Jeff Kist started his college career as an English major, but it took just one economics class to convince him that finance was where he belonged. “Finance answered my curiosity about how certain people got rich and how to actually make a profit,” he says. He switched majors and earned a BBA in finance from University of Wisconsin’s School of Business.
After graduating, Kist was particularly fascinated by how data was organized in the accounting field. “From procure to pay, from sales to collection process, I loved learning how all that information flowed through information systems and got up into a financial report,” he explains. He then took night classes so he could sit for the CPA exam.
Eventually, Kist landed at the multinational professional services firm, KPMG. He worked his way up to audit senior manager where after seven years he had to decide between staying to follow the partner path or leave public accounting to explore other opportunities. Kist chose to leave, pursuing his dream job of chief accounting officer. It worked out: today, he holds that title for entertainment company Redbox.
“I’ve never let my career development be limited to what my current employer offers,” Kist explains. “My career is defined by the series of different roles I’ve selected specifically to develop me into one holistic finance professional.”
That series of roles eventually led him to a controllership position at Redbox in 2014, then a subsidiary of Outerwall. The job gave him the opportunity to tackle challenges at a large scale, and he enjoyed the impact he could make in the fast-paced entertainment industry.
“I’m fortunate not only to work at a company where I like the people and the work, but I like that my kids know our product,” he says. “I’m also still learning a ton every day and still developing as a professional.”
In the six years that Kist has been in the entertainment industry, the field has changed rapidly. Redbox has seen the fall of physical rental stores like Blockbuster and the ubiquity of streaming services. What paved the way for Redbox’s success, he explains, is convenience and value. “At a dollar per night and the ability to rent and return anywhere, it really was a disruptive product delivery method,” Kist says.
And things are continuing to evolve, which means that Redbox has to keep its business practices cutting-edge. “I like the pace of change, always finding solutions to create viewing events for our consumers,” Kist says.
“You can’t micromanage in this environment because it changes so rapidly.”
Less than two years into his tenure at Outerwall, Kist became chief accounting officer for all of the company’s subsidiaries (which also included Coinstar and ecoATM). In 2016, Outerwall split into three separate companies, and Kist stepped into the chief accounting officer role for Redbox exclusively.
That shift changed his role significantly, and his responsibilities actually expanded. “Flexibility became really paramount—which is odd for an accountant to say,” Kist says. “I need to have engagement from my team, for them to be empowered to make decisions and make changes on the fly.” Because everyone operates differently, he ensures that team members feel they can get to a specifically defined end result in their own way. “You can’t micromanage in this environment because it changes so rapidly,” he says.
One such change is the development of on-demand content. In 2017 Redbox began to offer single on-demand film and TV rentals and purchases, which don’t require a subscription. While kiosk rentals would charge customer credit cards upon return of DVDs, this new offering required entirely new support processes.
“It’s a whole separate set of data. You have to have agreements with the content providers, as opposed to having the option to own and rent the disc itself that creates leverage in the physical space,” Kist explains. “In the digital world, you don’t own the digital content or sell the intellectual property. You sell a right to view it, but you can’t buy that right at a retail store like you can buy a physical disc.
“So it’s a whole separate set of contracts and stipulations to review, new information and data to pull for financial reporting,” he continues. “Yes, we’re still renting movies, but it’s basically a start-up within a mature business.”
Tracking the on-demand business required new metrics and goals, as well as new strategies to determine the needs of their customer base. Kist and his team needed to develop brand-new royalty statements to deliver to entertainment studios, determine new ways to track and collect data, and develop new processes to pay providers. They developed automation tools to collect data and manual checkpoints to ensure the automation functioned properly.
“Every challenge is an opportunity for excellence.”
At the same time, Kist and his team installed a new enterprise resource planning system in 2017, which came with its own challenges. “We needed to make a quick transition, so rather than obsess over every detail, we made sure our team was aware of the basics,” he says. “By doing that we ensured efficiency but also curbed the urge to develop a new version of what we had before that would prevent evolution.” Not only was Redbox able to make the jump quickly, they did so with a threefold cost savings to the company.
The next frontier for the company is ad-supported video on demand, which was launched in February 2020. It’s a cousin to the transactional video on demand rental and purchase model Redbox rolled out in 2017 but different. Consumers can tune in to linear programing like traditional broadcast television or select movies or television episodes to view on demand, but it is all free to the consumer. Revenue comes to Redbox in the form of advertising dollars.
“Ad-supported video on demand is a great compliment to our transactional video on demand offering,” Kist explains. “It offers a whole immersive platform for our consumers to keep them engaged in an environment where purchasing is an option, not a requirement.”
“For my team though this new offering means new contracts for new partners, new accounting rules, new royalties, and new financial reporting,” Kist adds with a laugh. “Well, it’s all new but by now we’re pretty used to something new coming up fairly often.”
Redbox has other projects in the works as well—and with each new service, Kist and his team will need to develop new accounting processes. “The industry is changing so rapidly, our media consumption is changing, and we as Redbox are changing with it,” Kist says. “We’re always trying to improve ourselves, which makes it really interesting for me. Every challenge is an opportunity for excellence.”
“True Partners Consulting congratulates Jeff Kist, Chief Accounting Officer at Redbox. We’re proud to support Jeff and his team with their Unclaimed Property challenges. Jeff’s leadership, partnership and strategic vision inspire us and he’s truly a pleasure to work with.”
—Troy Wangen, Managing Director