your thoughts on a few startups that you feel are set to turn into fintech unicorns in the new future?
There is ample innovation taking place across fintech. One interesting startup I’ve come across recently is Brigit—a fintech startup that automatically provides people with bridge loans to avoid overdrafting their bank accounts and being charged steep overdraft fees. In today economic reality this service provides a huge savings for people that need it the most. ebankIT is another interesting startup that is helping to power the digital banking solutions of financial solutions – a trend that has been accelerated due to COVID-19.
As global fintech trends change and the market shifts due to business environments (and also Covid-19), what are your comments on the state of fintech in 2021 and beyond?
We’ve been seeing market shifts for the past few years that have increased the need for fintech significantly, which have only been accelerated due to the pandemic. As we look forward to 2021 and beyond, I believe there are a number of trends we will see grow and new ones that will come to fruition.
I think we’ll continue to see major shifts in the payments sector. A growing focus on mobile-first capabilities will continue to drive the need for mobile-enabled platforms that are interconnected with other digital channels. Likewise, as more commerce takes place online, sellers will need to leverage payments technology that not only processes payments, but also incorporates other key invoice line items, like tax compliance and shipping.
I also believe that more governments will move toward a digital-first approach for collecting and processing tax. As pressure for collecting tax in real-time from tax authorities increases, the need for tax automation technology will increase, as well as the need for payment technologies that work with tax software to facilitate payment to the authorities at the time of transactions.
It’s also likely that the widespread adoption of digital currencies will continue to become the norm. With major fintech payment providers approving the use of digital currencies like bitcoin around the world, we should expect a continued shift toward digital-first payments and an increased need for technologies that support these transactions.
Lastly, as more functions go digital, I anticipate that the need for cybersecurity will also continue to be top of mind. Expect to see continued investments in cybersecurity solutions to protect privacy and confidential data across systems.
We’d love to hear about some of Avalara’s upcoming plans and innovations?
At Avalara, we have the goal of being the leading global cloud compliance platform to automate all aspects of compliance for every business in the world. To accomplish this goal, we have a few primary directives, including growth and efficiency. We believe that the automation of compliance is inevitable, so we’re continuing to expand our reach globally, into new business verticals, and expanding our existing footholds. To complement our growth strategy, we’re investing heavily in our engineering and product development to streamline processes and accelerate the timeline for new solutions and enhanced capabilities.
There are a number of recent examples that illustrate our continued commitment to innovation. Recently, we acquired Transaction Tax Resources, Inc. to build out the industry’s leading database for tax content that will further our ability to automate tax rates and rules for transactions. On the product side, we’ve launched several core capabilities this year, including solutions to support cross-border compliance, managing use tax, and expanding the use of AI for our customers using our AvaTax product.
We’re committed to embracing emerging technologies to further expand our capabilities to automate compliance across every vertical, every region, and tax type.
Before we wrap up, what are the biggest learnings and tips you’d share with fintech innovators and leaders?
I often find that many fintechs adopt a strategy of going after small businesses and individual consumers directly. This strategy is often hard to execute because it’s difficult to reach millions of merchants and consumers. Fintechs that adopt this strategy have to carefully use their funds to market to the masses. Trying to reach such a large audience with minimal brand aware can be a difficult task, so adopting a strategy that includes partnerships to help reach subsets of potential customers is critical.
I have also found that many fintechs have a set idea of what value they will bring to the end users, but oftentimes the value that is actually provided varies from the original intent. Many experts will advise startups to stay focused and avoid distractions when this occurs, and while I think it’s important that fintechs have a solid understanding of who they are serving they should also be flexible enough to absorb changes as they happen.
Lastly, it’s important for fintech leaders to surround themselves with a group of advisors. As a leader, you may have a solid understanding of what you want to provide through the technology and product, but lack the know-how when it comes to marketing, selling, raising capital and finances often hinders growth. This advice applies to all startups – not just fintechs. It happens far too often that a founder has a great idea but struggles to translate that idea into a prosperous business. Having a strong advisor pool will help leaders make the decisions necessary to turn great ideas into growing businesses.
Avalara helps businesses of all sizes get tax compliance right. In partnership with leading ERP, accounting, ecommerce, and other financial management system providers, Avalara delivers cloud-based compliance solutions for various transaction taxes, including sales and use, VAT, GST, excise, communications, lodging, and other indirect tax types. Headquartered in Seattle, Avalara has offices across the U.S. and around the world in Brazil, Europe, and India.
Amit Mathradas is president and COO of Avalara. He manages global growth operations, overseeing sales, marketing, business development, customer experience, and professional services. Throughout his career, Amit has focused on serving the small business category with tools and services to help that segment grow and thrive in the global economy. Prior to Avalara, Amit was general manager and head of the small and medium business segment for North America at PayPal. He also served in senior leadership roles at Web.com and Dell, focusing on serving the needs of small businesses by developing partnerships and go-to-market strategies.
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