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The Remote Financial Close: Real Tips for a Virtual Close

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October 2, 2020

Teams accustomed to using desktop-based programs, face-to-face meetings, and paper binders have needed to improvise lately to virtually close the books and manage financial reporting. With no guarantees that everyone will be back in the office for the next close and reporting cycle, how can teams improve execution the next time?

In a recent webinar with specialists from BlackLine and Deloitte, we discussed just that, including:

  • How to create a framework for an effective virtual close and reporting tasks
  • How to prepare for the next cycle
  • Technology enablers for doing this all remotely

Technology has the power to ease pain points of working remotely but also serve as a launchpad for finance transformation. In my view, transformation doesn’t have to mean an investment as massive as installing a new ERP. Instead, teams can make focused improvements that deliver results more quickly while marching toward a larger, longer-term strategy to transform their close and reporting processes.

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Where to begin

There was a lot to discuss in this webinar about the virtual close, as you might imagine. To break it down, Julien Bassan, Director, Technology Partnerships & Strategic Alliances at BlackLine, outlined five pillars of focus:

1. Collaboration: Associates need a way to work together in real time, so they don't waste precious hours waiting their turn to check out documents or jump in to work on them.

2. Tracking progress: Monitoring the status of projects or a late adjustment can be more difficult when you can't tap a colleague on the shoulder to ask.

3. Bottlenecks: Identify what you would improve since the last cycle. Charles Carrington, Partner, Digital Controllership at Deloitte & Touche LLP, suggests asking not only what processes broke down, but also asking what processes worked well and then building on those successes. Other questions to ask include: Were timelines realistic? Can you automate low-value tasks to get back on track? Were you able to access data? What redundancies are needed in case individuals aren’t available?

4. Audit: Even during a pandemic, both internal and external audits must go on.

5. Work-from-home security risks: You don't want to run the risk of confidential financial figures getting into the wrong hands.

From there, we discussed:

  • Basic elements of a virtual close and reporting cycle
  • 10 keys to running more efficiently while team members work from home
  • Where to start on transformation to quickly realize some quick wins (spoiler alert: enabling some level of self-service audit capabilities could be one option)

Digitization vs. digital transformation

Most teams were forced at some point during the pandemic to move online for communications and handoffs of documents. Video calls replaced conference-room meetings. Maybe colleagues emailed PDF files instead of dropping off papers on people's desks. Digitizing real-world conversations and files is an important shift, but that doesn't necessarily represent digital transformation of processes. Those moves just transfer the same challenges of manual processes to the cloud. You likely still have the hassle of managing multiple versions of documents or trying to track down a history of revisions. 

But imagine if finance and accounting teams could work on spreadsheets, documents, and presentations together in a single cloud platform in real time, with visibility into whether a journal entry will be coming in late. What if they could connect data directly from source systems like general ledgers or ERPs and embed comments and questions in their projects and track responses? What if auditors could trace data points back to the source, the way Workiva users can trace numbers in a report back to BlackLine? Executives could sign off within the cloud platform, without teams having to print out copies for review. Those changes could allow you to completely rethink your financial close calendar and what your teams can do. Innovative technologies have helped make that possible. 

Digital transformation can empower you to reduce risk, boost productivity, and improve transparency and collaboration—and leave manual processes behind. 

To learn more, catch the webinar on demand.

Steve Soter
Senior Director of Product Marketing
Workiva

About the Author

Steve is Senior Director of Product Marketing and Accounting Industry Principal at Workiva. Previously, Steve served as an accounting leader in multiple roles including Vice President and Controller for Backcountry.com, a private equity owned, online retailer of outdoor products, and as the Director of SEC Reporting for Overstock.com (NASDAQ: OSTK), a $2 billion revenue, online retailer of home goods and blockchain technology company. His experience includes multiple acquisitions, debt offerings, an IPO, and the world’s first digital debt and equity offering (by Overstock). Steve is also a former member of the US XBRL Data Quality Committee.

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