Fintech Interview with Matt Gardner, Co-Founder & CEO, Hiline

FTB News DeskJune 25, 202422 min

Learn how Matt revolutionized accounting with Hiline, using tech-driven methods to streamline back-office operations for SMBs.

Matt Gardner, Co-Founder & CEO, Hiline

Matt Gardner is the CEO and Co-Founder of Hiline, a leading financial services firm that delivers scalable accounting, human resources, tax, and payroll services to growth-minded companies, small and midsize businesses, and non-profits. Following his experience as a CPA and auditor, Gardner started and ran Gardner & Capparelli, a boutique, integrated services accounting company for small and medium sized businesses. Through expanding the company and working with innovative companies, Gardner recognized a glaring opportunity to modernize back-office operations and disrupt traditional accounting with a modern approach and integrated technology. Hiline was born out of that mentality and serves hundreds of clients today as a leading provider of financial-operations-as-a-service that helps growth-minded organizations manage risk, improve outcomes, and make better decisions. Gardner is a Certified Public Accountant and earned his BS in Accounting from SUNY Oswego. His entrepreneurship also extends to hospitality as an owner of multiple restaurants, activity in commercial real estate, and as an angel investor in early-stage technology companies.

Matt, please tell us a bit about your background and what led you to co-found Hiline.

After earning my bachelor’s and CPA degrees, I worked extensively as an accountant and auditor. Eventually I founded and ran Gardner & Capparelli, a boutique, integrated services accounting company for small and medium-sized businesses. As the company expanded and we began working with other innovators, it became very apparent that there was an obvious and immediate opportunity to modernize back-office operations and disrupt traditional accounting with a modern approach and integrated technology. With that in mind, I founded Hiline in 2016, and we now serve hundreds of clients.

What inspired you to transition from traditional accounting methods to a tech-forward, integrated approach at Hiline?

At Gardner & Capparelli, I was confronted with an industry that was outdated, analog, and stale. It was an industry ripe for disruption. My co-founder, CPA Jim Capparelli, held the same belief. We felt tax, accounting, and auditing work had remained largely unchanged since the 1970s. It felt commoditized. The traditional approach valued conformity over curiosity and it sacrificed innovation. We saw other CEOs and CFOs truly excited about their work and we were inspired to bring that same energy and enthusiasm to the accounting and finance industries.

Our goal was to leverage our experience to help small and medium-sized business (SMB) founders and owners make room for more strategic financial decisions. We learned from these tech-forward SMBs that traditional accounting methods didn’t really serve the needs of modern companies that typically prioritize efficiency and innovation. Businesses with high-growth potential were being frustrated by financial and compliance details. We aim to integrate technology to better serve our clients without losing the human element.

Can you describe a pivotal moment or experience with a client that highlighted the need for modernizing back-office operations?

Well, I can share an incredible success story with you – and that is our partnership with Jahnel Group. Our expertise and tech-powered accounting approach were instrumental to their growth and expansion. Our team identified $1 million in R&D tax credits for Jahnel Group, which enabled them to reduce their annual taxable income by a million dollars! They’ve also saved hundreds of hours working with Hiline. Getting that time back has allowed them to concentrate on growing their core business.

How did your experience with Gardner & Capparelli influence the services offered at Hiline?

We were inspired by the agile and tech-driven approaches that characterized our start-up clients. How could we modernize back-office operations and integrate technology, adapting traditional accounting practices for the tech era? We used the same methods that our target clients deploy. Applying software product management methodologies and prioritizing user experience, we developed cloud-based financial reporting and virtual CFO services.

Today, Hiline is a leading provider of financial-operations-as-a-service, helping growth-minded organizations manage risk, improve outcomes, and make better decisions through our comprehensive services across accounting, finance, tax, human resources, and payroll. We have relationships with key technology providers and offer a team of experts across finance and tech.

How do you believe Hiline’s tech-forward approach helps SMBs with high-growth potential compared to traditional accounting methods?

It’s actually the combination of technology and having the right people in the seats. Despite rapid advancements in AI and accounting technology, you still need people that are stewards of good financial operations. So we’ve built a company that does two things: leverages technology to its highest potential and focuses on hiring the very best talent to serve our clients.

The pandemic really forced companies into adopting remote work and it required a huge mental shift. It was also a huge catalyst for our business model. The old accounting model that required in-person visits to your CPA went out the window. It became obvious that people could get better service and best-in-class technology more cost-effectively – and 100 percent remotely. This offered clear evidence of the advantages of our tech-enabled approach. It demonstrated that you could deliver high-quality financial services efficiently and effectively, regardless of where you were located.

What are the main challenges SMB founders face in financial management, and how does Hiline address these challenges?

The financial side of the business can be a real blind spot for founders. They don’t speak the language. Typically, the creative and visionary side of your brain that makes you a great founder and operator isn’t the analytical side that makes you a great accountant. The ability to execute on a vision is an incredible superpower successful founders exhibit. However, they rarely also find joy in keeping meticulous company records and setting up back-office infrastructure.

There are so many things challenging business owners today: access to capital, hiring decisions in an uncertain economy, the litany of SaaS tools available that many businesses just don’t know how to use. Understanding how to manage and deploy both human and financial capital is a daunting undertaking. Being a good capital allocator comes down to two things: how you leverage your cash flow and how you invest in talent. Most accounting services focus on compliance, but they fail to provide the financial expertise and tailored strategic support that businesses need to thrive.

The good news for companies is that they can outsource both accounting and finance advisory level support. By leveraging cloud-based accounting and finance platforms, Hiline delivers a really compelling alternative. It can also be less than half the cost of that in-house investment in headcount. This will better set up a SMB for success long-term and with a system in place that scales with their growth.

In your opinion, why do many startups and small businesses overpay for basic bookkeeping but under-invest in strategic financial work like FP&A?

Small businesses often look to abdicate these responsibilities to someone they perceive to be necessary such as a bookkeeper or controller, but this can be a massive over-investment in the basic accounting needs. What they actually need is strategic input from someone who understands accounting but can also help them look out into the future. There generally isn’t a single CFO or bookkeeper that can offer both.

I find that most founders and operators of SMBs are intimidated by the concept of financial planning and analysis (FP&A). Simply put – FP&A is just planning. And it’s critical in the short and longer term. The economic landscape is forcing founders and operators to improve their financial acumen and become efficient capital allocators. It’s about adapting and ultimately thriving as the world changes. To navigate through this economic inflection point, you need some type of FP&A inside your business. Implementing this type of planning from the outset can be a game-changer for small businesses.

How can a fractionalized CFO service help startup/SMB founders improve their financial planning and analysis?

For many startups and small businesses, it’s an overinvestment to hire a six-figure CEO or controller. It might benefit some businesses, but the majority will be well served by teaming up with an external partner like Hiline who can provide year-round financial expertise. A company’s industry and scale will help determine this. We work to meet companies where they are at and help them figure out what the best solution is for their individual business.

Hiline has made FP&A more accessible for these smaller businesses. Our team of seasoned finance and technology experts can manage revenue planning, cash flow forecasting, headcount planning, scenario analysis, etc. to align a company’s finance and operational data and give businesses a clear perspective of the road ahead.

We also work with companies on budgeting and forecasting to help them implement a budget that supports sustainable growth, identify profitable opportunities and allocate resources effectively.

What role does AI-powered software play in Hiline’s approach to making FP&A more approachable for businesses with less than 100 employees?

We have a partnership with Basis, an AI-powered planning and reporting tool that scales as companies grow. FP&A is becoming more accessible and easier to deploy in SMBs with advances in cloud-based platforms like Basis.

Integrated with other accounting software, these tools can unlock real time insights into a company’s performance, budgets, rolling forecasts and more. I find most operators really thrive with an executive level summary dashboard that focuses their attention
on the most important things they need to know and understand, such as cash flow,
profitability, margins and growth, for example.

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