AI-Powered automation for Accounts Receivable
A publicly-traded company headquartered in Dallas, TX, U.S., Braden Europe designs and engineers components for power plants. Braden Europe is a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Global Power Group.
The majority of Braden employees are engineers, with the company running small sales and HR departments. The company’s accounting team also runs lean, with four people responsible for managing all 300 account reconciliations, as well as aggregating and reporting data to Global Power for consolidation.
The team’s reliance on spreadsheets guaranteed the monthly close process was both time-consuming and error-prone, with two to three days reserved just for updating Excel files. Even worse, the manual nature of the process didn’t enable all reconciliations to be finished on time—or at all.
According to Wesley Haagmans, Financial Analyst at Braden, “When I started with Braden, there were accounts that weren’t properly reconciled. Some weren’t reconciled at all. There were mismatches between the balances on the Excel templates and the balances in our ERP system. And there were overdue items on the balance sheet.”
These errors and inefficiencies also made audits even more challenging, with auditors keeping the small staff busy answering questions and providing additional documentation. The existing close process also threatened the company’s Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance. “We’re a public company, and so we must be SOX compliant,” says Haagmans. “But there were SOX-related deficiencies in our balance sheet reconciliations.”
Leadership at Braden Europe knew they needed a new reconciliation solution, and BlackLine’s finance controls and automation platform was viewed as a strong contender. At the same time, the company was trying to fill a financial analyst position. During an interview with Haagmans, who was then a candidate, leadership was excited to discover he had five years of experience implementing and using BlackLine at his former company. “They mentioned they had a lot of issues with their account reconciliations. We talked about my BlackLine expertise, and that was one of the reasons I was brought on board as a Financial Analyst at Braden Europe.”
Haagmans’ first project at Braden was implementing BlackLine. “It only took a few days. It was really fast. The integration with Epicor was easy, as well. Epicor isn’t a common ERP, but our BlackLine project manager simply created a template for the integration, so there was no extra workload for me.”
Haagmans also trained his staff how to use BlackLine. “When we went live, I gave everyone a short training session. But to be honest, when you log into BlackLine for the first time, you see it’s really straightforward and easy to use. That’s what I like about the solution, and it’s also one of the reasons Braden partnered with BlackLine.”
After Braden Europe began using BlackLine, their parent company, Global Power, also implemented the solution. “Global Power’s accounting team also had issues with their account reconciliations,” says Haagmans. “I did the implementation for them, and they’re all using BlackLine now.”
Reduced time spent on reconciliations from five days to one. BlackLine enables Haagmans and his team to spend less time on manual tasks, which ensures they have more time to focus on strategy and analysis. “In the past, it took me five days to prepare all the balance sheet accounts, and now I’m done with reconciliations in one day. With BlackLine, it’s much easier for us to meet our deadlines,” says Haagmans. “I’m a financial analyst, and I finally have time to do analysis!”
BlackLine has also reduced the workload for Haagmans’ manager. “Previously, my manager had to sign off on all these single worksheets. It was very time-consuming and made even more difficult because he travels a lot. Now he can log in from anywhere and approve the balance sheets directly in BlackLine.”
Streamlined internal and external auditing. Previously, internal and external audits required staff to find, aggregate, and deliver data to auditors. Today, auditors can access everything they need in BlackLine, on their own time, from anywhere in the world. “Before BlackLine, auditors were chasing us to make copies or answer questions,” says Haagmans. “Now we just give them external auditor access. After my supervisor approves a balance sheet, it is also approved in BlackLine. The auditor sees the reconciliation when he logs in. All the supporting documentation is there. We receive far fewer questions from auditors, and that’s great.”
Braden’s internal auditor can also access all records from his office in the United States. “Before BlackLine, our internal auditor had to travel to Europe. He spent a lot of time going through reconciliation binders onsite. With BlackLine, he audits all the files from his own desk in the States, instead of having to fly here.”
Reduced repetitive work by auto-certifying no balance accounts. Prior to BlackLine, Haagmans and his team had to manually reconcile all 300 accounts. Today, some of those accounts are autocertified. “Because of BlackLine, we no longer have to reconcile all accounts on a monthly basis. If there’s no balance, the reconciliation is system certified by BlackLine,” says Haagmans. “It saves everyone time.”
Increased efficiency while decreasing errors. By automating more of the reconciliation process and reducing manual data entry, the accounting team sees not only increased efficiency but fewer errors. “Before BlackLine, I worked two to three extra days to update our Excel files. At the end, there were still errors in the balance sheet. That doesn’t happen anymore,” says Haagmans. “We run a trial balance of our ERP system. We copy the numbers into our template and import it into BlackLine. It’s three minutes of work for me. Compare that with three days before BlackLine. I’m really happy because we have a cleaner balance sheet and we are more in control.”
Haagmans strongly recommends accountants in all industries stop relying on spreadsheets for the close process. “Any accounting department still doing their reconciliations in Excel is going to have the same issues we had. When you do everything in Excel, you’re going to have errors. You’re not always going to see them. But you’re giving these reconciliations to your auditors, and they’re going to see the errors. That’s not what you want as a company. With BlackLine, there are no more Excel issues. We’re more professional and accurate. And that’s what an accounting department needs to be.”