BlackLine Blog

May 31, 2023

The BlackLine Blueprint: How Arkansas BCBS Automates F&A Processes

Modern Accounting
4 Minute Read

Jim Buchanan

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Time savings for audits, shortened close cycles, and improved information access are a few of the benefits noted in The BlackLine Blueprint: How Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield Automates Finance & Accounting Processes.

However, these benefits only scratch the surface of a deep dive into how organizations can benefit from continual fine-tuning of BlackLine’s reconciliation and other automated processes coupled with the expertise of implementation partners like RSM US LLP.

Challenges With Reconciliations

With more than 3,200 employees and 70+ years of experience, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) is the largest healthcare provider in Arkansas. Arkansas BCBS Director of Finance Operations Kelly Ellerbee and Manager Karen Paxton knew they had to modernize the company’s accounting processes. Before finding BlackLine, they initially tried to boost accounting efficiencies by attempting an in-house developed SharePoint application.

“We were struggling with account reconciliations,” says Ellerbee. “We were doing a lot of them in Excel, and then emailing them to an approver and saying ‘Hey, my recons are done.’” But the approval processes weren’t clear-cut, he says, so Arkansas BCBS turned to developing the SharePoint tool.

“We struggled with it off and on for about a year and a half, but there was so much pushback that we just walked away from it.”

The company then tried an internally developed RPA system, but adoption was sparse, and Arkansas BCBS again had to turn to Excel.

Soon after, company auditors began recommending BlackLine to Karen Paxton. Paxton and Ellerbee reached out to a sister company, a life insurer that was using BlackLine, and after hearing good reviews, decided to try the automated solution for account reconciliations and task management themselves. When it came to selecting an implementation partner, Ellerbee felt the choice was clear after speaking with RSM US LLP team members based on their knowledge and the personal connection he shared with the team.

With the help of RSM US LLP, the BlackLine implementation team set out to resolve the following challenges:

  • Lack of approval workflow for a high volume of reconciliations

  • Inability to report on key metrics

  • No centralized task list

  • Inconsistent reconciliation documentation

  • Time-consuming audits


Today, Arkansas BCBS has 56 BlackLine users, is completing about 2,000 reconciliations and 1,000 tasks per month, and is saving substantial time for their team members and their auditors. The company has also begun a phase 2 implementation with RSM US LLP and is implementing BlackLine’s variance analysis solution as well as RSM US LLP’s Reconciliation Excellence offering.

Other Challenges & Lessons Learned

In addition to solving Arkansas BCBS’ process automation challenges, the BlackLine implementation also helped the company address the need to rebound from turnover challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The remote-work requirements caused a rise in employee turnover, so Arkansas BCBS and RSM US LLP had to make a special effort to retain their professional talent once employees were back in the office.

BlackLine helped greatly in retaining key employees during the new implementation, notes Paxton. “Having the templates allowed you to feel like you have a starting spot, so both the access and training become easier because you didn’t have to unteach something—and your employees didn’t have to unlearn something.”

Too Many Cooks

Another challenge overcome and a lesson learned by Arkansas BCBS: too many decision makers can slow implementation progress. Initially, more than 20 individuals were involved in weekly implementation meetings.

“We wanted to encourage BlackLine adoption and we wanted people to feel part of the process,” says Ellerbee. “That sounds good on the front end, but in reality, I think we had too many cooks in the kitchen. It slowed things down and I took that as a lesson learned.”

Ellerbee later narrowed the scope, based on a BlackLine excellence review, and as a result, progress picked up.

Other benefits of the BlackLine implementation included:

  • Creating a strong foundation for automation

  • Saving time on audits

  • Facilitating access to information/training

  • Shortening the monthly close for key accounts from 20 to 15 days


A Follow-Up User Survey

More good advice from the webinar: follow up with users to find out how well the implementation is working and how it can be improved.

Following the 2021 BlackLine implementation, RSM US LLP administered the Reconciliation Excellence program. The program began with a survey of all end users. The survey results allowed RSM US LLP to tailor the reconciliation evaluations and end-user training to best fit Arkansas’s BCBS needs. Through collaborative conversations between Arkansas’s BCBS and RSM US LLP and survey feedback, RSM US LLP created a “fine-grained” custom scorecard to evaluate reconciliation performance. 

According to RSM US LLP Supervisor Nadia Khoja, the scorecard asked questions such as: Are you using the correct templates? Are you classifying your items the right way? Do you have appropriate policies, procedures, and documentation?

“From there we could provide metrics and training on [each person’s] reconciliation specifically,” she says, “and then apply BlackLine best practices as well as an improvement tracker.”

Fine-Tuning BlackLine

In addition to helping Arkansas BCBS further fine-tune its BlackLine implementation, the Reconciliation Excellence Program identifies new roadmaps—and automated processes—that can help the company boost accounting performance in the future. For instance, the program identified auto-certifications, transaction matching, and automated journals as likely next steps for the company’s BlackLine roadmap.

Each month, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield handles 500,000+ medical claims through its ITS system, with each BCBS responsible for contracting with its own state. This creates complexities and high volumes of work, says Khoja. “There’s tons of back-and-forth transactions on that every day,” she says.

“This is an ideal scenario for transaction matching, one that we think could be used by insurance companies in general that are required to match hundreds and thousands of claims.”

This discussion with Arkansas BCBS and RSM US LLP delves deeply into how to succeed with automating processes, with a focus on account reconciliations in particular, and offers detailed, expert insight into how to grow BlackLine into a highly effective, continually improving finance automation deployment.

Watch the on-demand webinar now to learn more about Arkansas BCBS’ journey with BlackLine and discover how you, too, can:

  • Automate your close

  • Navigate the continuously-evolving labor market

  • Enable employees to maximize their full potential


If you’d like to learn more about how BlackLine and RSM US LLP can help your organization, contact Nadia Khoja.

About the Author


Jim Buchanan