From Regulator to Executive: CFO Alison Staloch
Alison Staloch, CFO of Fundrise, has worked in corporate finance both as a regulator and now as an executive. A former chief accountant for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investment management division, Staloch left the public sector at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She is the first female CFO and self-proclaimed executive “outsider” at Fundrise, an online property investment platform with 370,000 active users.
In an interview with CFO, Staloch discussed the steep learning curve of his transition to the private sector, the SEC’s role in empowering the accounting standard setter FASB, the modern work environment, and the value of higher education.
Chief Financial Officer, Fundraising
- Notable previous companies:
- Security and Exchange Commission
- KPMG United States
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
ADAM ZAKI: After leaving the SEC for the position of chief financial officer at Fundrise, what adjustments did you have to make to return to the private sector?
ALISON STALOCH: I was the first female and indeed the first “outside” member of the company’s leadership team, since our senior executives are actually all founders and longtime members of the team. I was intrigued by the idea of doing instead of judging. I had spent my entire career in auditing or as a regulator and was excited about the idea of starting a business and being an entrepreneur.
My expectations did not do justice to the difficulty of it all. For example, I’m putting processes in place to comply with many of the regulations I helped create at the SEC, building a business with limited resources, and expanding my skillset to include the entire finance function. All of this continues to be complicated by the ever-changing requirements of operating in a remote environment.
I am putting processes in place to comply with many of the regulations that I helped create at the SEC.
Although it has been incredibly uncomfortable, taxing and challenging, it is a rewarding professional experience to move on to something that [help you grow in a different way. The learning curve when you shift jobs or responsibilities will always be high, especially when your function, perspective, or the stage of the company’s development is different. It has been exponential for me in this move, and I’m fortunate to work with a group of leaders who are emotionally aware of how challenging that can be.
Where are the most immediate impacts of fintech being felt in corporate finance? What parts of the job for both CPAs and CFOs would be best made easier or more efficient by technology?
STALOCH: Technology can improve any finance activity that relies on a massive [number] of data points. For us, and more from a product perspective, these are capital raising or capital deployment activities. It can also enhance work that requires concise, precise, timely, yet agile reporting, so FP&A is an obvious answer. The accounting systems still seem pretty archaic, but perhaps a function focused on historical stock reporting will never feel truly dynamic. Reporting continues to improve, but I think there is a lot of white space within the finance function, activities ripe for disruption.
What do you think of the appropriate role for the SEC with the FASB and IASB? How has your professional experience shaped your thoughts on how GAAP standards are determined and implemented?
STALOC: Accounting standards are full of judgments. It’s not an area where it’s easy to take advantage of technology or be one step ahead. The normalization process may seem slow to outsiders compared to how the rest of the profession tries to operate. The process is working and the participation of several parties in the process, including the SEC, is important and appropriate. And seeing this process unfold while I was on the commission, I became convinced that a standard-setting process based on thoughtful and deliberate action is necessary, even if it doesn’t always seem timely. .
We must recognize that accounting standards are meant to be standardized while respecting the fact that they will need to evolve as the world changes.
Standardization is simply not set up to be a particularly agile activity. We must recognize that accounting standards are meant to be standardized while respecting the fact that they will need to evolve as the world changes.
Are you or your team working remotely? Do you plan to implement changes in work environments?
STALOC: We are indeed remote although we have a head office in [Washington] DC and we use coworking spaces as needed. It would be difficult with our current workforce to reverse this posture given the way we have hired [all over the country] the last years. This has been a competitive advantage for talent, including talent that has often been overlooked for whatever reason. But that doesn’t mean remote work is perfect.
I think there are still too many companies claiming it’s one or the other when the truth is there is a trade off with any environmental mandate of work. We try to recognize this by planning how we will work together, not creating a strict mandate for our team, while remaining nimble to adapt as our people and our work present different needs. In the long term, we intend to have a regular plan of retreats and on-site, as needed, for culture building, team connectivity and learning.
When assessing talent, what do you think of the value of college degrees from a prestigious university, earning an MBA, or even a CPA certification? Do you find these becoming obsolete?
STALOC: I think the CPA designation is important when it comes to financial reporting and technical accounting. For example, I need a subset of my team internally validating financial statements and accounting to have the disciplined foundation for this certification and continuing education requirements.
The mark of your education is not the only signal of talent – we hire profiles from various universities and we have even focused on self-taught skills in certain disciplines.
The way we think about college degrees is undergoing a years, if not decades, mark shift accelerated by the pandemic. We certainly appreciate a degree or higher degree like an MBA, and when it comes from a prestigious university, it’s often a sign of high discipline, talent, or intelligence. However, the brand of your education is not the only signal of talent – we hire profiles from various universities and we have even focused on self-taught skills in certain disciplines. Work ethic, intelligence and humility are a fundamental combination of our hiring approach.