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Freeing Accounting Capacity & Reducing Risk with BlackLine Automation

THE CHALLENGE

Prior to 2019, Accounting for Fresenius Medical Care’s 15 divisions were managed across 17 accounting offices, a structure that not only hampered visibility but increased risk, thanks to time-consuming controls, manual processes, and a lack of standardization.

“We have approximately 300,000 combinations of account and profit centers that we reconcile,” says Terri Hall, vice president of Special Projects, at Fresenius Medical Care, North America Region. “But at the time, we had no visibility across offices. There was no way to know, from a compliance standpoint, what was really happening in all these offices.” 

In addition, each office relied on primarily manual processes. Certain accounts had so many transactions, Accounting capacity only allowed for quarterly reconciliation. The sheer volume of transactions often kept staff from identifying exceptions timely or focusing on high-risk areas.

To address the ever-increasing level of risk—and the potential danger of a significant audit finding —Hall, along with Tim Van Coningsloo, senior finance project manager, was tasked with evaluating the Accounting structure. “Our CFO wanted to understand all of the accounting processes across the divisions and find a way to harmonize them.”

WHY BLACKLINE

In the search for a leading platform to centralize and improve processes, Hall and Van Coningsloo reviewed several solutions, including BlackLine.

“We talked to BlackLine, as well as to other companies. But what really interested us was that BlackLine’s products are all integrated, not just a series of acquisitions or point solutions,” says Hall. “We thought, ‘We'll have one place where everything is. This is going to be fabulous.’”

Attending BlackLine’s user conference, InTheBlack clinched the decision. “Tim [Van Coningsloo] and I were so impressed with the enthusiasm of the BlackLine community, as well as all of the clients and the sessions. It was clear BlackLine is an industry leader. InTheBlack was a significant turning point for us.”

Around the same time, Hall and Van Coningsloo began vetting implementation partners in preparation for the move from manual processes to BlackLine. “We were very impressed with UHY Consulting’s solutions because they were so knowledgeable across the line of products,” says Hall. “We made the decision to work with BlackLine and UHY Consulting at the same time.”  

A BlackLine partner since 2009, UHY Consulting offers comprehensive guidance, training, and support to maximize an organization’s experience with BlackLine. 

“Fresenius wanted to do more than implement BlackLine,” says Ronni Scibetta, manager at UHY Consulting. “They wanted to implement change. The company knew they could centralize and standardize with BlackLine, but they wondered if processes were too complex to automate.

We hear that a lot from companies, so we said, ‘Give us your most difficult, most time-consuming reconciliation. Let us put it into BlackLine. We’ll prove it can be done.’ There wasn't ever an instance where we couldn't automate. That restored accountants’ trust that this could be done.”

UHY helped Fresenius make key decisions on how to configure, roll out, and use BlackLine. UHY’s goal was to help Fresenius get the most out of BlackLine and to maximize time to value. They also conducted multiple in-person training workshops at eight locations across North America. “We brought everyone into the decision-making process,” says Scibetta. “We wanted people to see that BlackLine was going to make their lives easier.”

Staff who were wary of the transition to BlackLine, in the beginning, are now wholly committed. “People who said it wouldn’t work are now asking how soon they can get BlackLine’s Intercompany Hub,” says Scibetta. “And during one close meeting, I heard someone say, ‘We love it. We wouldn't have survived the pandemic without it.’”

After their experience with UHY consulting, Hall and Van Coningsloo both highly recommend working with an implementation partner.

“It’s so critical to have a partner,” says Hall. “UHY kept us focused and helped us through the hurdles. They held the vision for us.”

THE RESULTS

Saved time. Eliminating error-prone, time-intensive manual processes has saved accountants significant time in several key areas.

“Before BlackLine, people were doing a lot of busywork, such as loading and reviewing data, just to create journal entries,” says Van Coningsloo. “Now, we load that data, it’s matched based on set rules, it creates a journal entry, and preparers do a quick review and post. This saves hours on one journal entry.”

Teams are also saving time by using auto certification. Currently, 50% of reconciliations are auto certifying each period. “The work is getting processed faster. People are not having to work late, and they're getting things done,” says Hall. “We're saving hours in each person's day during the critical days of the close.”

Increased visibility. Van Coningsloo cites visibility as one of the most valuable benefits of BlackLine. 

“A lot of supporting documentation was saved on drives that no other division had access to. Now, all of the support is in BlackLine. There’s no need to email anyone. It’s a one-stop-shop.”

Previously, the team also spent a lot of time consolidating reconciliations from different offices.

“Now, we can run a single report that pulls data across reconciliations with reports. No more manual intervention is needed,” says Hall. “The dashboards also help management in charge of the different accounting locations see reconciliation status. And on crucial days of the close, they can see how may journal entries haven’t yet been posted in our ERP.”

Strengthened controls. Centralizing the close within BlackLine across 15 divisions and all 17 accounting offices has enabled Fresenius to establish and maintain stronger controls. 

From an audit and internal controls perspective, it’s so much easier now. We have a centralized system, so our external auditors can see that our controls are the same across all 15 divisions,” says Van Coningsloo. “And auditors can access everything they need from within BlackLine.”

Adds Hall, “I don’t see how any large corporation that requires SEC filings can manage without BlackLine.”

Reduced risk. While working with UHY during implementation, staff discovered that certain segments weren’t being reconciled at all.

“We have 300,000 segments. But there were segments that people weren’t reconciling. Today, with BlackLine, we’ve seen a reduction in risk because we now know the status of every reconciliation,” says Hall. “Plus, we now have a policy around what is considered a ‘good’ rec. The quality of each rec can be validated through the attached support. And there are no more ‘surprises’ during audits.” 

Maintained existing headcount despite rapid growth. Despite rapid growth and an increase in business during the COVID pandemic, Fresenius maintained operations with the same staff levels.

“Our company is growing, growing, growing. COVID also created a lot of extra work in the health industry. But we had BlackLine, which meant we didn’t have to hire additional staff despite the increase in volume,” says Hall. “It’s also been easy to bring on new divisions. Our BlackLine setup only needed to be done once, and now it’s just a matter of bringing in the data. These divisions can also share best practices, as processes have been standardized across the platform.”

In addition, because accountants are spending less time copying, pasting, and scanning spreadsheets, they have more capacity for value-added—and strategic—work. “We’ve been able to take on really meaningful projects, with the same staff and during COVID.”

INDUSTRY

Hospital & Healthcare

ERP

SAP

REGION

United States

COMPANY SIZE

Enterprise

BUSINESS IMPACT

Saved time, increased visibility, strengthened controls, reduced risk, and maintained existing headcount despite rapid growth.

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