Today we’re going to be talking about Zoho, and specifically, its Zoho Finance Plus platform. I’m excited to have Siva Iswaran joining me today. Siva is the global head of Zoho Finance and Operations Suite. So I’m sure there’s nobody better to talk all about this. Welcome, Siva.
SIVA: Thanks for having me here.
LAURIE: My pleasure. Siva, I guess we just caught you on the tail end of a whirlwind trip that has to do with accounting. Can you tell us where you went?
SIVA: Yes, I was attending a world conference for accountants, and Zoho was one of the major event sponsors. We had 6,500 plus delegates from around the globe who are the equivalent of CPAs in the U.S. attending the event physically and about 3,500 doing it virtually.
LAURIE: Sounds like a great event. So let’s dive into Zoho Finance and Zoho Books. I just want to preface our conversation by saying Zoho has become very well-known for its CRM and collaboration tools here in the U.S. But Zoho also has some financial applications that maybe are not as well known. So can you tell us a little bit of background on Zoho’s financial management solutions?
SIVA: Sure, yes. We are known for different products in different markets. In certain regions, we are known for CRM solutions. In others, we are known for our communication and collaboration solutions. In certain countries, our financial suite applications are very popular. So it depends on the region. There are other reasons for it. Different apps we started at different times. For example, we started the communication and collaboration suite in early 2004, and then we started CRM. We started the finance suite around 2007-2008. All of the products are growing, and we are having excellent traction.
LAURIE: What different applications are in the Zoho platform for financials?
SIVA: Zoho Invoice was the first application for receivables management, to manage all of the money coming into your business. We launched Invoice in 2008, and in 2012 we launched Zoho Books, a complete accounting solution to manage data, receivables, payables, and reports like account balance, balance sheet, profit and loss, etc. We were competing with the likes of Intuit QuickBooks in the U.S., and different competitors in other markets.
The interesting part is we are not focused specifically on one market. We are a global player. Right from day one, we wanted to be a global player, so we compete with the likes of Quick Books in the U.S., MYOB, and Xero in Australia and New Zealand, and another set of players in India, the Middle East, and Africa.
We followed it up with the subscription management product because around 2012, we saw a lot of interest in managing subscriptions. So that was our third product. Then we followed up with Zoho Expense, which is a travel and expense management product. Then we launched Zoho Inventory to help merchants or businesses, which sell in multiple marketplaces or through multiple channels. They get orders through multiple channels, and we want them to consolidate and manage those orders. So, we help them with that. We followed that up with payroll and then eCommerce.
LAURIE: You recently announced some great growth numbers for Zoho Finance. Can you share what you think is driving the growth?
SIVA: All the products are growing. So I cannot single out one product. Zoho Books is leading us in momentum. Across the globe, the finance suite is growing, particularly in India and the Middle East. Zoho Books’ growth rate in India is 80 percent plus.
LAURIE: Did Intuit’s exit help you with that?
SIVA: No. These numbers are before Intuit announced its exit. Now with Intuit’s announcing its exit, the numbers are going to be even better. Like say for example Intuit announced its exit in Mexico, interestingly just last week we announced our launch in Mexico. When it comes to the actual product which is giving us the lead, people usually start with something simple, like Zoho Invoice. we made this product completely free because we saw Intuit making money from this product. If customers can try this for free, it’s a gateway to a lot of other products. They land on Zoho Invoice and they expand to other products in the suite. We get several thousand customers through that each month.
That certainly sets you apart from some of the competition, in addition to your global presence. What else do you think is helping you get traction?
SIVA: The growth and depth of the suite. So it’s not just about a freemium model. As I mentioned before, we have a lot of products in the suite, and we have made the user interface really easy to use. And, users can customize it. Then we have the voice interface. So we go from a nice UI to a customizable UI to a voice UI. So that is the direction. You can just talk to the product and get a lot of things done.
LAURIE: That’s a terrific feature you know because we all do so much on our phones now. It’s a real time saver.
SIVA: I think that is the direction the world is moving. For instance, I use the touch interface of the phone. When I watch my daughter, she always talks to the phone. She uses the voice interface. So this is a clear indication that the next generation is not going to use the touch interface. Voice is what is going to be popular and we better be ready with the product for that.
LAURIE: Right. So I was also interested in getting more details about the global tax engine and how you deal with the financial regulations and nuances in the different countries.
SIVA: Right from day one, our focus has been global. Today we have support for 14 different editions including the global edition. When we say edition, we launch it for a specific country and we say this edition will have complete support for the local taxes, compliance, rules, regulations, and policies of the government in that particular country and we don’t stop there. We support local integration with the banks. The payment gateways, filing of taxes, and those things. When we talk about a country-specific edition it’s exhaustive for the particular country. We have 14 country-specific editions. We are strong in India. We have support for a lot of countries in the Middle East, particularly the five-six in the GCC region. We launched our Kenyan edition recently. We launched our Mexican edition just last week. We have an excellent presence in U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K.
LAURIE: So it sounds like in each of these countries it’s about doing the work to dig in and understand and create the automation around for specific areas. There’s no secret sauce? It’s just the work and the technology to automate and add intelligence and those kinds of things?
SIVA: Partly true but we also have a secret sauce. We have an excellent tax framework that we have built. This tax framework is a generic engine. We started with the U.S. edition. Whenever we launch a new edition for a new country based on the requirements of the country the tax framework gets annexed. So when the functionality has to be replicated for a different country, it becomes easier every time. The first or second country may have taken us a long time but it takes a little less each time.
LAURIE: Are you finding more traction in small businesses, medium businesses, and large companies, or is it more of a mix?
SIVA: It’s more of a mix. I would say our primary sweet spot is SMEs in the range of $10 million in revenue. But even large enterprises have shown interest in using our products. Some of the larger enterprises use our billing or receivables and integrate with maybe SAP or Oracle which they are using on the back end. They find our receivables model very powerful and customizable and they could automate a lot of things which is very difficult in some of these legacy products.
LAURIE: Right. Speaking of integration, how do Zoho Finance applications integrate with the Zoho One Platform?
SIVA: The Zoho Finance suite is part of Zoho One. When you buy Zoho One, you automatically get all the products in the finance suite. But we sell the products in three different ways. One is we sell individual products, like Zoho Books or Zoho Subscriptions, or Zoho Inventory. Then we have the bundles. We have the Finance Plus bundle, and bundles for sales, marketing, and collaboration, etc. Then we have the mother of all bundles, which is Zoho One. So when you buy Zoho One you get all of these products.
LAURIE: Most of the Zoho apps integrate with probably hundreds if not thousands of third-party solutions and I’m sure that’s true for the finance apps?
SIVA: Yes, I would like to slightly touch upon the evolution before the integration. We spoke about how we got started and the various products that we had. The things we started an individual product and then kept adding products. We became a suite and now we are a platform. A complete financial platform. What I mean by that is there are a lot of customization options. You can also extend it. Then we focused on the ecosystem. When we say the ecosystem, it includes consulting partners, system integrators, accounting partners, planners, and all this. We have a very good ecosystem. We also focus on various integrations. For example, the finance suite has a very powerful integration with many banks. We integrated the shipping providers and the lending systems. So it’s a complete platform with all the ecosystem and integration. Take the shipping providers alone, we integrated with hundreds of them.
LAURIE: So what’s ahead for Zoho finance in the next year? Anything we should be on the lookout for?
SIVA: As I mentioned before the current focus is on SMEs. We have a very powerful suite for SMEs. The next focus is to move up the value chain. We are planning very powerful offering enterprises. One of the segments we are targeting or focusing on immediately is the billing segment. We are also looking closely at payments, credit, and the lending space.
I would also like to touch upon the connected banking concept. Business finance and banking are in silos today. They should not be in silos. They should integrate. They should talk to each other. So that we could make the customer, the mutual customers’ life easy. We do various things like downloading the statement, automating reconciliation, to making the payment right from within your accounting solution.
You can do your direct payment right from the contacts similarly integrating with the gateways and the banks making the collection a lot easier. Lending in a contextual way. When the cash flow is down, the customer can look at it and immediately press contact the banks right from within the contact from the product to apply for loans. We have already launched it with a few banks. We are working to increase the coverage.
LAURIE: That would be a big benefit. Siva, thank you so much for your time and for giving us the lowdown on everything Zoho finance.
SIVA: Thanks for having me.
© SMB Group, 2022
This post was sponsored by Zoho.