While PFG relied on modern automation practices and technology to ensure the efficient distribution of products, the company still struggled with manual, paper-based account reconciliations.
“We literally had close to 2,000 separate binders to maintain our account reconciliations using stacks and stacks of paper,” says Philip Manoff, senior manager of accounting at PFG. “Because it was all paper based, we didn’t have any transparency throughout the organization. We had no way of sharing information, no visibility of account reconciliations outside our group. We didn’t have a way to verify the completeness of our account reconciliations on a company level.”
A completely manual journal process was also highly labor intensive: after entries were created, they were emailed and then printed. “I would have a stack of paper several feet high every month,” says Manoff. “I reviewed the entries manually, page by page, and sent back to the coordinator to post into the system.”
PFG knew their existing financial close process wasn’t sustainable, even with tools like Microsoft ExcelTM. “Accounting evolved from columnar pads to Excel, but nothing really changed. In fact, there are more mistakes made in Excel: one wrong formula can turn into a six-figure error,” says Manoff. “We needed to take our processes to the next level, to modern finance where processes are automated not just for efficiency but for accuracy.”
Manoff discovered BlackLine through a referral from Resources Global Professionals. “We didn’t look at any other solutions. BlackLine seemed to meet our needs, and the cost model worked well. It also required little involvement from our IT resources.”
BlackLine’s inter-operability with multiple ERPs was also a boon. According to Raghav Nagaraj, SAP/Infinium business systems analyst, “We have three ERP systems. Each ERP is different. But BlackLine was easy to match with SAP, and we’re working on matching the others.”
Manoff and his team originally estimated that the complete roll out would take at least a full year. In reality, all SAP account reconciliations were functional in only four months. “I rolled the system out myself. I was able to do it with minimal IT support,” says Manoff.
Reduced printing costs by 80-90%. Today, PFG’s account reconciliation and SAP journal entry processes are almost entirely paper free. “BlackLine digitized all of our paperwork. There are no more binders and no more tall stacks of paper. We’ve seen financial savings in reducing our printing costs by 80-90%,” says Manoff. Added Nagaraj, “We’ve seen savings in storage costs, as well.”
Streamlined journal entries. Previously, Manoff’s accounting coordinator spent all her time handling journals. Today, she spends a fraction of the time—and is now free to work on tasks that add more value. “BlackLine has freed up so much of our time during close. Personally, I spend at most two hours on journals during close week,” says Manoff. “We do 1,900 SAP journal entries a month in BlackLine. Only 50 are done manually.”
Operational centers can now also create their own journals, a tremendous improvement in workflow overall. Plus, entries are posted faster. “That’s where we’ve seen the productivity increase in the journals process. It used to take hours for someone to get their entry posted. Now entries post every half-hour. From the operational centers’ point of view, turnaround time is in real time,” said Nagaraj.
Shortened reconciliation time. 56% of reconciliations are completed by day five. “In the old days, we hadn’t even started reconciliations by day five,” says Manoff. “The days of multi-floor accounting departments are long gone. What tools can you use to leverage your current staff while assuming more volume? BlackLine has helped us answer the question of how can you do more.”
Improved transparency while reducing risk. BlackLine’s secure cloud storage has increased transparency across the organization. “People can self-serve now, which is a tremendous time saver,” says Manoff. “Plus, our internal auditors can do audits and SOX testing independently. We don’t have to coordinate the process.” While time zones were previously a disadvantage, according to Nagaraj, “Now it doesn’t matter because everything is accessible via BlackLine in the cloud. Time and resource productivity has increased. It’s a time saver for everyone.”
Housing the data in BlackLine also ensures data integrity and safety. “With BlackLine, you don’t need servers, you don’t need backups,” says Manoff. “All our information is in one place, not stored on our network drives that we had to trust were regularly backed up by our IT folks. The data can’t be corrupted or deleted by accident.”