May 12, 2021

A View From the Top: The Pinnacle(s) of the Modern Accounting Summit in EMEA

Do you still wrestle with manual accounting processes? Are you struggling to handle increasing demands on your time? If so, rest assured that you’re not alone.  

This is exactly why we created The Modern Summit, which took place virtually in EMEA this week. This event is dedicated to helping you transform your accounting and finance organisation by taking the next step in your journey to modern accounting.  

If you missed the event or want to catch up on any sessions you missed, you can now watch them on demand here.

It’s Time to Move to Modern Accounting  

Speaker: Marc Huffman, CEO, BlackLine 

The last year has changed everything—from the way we learn to the way we relax to the way we celebrate. This is especially true of the way we work. It’s been a test for everyone, but it’s been particularly disruptive for Accounting and Finance. 

For many companies, the pandemic was a big driver in influencing companies to take the next step on their journey to modern accounting. In the midst of all the disruption, accountants managed to close the books remotely. 

As everything shifted to a digital business model, you had to adapt, no matter how prepared you were. Companies focused on adapting to the disruption around manual tasks, the difficulty in sharing physical documents, and the challenge of using on-premise solutions while working remotely.  

On top of everything else, there were new risks around cybersecurity. It was a perfect storm for financial statement risk. 

So, how do you manage that? 

You can start by future-proofing your business. Many of the challenges exacerbated by the pandemic have been present in Finance and Accounting for years, proving the fact that traditional manual accounting processes are not sustainable.  

Unifying and reconciling your data usually means a lot of manual work and chaos… on a deadline. We can’t keep working this way. It takes too long, costs too much, and creates too much risk all while affecting accounting teams’ morale and productivity. 

You might be asking yourself, is there a better way? 

If accurate financial data is the lifeblood of agility in business planning and you’re still working with technology from more than 40 years ago, how can you guide the business? And to be clear, everyone at a company should be able to help guide the business! 

But that isn’t possible without accurate accounting information, because nothing happens in a business without accountants. The last year has shown us that in even more personal and tangible ways.  

BlackLine is unified, automated, and continuous and can ensure the rapid delivery of financial reports that guide the business. 

We have a bold vision for the future of modern accounting and will uniquely advance the accounting function with purpose-built solutions to integrate, orchestrate, and automate financial operations. 

Mapping Out Your Future with BlackLine  

Speaker: Sonia, Senior Product Marketing Manager, BlackLine 

Traditional manual accounting processes were chaotic before the COVID-19 pandemic began and working from home made it even harder to get these time-consuming tasks done.  

These numbers make the case for why it’s time to move to modern accounting: 

  • 69% say manual effort is the number one bottleneck in the financial close process 
  • 55% are not completely confident they can identify financial errors before reporting results 
  • 350% more FTEs on general accounting and reporting are bottom performers 
  • 34% of productivity is lost for actively disengaged employees 

BlackLine’s Modern Accounting Playbook contains the essentials for a streamlined and automated close. This solution set can be implemented on an accelerated schedule, even during these uncertain times, and delivers:  

  • Central workspace with automated trial balance import 
  • Standardised reconciliations with automation 
  • Dynamic and transparent close activities tracking 
  • Role-centric reporting and proactive alerts 
  • Rule-based transaction matching for bank files 
  • Enhanced controls  

Marinus Pharmaceuticals’ Success Story 

Speaker: Mike McNamara, Senior Director of Finance & Corporate Controller, Marinus Pharmaceuticals 

Before BlackLine, Marinus’ F&A teams were using Excel to perform their reconciliations and close task tracking, they rarely completed a month-end close—when they did, it took over 30 days—and they’d lost their status as an emerging growth company.   

They began considering a financial close solution, with this wish list: 

  • Ability to document account reconciliations and analysis in line with audit requirements 
  • Close task management to provide structure 
  • A sophisticated user interface and workflow functionality, and more capability 

This led them to BlackLine’s Modern Accounting Playbook. Within three months, they had fully implemented BlackLine and were realising these benefits: 

  • True monthly close. They cut their close time in half, and now have task tracking and development opportunities.  
  • Automated bank reconciliations. They’re now able to import files directly from the bank, and have automatic clearing and auto-reconciliation.  
  • Robust documentation. They can budget to actuals to tell a good story, and promote understanding of variances and forecasting.  

BlackLine is also helping them scale for growth and prepare for 2020 audit requirements. 

Better Together: SAP & BlackLine  

SAP’s Finance Transformation Vision 

Speaker: David Ormerod, Senior Director of SAP Global Centre of Excellence for Finance & Risk, SAP 

Finance transformation has been on most finance department’s agendas for years. This journey helps stabilise operations, reduce costs, and improve compliance, and equips businesses to provide a better experience for customers and employees.

David says, “organisations that have gone through this process become significantly more agile. We’ve seen organisations whose business model has been enormously impacted by the Coronavirus be able to redirect and refocus their business, and in some cases mitigate what would otherwise be a very negative impact.”

SAP’s vision of finance transformation moves F&A organisations from daily routine to supporting growth, transparency, and trust with these three components: 

  • Continuous Accounting: Integrating people, processes, information, and technology to achieve transformation of the finance function and its corporate role.  
  • Record-to-Report with SAP S/4HANA: Achieving financial close excellence by integrating the transactional and analytics world, based on a single source of truth.  
  • SAP’s Strategic Relationship with BlackLine: BlackLine solutions are integrated into SAP’s product roadmap.  

Customer Spotlight: Volvo Cars & City & Guilds 

Molly Boyle, Director of SAP Solutions at BlackLine, had the opportunity to talk to two BlackLine and SAP customers about their finance transformation journeys: Ivy Hankinson, Product Owner, Finance Foundation Global Online Business at Volvo Cars and Edward Watson, Group Lead Accountant at City & Guilds.  

Here are the highlights from their conversation.  

What were the challenges your accounting team faced and what did you decide to look for a financial close solution? 

Ivy: As SAP doesn’t provide their own functionality for the general ledger reconciliation process, initially we had to design a manual process, which involved Excel and manual extracts of data from our SAP systems. We had an internal audit early last year, and they said we needed to have a systems solution for our reconciliation process. This was the start of us looking into using BlackLine.  

What led you to select BlackLine? 

Ed: The main thing we wanted was a tool that has a proven track record working with SAP and that would not only solve the issue of accounts reconciliations, but also give us a few other options in terms of further improvements we could do down the line.  

We also wanted to automate items and reduce the workload while ensuring we still had adequate, if not improved controls. BlackLine ticked all these boxes: it has all the controls, it has all the efficiencies, and it is relatively system agnostic.  

What benefits have you experienced with a modern accounting approach? 

Ed: The main thing that we’re benefitting from is integrity in the reconciliations. It’s quite easy to attach documentation and files without having to go back and forth between the manager and the preparer. We’re also seeing the benefit of easily prepared reconciliations using the different templates, which allows us a bit more time to investigate the other issues.  

These are the kinds of things that help us be forward looking rather than reactive, and that kind of proactivity is a sizable benefit.  

Ivy: We’ve just gone live with the GL reconciliation tool and expect to have a lot of long-term benefits. Just the fact that we now have a system that everyone can log into—preparers and approvers—have all the information in one system with the supporting documentation, and have the ability to configure the systems and certify the accounts is a huge benefit for us.  

What advice would you share with other organisations looking to improve their accounting processes? 

Ed: The key lessons learned through this process are:  

1) Have a clear roadmap and clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve.  

2) Don’t try to bite off too much.  

First adopt the system, keeping what you have and doing exactly the same things in the system, then start chipping away at the benefits to get those quick wins as you transform into a much better environment. Doing it piece by piece helps keep you aligned to the roadmap.  

Ivy: Start small and take a pilot approach. Throughout our journey, we’ve had fantastic support from our [BlackLine] account manager. We’ve had a couple of system demos, and being able to provide our data to BlackLine to tailor our demonstration really helped our finance community understand what the tool can do for them. 

Customer Conversations: AR Automation at Avis

Speaker: Rahul Malhotra, Sr. Director—SSC Operations & Global Process Owner QTC, Avis Budget Group 

In the face of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Avis recognised the need for an efficient cash application system to help ensure overall financial health. While they had been considering a digital finance transformation for some time, the conditions of the past year revealed the importance of making it a priority. 

Prior to adopting BlackLine, Avis’ finance and accounting teams were confronting several challenges: 

  • A heavily manual process with very little automation   
  • Difficulty matching customer payments in a timely manner, resulting in unapplied cash and a negatively impacted customer experience  
  • Decentralised processes, with F&A teams spread out across the globe  

They saw exciting improvements from their BlackLine solutions. Efficiency increased by up to 60%, team productivity rose, and they reduced their cash application timeframe from five days to as little as 24-48 hours. Plus, this also allowed them to provide greater visibility to the customer. 

As Avis continues to grow, their F&A team understands the need for advanced solutions that can mesh well with different work streams. BlackLine’s solutions provided this flexibility, so that both the Avis and Budget brands were able to adopt the new processes.  

In addition, BlackLine didn’t just focus on deploying the solutions to the team, but worked with them to help solve the challenges they were facing to maintain productivity and a healthy cash flow. 

Customer Conversations: AR Automation at Creditsafe Group 

Speaker: Jason Braidwood, Global Credit & Collections, Creditsafe Business Solutions Ltd. 

Creditsafe’s F&A teams, like many others, faced a period of challenge and uncertainty in 2020. Despite this, they were able to successfully transform their accounting systems by implementing automation with BlackLine. 

There were some initial concerns over adopting a new solution, such as lack of trust in the technology, and general unease about the change—since they were also undergoing a change to their global CRM operating system at the same time. However, their investment paid off with several improvements: 

  • Increased visibility and flexibility. BlackLine’s solutions not only provide at-a-glance visibility across the 14 countries working with Creditsafe, but they also allow for customised automation for maximum efficiency. 
  • Operational excellence. The F&A teams were able to reduce the time spent on mundane tasks and redirect that energy to more fulfilling and high-profile elements of their roles. 
  • Better decision-making. Their teams can now make more informed decisions, assess risk more accurately, and provide better reports to stakeholders. 

According to Jason, Creditsafe was able to “put itself on the map” and stand out in the industry, due to how they adapted with BlackLine amid the challenges brought on by COVID-19. They see a lot of opportunity in the year ahead, and recognise the value of having a solution that enables their teams to do their best work. 

Product Roadmap: Turning Data into Action & Intelligence

Speaker: Prachi Sahoo, Director of Product Management at BlackLine 

Globally, a new currency has evolved: the currency of data. If we can’t utilise this currency and derive actionable insights from it, then we’re not ready for the next century to come.  

Today, the new Chief Financial Officer thinks like a Chief Data Officer, and every CFO wants more AI, more mobile, and more real-time data. But it’s a gigantic task to collect data from hundreds of systems, and they’re facing obstacles like quality of data, lack of data governance, and lack of a central repository for all financial data.  

To solve this problem for our customers, we are building a Customer Data Platform, which is robust, scalable, and secures and powers our data products. Here’s what you can expect in this new solution: 

  • Collects data from diverse sources, including third party 
  • Best data quality 
  • Built-in data governance 
  • Data lineage capability 
  • Near real-time data streaming 
  • Built on Google Cloud 
  • Big data processing power 
  • Highly scalable 
  • Highly secure 
  • PII data protection 

We also have the following data products on our roadmap, to complete our Intelligent Data Platform. Here’s a brief description of what each one will deliver.  

Reporting & Dashboards 
  • Compare data between products, closing the gaps for better and faster reconciliation 
  • Users enjoy dashboard reports that they need and care about most 
  • We’ll suggest the most relevant industry-specific reports to customers 
Analytics & Embedded Analytics 
  • Historical data analysis on audit data and trend analysis on unmatched transactions and variances 
  • Actionable analytics prompts the user to take the right next action step within the context of the business process 
  • Provide pre-canned analytics relevant to the customer’s industry vertical along with customer created analytics data via API 
Process Mining 
  • Customers create processes in finance automation, and any action against these processes will get logged and mined in the data platform 
  • Customers will have an analytical interface to gain insight into process delays using the mined data 
  • Customers will be able to run what-if scenarios to optimise processes 
Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning 
  • Notify users on account balances that are fluctuating inversely when they should be fluctuating directly 
  • Predict outcome based on historical trend analysis, and predict how long closing might take based on past task completion patterns 
  • Learn from user action to recommend a type of action, and recommend a specific type of reconciliation template that saves 15% of your time 
Account Analysis 
  • Automatic analysis based on rules engine (to be released in August 2021) 
  • AI-based intelligence on account data, looking at different aspects of the account over a period of time 
Data-As-A-Service 
  • Customers get their financial data from the BlackLine system, or partners get the data on behalf of the customer 
  • Customers mix with additional data in their system 
  • Customers enjoy reporting and analytics from the comfort of their device or system 

BlackLine’s data solutions enable our customers to use data to achieve financial operations nirvana. 

Customer Conversations: Getting Started with Automated Journals in an Oracle Environment 

Speaker: Amy Fallon, Accounting Integration and Systems Manager, Ansys 

Before their BlackLine implementation, Ansys’ finance team’s processes were manual and spreadsheet-heavy, including physical binders with printed records. This resulted in many challenges for the team, including data entry errors, lack of transparency, and communication difficulties.  

In Amy’s words, they were “a large company operating as a small one.” The manual, hands-on processes took over the team’s time and pulled them away from other important tasks. 

Ansys implemented its first BlackLine solutions in 2018, and then introduced Journals in 2020. The improved approval workflow and the ability to automate entries were crucial in the decision to implement Journals. 

Ansys’ administrative team led this process, making it clear that automation was a priority. They started a task force to identify target areas that could be improved with automation, and identified several key areas to focus on during the rollout process: 

  • Build confidence by starting with “easy wins.” The team began with simpler recurring items such as prepaid rent, and then slowly increased the complexity. 
  • Prioritise education and training. Ansys developed detailed training materials with its international teams in mind, such as step-by-step guides, videos with closed-captioning, and a monthly “Ansys BlackLine newsletter” with helpful tips and reminders. 
  • Availability of administrative team. The administrative team has made it a priority to be available for questions during the rollout process, and also communicated their understanding that, as with any project, there will be a learning curve while their finance teams become familiar the new processes. 

Ansys’ next steps involve optimising reconciliations for automation, aligning with other transformation projects, and providing increased education and training for users, especially at the advanced level. 

Since Ansys’ rollout of Journals, they have received positive feedback from their teams, including ease of use, an intuitive user interface, and increased transparency. With BlackLine, the number of automated journals has increased to over 2020, their approvers now have a more feasible workload, and their work-from-home transition went smoothly. 

Watch the Modern Accounting Summit on-demand to take the next step in your journey to modern accounting.

Shannon Maynard, Kevin Gossett & Jill Kane

Modern Accounting