Renting property in London can be a real… adventure. Not always a fun one.
Essential Living work hard to raise the bar for what tenants can expect from their landlords. At their beautifully-designed blocks across London (and Maidenhead, shout out Maidenhead), they promise tenants great service and transparency on fees.
Oh, and a penthouse level that’s a dedicated social space for residents to hang out.
2020 has seen the company – and their Finance Director Anthony Hanson – grappling with some new challenges. It is 2020, after all.
But whether it’s virtual property viewings or stocking up on masks instead of margherita pizzas, Pleo’s helped Essential Living to roll with the challenges.
What’s the journey that brought you to Essential Living?
I started out, as many accountants do, at a Big Four firm – PwC in my case. Did my training, moved into the real estate sector and spent seven years at property developer Almacantar... I was the financial controller there but wanted to make the jump to a more strategic role.
What was really interesting when I moved to Essential Living was inheriting a team, rather than building one. Two and a half years on, the team’s in a good place and we’re working very hard on getting our systems fit for purpose – and that’s an area I find really exciting.
Us too! No, seriously. So, let’s talk systems.
Well, even eight or nine years ago when I was leaving PwC, it felt like a very different world.
Implementing new systems was all about spending a fortune on long term contracts, after meeting a salesperson who promised you the world. Then you’d get to implementation and if there were concerns or problems, you’ve crossed the Rubicon, you’re too far along to change.
So I love systems like Pleo where you can just try it out and see if it works for you.
How did you discover Pleo?
To be honest, we didn’t really do a big process when we picked out Pleo.
Before I had even taken this job, I saw an interview on Business Insider talking about "two guys trying to solve the most annoying things about corporate cards" – and I set it aside for later, because I knew there was something there that needed to be solved.
When I joined Essential Living, there were two corporate cards and the details [for those cards] were shared around.
We had a member of the Finance team spending days per month chasing receipts, sometimes not getting receipts – it was an absolute nightmare.
What’s the coolest use of Pleo your team has had so far?
It’s been really interesting how the spend changed during lockdown.
There’s generally a more senior individual at each of our properties who has a virtual and physical card in their name. During normal times there were social events in the property and they’d buy a few hundred quid of pizza or beer.
Now that’s been replaced by an order of masks or hand sanitiser. A little bit more boring maybe, but obviously so important.
What has Pleo meant for how your Finance team work?
Well, you hire good people for a Finance team and their time is being soaked up by this unnecessary task.
[Manual expense management] might have been key back in the 1980s or 1990s, but these people need to have more fulfilling work in 2020.
There’s a commercial imperative too – you’re paying good money in salaries, so why pay money for someone to deal with something that a computer can handle more efficiently? It’s trying to make jobs more interesting, to offer more to the organisation.
And personally speaking, I find technology exciting.
I’m fascinated by the way in which computers, automation, AI, machine learning – all those buzzwords I don’t fully understand but have a bit of knowledge of – have the ability to help you do your job differently.
Pleo’s been a very important part of that.
How does that change impact you, day-to-day?
I love the way Pleo gives you the ability to let people do their jobs, empowering them, passing down responsibility.
You can monitor spending in real-time too. With the old way of sharing business credit cards, you were waiting for the statement to come through. Someone might make seven or eight payments that you need to look into as a Finance team, but you only figure that out a month later.
Now I probably jump into Pleo every few days and can quickly hop on anything that looks untoward, correct any behaviours if that’s needed.
What excites you most about the future of work?
I think the one silver lining of the whole Covid-19 mess could be a change in attitude to home working.
I think companies should have an office and that you do need a central place – but I’m hopeful that many organisations can be more flexible and offer the kind of environment where there’s trust.