Established in 1811, Achmea is the leading insurance company in the Netherlands. The organization provides customers with health, life and non-life insurance and serves half of all Dutch households.
With eight key locations across the Netherlands and 14,500 employees, as well as four additional operating companies across Europe and Australia, Achmea must remain in compliance with numerous global financial standards, including International Finance Reporting Standards (IFRS), Sarbanes-Oxley, and Solvency II.
Yet Achmea’ s paper-driven close process made it difficult, if not impossible, to track and monitor internal controls and maintain reporting standards without expending significant time and labor resources. The existing close process produced more than 40 paper balance sheet records every year, and all records were printed and filed at various Achmea sites. The volume of paper throughout Achmea locations made it difficult for external auditors, who had to be physically present to perform auditing tasks.
“With BlackLine, you can see a full auditable chain of events. External auditors see the audit trail, and because of this we get positive feedback from external accountants who trust this product,” says Stephan Schaaphok, project manager, at Achmea.
The paper-driven process also prohibited efficient internal tracking and reporting on the progress of the close. As a consequence of this limited visibility, leadership simply couldn’t enforce a consistent close process across all facilities.
Changing customer needs, as well as the financial crisis of 2008, drove Achmea’s leadership to improve several key business processes, including the close. The organization’s customers were demanding the lowest possible insurance costs; improving the efficiency of the close—one of the most labor and time-intensive activities in finance—would not only free up accounting resources for more important work, but enable the department to contribute to the bottom line by reducing close-related costs.
Achmea leaders reviewed four potential suppliers in the search for cloud-based close and reconciliation software. The organization wanted a solution that would not only integrate effortlessly with its existing ERP, SAP, but also be one that is user-friendly and designed first for the end-user.
“We chose BlackLine for several reasons. Primarily, because it is a user-friendly end-user tool, and we did not need a lot of IT involvement to implement. This is important to us, the business, and it’s perfect to use,” says Schaaphok.
This combination of robust technology and a simple, easy-to-learn user interface had to come at a reasonable cost.
Furthermore, it is important for Achmea to have a solution that integrates well with SAP. “All our journal entries are in SAP. That is the basis of our general ledger,” Schaaphok adds. “With BlackLine, you can see the same data you see in SAP. But, you can do so much more with that data in BlackLine,” he adds.
For Achmea, BlackLine’s Finance Controls and Automation platform not only met all their criteria for a new system, but was also implemented in less time and at lower costs than expected. IFRS implementation (electronic balance sheets) across all business units and operations only took nine months due to Achmea’s project approach—which included a small project group dedicated to implementation, key stakeholder buy-in, and a single point of contact within BlackLine.
Reduced the overall labor costs by 9 FTE. With Account Reconciliations, Achmea can upload multiple balances and apply an account segment to identify balance types—key to staying in compliance with the IFRS requirement for substantiating balances according to multiple standards. As a result, Achmea’s accounting staff has reduced by 9 FTE.
Simplified audits, reducing both labor and time. With BlackLine, the department can simply grant file and system access to external auditors. Auditors can log in from anywhere, on their own time, and access files and checklists without having to be onsite.
For Achmea staff, this means fewer resources are wasted in aggregating paper files, preparing for audits, and communicating with auditors. This all translates into savings in both time and money. As an additional benefit, Achmea received very positive feedback from its external auditor about BlackLine and its improved processes.
Integrated internal control systems within the workflow to adhere to international business standards. Prior to BlackLine, Achmea’s paper-heavy close process made it difficult to ensure the internal controls were effective, updated regularly, and used consistently across all activities.
With BlackLine, strong internal control systems are not only in place throughout every transaction, but the controls themselves are monitored. BlackLine Account Reconciliations automatically validates account balances, provides a standardized format for reconciliations, stores reconciliation documentation, provides visibility into the entire process, and helps ensure duties are segregated between the preparer, reviewer, and approver.
Achmea also relies on BlackLine’s Variance product, which provides built-in controls designed to identify unusual fluctuations and mitigate risk with customized risk thresholds.
Gained access to improved monitoring and tracking capabilities for the duration of the close. Previously, tracking progress was arduous due to the reliance on a paper-based close process. Today, Achmea staff can quickly see, in real time, how the close is progressing, what still needs to be done, and who needs to do it. This enhanced visibility has not only contributed to a timelier close, but has helped Achmea increase efficiency to reduce customer costs overall