Despite transitioning from a paper-based close to a SharePoint application almost a decade ago, Berkshire Bank’s reconciliation process was still highly manual.
“The SharePoint system was cost-effective, but we didn’t gain any efficiencies,” says Michael King, controller at Berkshire Bank. “It was really just a way to physically document reconciliations. Our close process remained very clunky.”
Relying on SharePoint to manage reconciliations was also very time-consuming. “I would click to approve a reconciliation and sometimes the system would recognize it. Sometimes it wouldn’t. I’d have to wait hours—or even overnight—and hope that the system would eventually accept it. It was absolutely brutal on our productivity.”
In addition, the SharePoint system made reconciling certain GLs exceptionally difficult. “We couldn’t group accounts by cost center or GL. The system couldn’t handle it. We had to go through and look at everything individually. It took a lot of time, especially on the loan side,” says King. “It was very inefficient, and it kept us from engaging in more strategic work.”
King and his team were committed to increasing efficiency across the entire close process. “First and foremost, we wanted to reduce the amount of time it takes to prepare, approve, and review reconciliations. That was our primary goal.”
However, leadership was concerned about both the cost and the resources needed to implement a new system. “Our company had done quite a few acquisitions, which had already taken up a lot of resources—not just from my team, but within the entire bank,” says King. “And our SharePoint system had no incremental costs. For some, that made its continued use attractive.”
As King and his team worked to make the business case for a new solution, the 2020 pandemic hit. Rapid changes and uncertainty over the next few months called into question the sustainability of SharePoint as a close tool.
“We realized at that point that we really needed to just get it done. We identified available funding from the 2021 budget for the first and second quarters. Leadership got on board when they realized that other departments besides our own, such as internal audit, would benefit from the increased efficiency.”
After several months of research and demos, the team selected BlackLine over three other vendors, implementing BlackLine’s Modern Accounting Playbook solution.
“BlackLine has a very user-friendly, simple interface. That was critical, as there can be some initial resistance to change,” says King. “We wanted to make sure that we implemented something that people could learn quickly—and even get excited about.”
King was also impressed with BlackLine’s experience and reputation in the financial industry. “We valued BlackLine’s market share, especially among banks. Other vendors offered us referral calls from non-banking institutions. But with BlackLine, we had several excellent references calls with other banks that liked using the platform.”
But for King, the fact that BlackLine manages its own implementations sealed the deal. “We considered using PeopleSoft for the financial close, as we have it as our general ledger. But we didn’t like that they don’t handle their own implementations.
“BlackLine manages implementation from beginning to end. That was a huge differentiator. There’s no need to integrate a third party, which always winds up taking more time.”
Saved five hours a month on reviewing and research. BlackLine centralizes the management of the reconciliation process, thereby saving King significant time every month. “Before BlackLine, I would have to pull a lot of different reports from SharePoint, go into the separate document repository to find supporting documentation, and then reach out to the individual for verification.
With BlackLine, everything is in the same place. I can drill into reconciliations and immediately see the subledger, GL balance, reconciling items, and support. It takes no time to research anything. I save five hours a month on reviewing reconciliations and conducting research.”
Reduced work for the IT team. The bank has realized time savings outside of Accounting and Finance as well. “Our IT team loves not having to maintain SharePoint. The system was temperamental and broke frequently,” says King. “Not having to deal with that anymore is a huge relief for them and us.”
Completed reconciliations two days faster. Since implementation, the team has experienced increased efficiency, thanks to BlackLine’s auto-certification capabilities, transparency, and centralization.
“We’re completing our reconciliations two days faster than before,” says King. “The gap between when the reconciliations are finished and the close has narrowed. That has been huge for us.”
Auto-certification has played a key role in time savings. “Before, with SharePoint, we had to enter everything manually. Now, we simply auto-certify our zero balance accounts. It’s reduced our workload.”
Freed staff for value-added work. Today, the team spends far fewer hours on repetitive work, such as manually entering data. As a result, they—and King—can engage in more meaningful activities.
“We have a lot of different initiatives going on. We just closed two major transactions in August. We divested our New Jersey region and our insurance operations. These transactions closed five days apart,” says King. “With BlackLine, I’m not spending my whole day looking for documentation or reviewing reconciliations. I finally have the time to focus on our initiatives and engage in more strategic work.”
Streamlined auditor access. Previously, with SharePoint, auditors had difficulty finding key documents in a timely manner.
“It was always kind of hit or miss with SharePoint for the auditors. We had issues with naming reconciliations as well, and that made it challenging for auditors to find what they needed,” says King. “Now, with BlackLine, we have a standardized process, and everything is in one location. We’ve given auditors read-only access and they’re already seeing increased efficiency. They spend far less time searching for documents.”