Established in 1927 and headquartered in Toronto, Maple Leaf Foods is Canada’s leading consumer meats packaging company. The company has more than 12 big brands, including Natural Selection and Schneider’s, and does more than three billion in sales every year.
To continually provide high-quality protein products amid increasing costs, Maple Leaf Foods must invest in front-end improvements, such as innovative facilities and production methods. Yet the efficiency of the company’s back-end processes—especially finance and accounting—suffered in return. According to Vinh Lien, Director of Finance and Accounting at Maple Leaf Foods, “When you’re growing a business, you’re looking at improving the front end to reduce costs.
That means back-end processes like finance often get addressed last, if at all.” For Lien, the company’s reconciliation process was most in need of improvement. “I came from an organization that had been through finance transformation. So coming to Maple Leaf was quite an eye-opener. While the company’s close was pretty good, the account reconciliation process was still 100% manual. I hadn’t seen that many binders floating around in eight years.”
Reconciliations were completed, printed, reviewed, signed, and then rescanned back into a server. Then reviewers would go into the server and check each reconciliation against the trial balance in SAP. “It was an insane amount of work. It took eight hours at the end of the month just to go on to a shared drive to see if the reconciliations were uploaded. The process wasn’t improving the quality of the recs. People were just checking to see they were done.”
A lack of visibility with the current process also opened the company up to tremendous risk. “If you have binders and paper floating around, how do you have any visibility?” said Lien. “At the end of the quarter, we have to answer an accounting control questionnaire. One of the questions is ‘Are you comfortable that all the account reconciliations are completed?’ Well, they’re checked, but the bigger question is ‘Are all the reconciliations accurate and done at the level of quality we expect them to be?’ You’re hoping people will come and tell you if something is wrong.”
During the search for a new reconciliation solution, leadership questioned why Lien and her team didn’t just implement SAP’s close module. “SAP is a great tool, and it’s our backbone. But it’s bulky and on premise. The reporting capability is limited. They’re not investing in this space, but they are making space for vendors who are.”
Instead, Lien and her team reviewed two leaders in finance transformation platforms, including BlackLine, an SAP preferred vendor. “I had used a BlackLine competitor at my previous company, and so I was biased toward that system. But we asked both companies to come in and do a presentation. After the BlackLine demo, there was a consensus. Everyone in the room loved BlackLine. They thought it was easy to understand and much more intuitive.”
The team selected BlackLine over the competitor for additional reasons, including ease of integration and implementation, as well as BlackLine’s maturity. “We wanted to make sure we went with a solution that was a major player in the space. BlackLine offered scalability through other modules, so we knew we could grow with them,” said Lien. “We needed something that was completely seamless, a solution that would grab files directly from SAP. So BlackLine’s SAP extractor was key.”
Freed one full-time position to work on addressing quality. With BlackLine, Maple Leaf eliminated the need to manually print out, review, and rescan reconciliations into the server. As a result, one full-time accountant was freed up to work on projects specific to ensuring quality, not just completeness. This, in turn, has led to more confidence that all account reconciliations are complete, accurate, and timely. “We call it our ‘completeness efficiency savings,” said Lien. “With BlackLine, we’re leveraging technology to create a best practice experience with our people.”
Reduced storage, paper, and server costs by $30,000. Prior to BlackLine, Maple Leaf spent thousands of dollars managing both virtual and physical storage of documentation. “We were using 100,000 pages a year, which took more than 30 gigs of storage space. We have over 500 boxes of reconciliations to be archived for 7 years,” said Lien. “With BlackLine, we’re seeing hard savings in storage, paper, and server costs of $30,000 per year.”
Saved $122,100 through overall efficiency gains. Via BlackLine, Maple Leaf has automated workflow, auto-certified 10% of reconciliations, and eliminated the manual collection of support documentation. “In terms of efficiency, we’re saving $122,100 on completeness, reconciling, reviewing, and archive administration,” said Lien. “Over the next 10 years, we expect to see a return on net assets (RONA) of 255% with BlackLine.”
Increased visibility. Maple Leaf’s previous reconciliation process didn’t just hinder visibility; it made it almost impossible to track, report, and analyze historical and current reconciliations. Today, simply logging into BlackLine gives Lien and her team the complete, real-time picture of balances, completed reconciliations, and workflow. “Standard reporting now takes the push of a button. We can follow up promptly for report requests, and we can easily see and flag potential material misstatements and aging of potential errors.”
Seamlessly reconciled different accounts at different levels with customized variances. Maple Leaf’s reconciliation process relies on company code, GL account, and profit center data. Yet as some of the company codes don’t have associated profit or trading centers, certain accounts must be reconciled at a higher level. Maple Leaf used BlackLine’s flexibility and configurability to enable multiple, automated file extracts from SAP to accommodate this complexity, without increasing the number of reconciliations. “We needed to be able to reconcile different accounts at different levels. It couldn’t be an either/or, where either all accounts were reconciled at the profit center level or all accounts weren’t. If we’d done that, our reconciliations would have exploded from 1,000 to 20,000 because of all the variables,” said Lien. “We created 15 variances in BlackLine. These are used to pull data from SAP at 2:00 am. In the morning, all the right data is automatically in BlackLine.”