Private company financial reports at National Vision

Almost 75 percent of adults in the United States wear contacts or glasses. As the population ages, that will only increase. National Vision, Inc. is uniquely situated to give that growing number of Americans access to quality, affordable eye care and eyewear.

National Vision has 850 stores in 44 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia under several brand names including: Vision Center at Walmart stores, Eyeglass World, and America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses. The company's plan for growth includes opening 75 new locations each year.

Highly scrutinized reports

With rapid growth comes great opportunity —and challenges. One of National Vision's challenges was improving the process of producing financial reports for its shareholders and lenders. While the private company isn’t required to file detailed financial reports publicly, the reports are still absolutely critical, explains Russell Roper, Director of Accounting.

“Even though our financial statements are not public, they are highly scrutinized by some very important people in the marketplace,” he says. “We have a responsibility to make our documents the same quality as those documents being filed publicly.”

In 2015, Roper was tapped to lead financial reporting at National Vision and prepare monthly financial reports for company executives. He produces the company’s quarterly reviews and annual financial reports which are sent to external stakeholders. Roper has one senior accountant reporting to him and works closely with other accountants in the organization.

When Roper joined National Vision, the vice president-controller said a top priority was finding a new financial reporting technology solution. And after completing one annual report and three quarterly reports using the company’s old system, Roper clearly understood the need.

Like many companies its size, National Vision's financial reporting team was using Word® to write and format reports, then inserting pictures of tables produced in Excel®. Roper would convert the document to a PDF and send it out for review via email to various constituents, all of whom returned comments to him via track changes.

“It was frustrating because every time there was a change, I had to reimport the picture into the financial statements and make sure I had the correct, final version,” he says. “It was very manual, tedious, and time-consuming.”

Roper worked on the financial statements for eight weeks and estimates that approximately 25% of that time was non-value administrative time. Wdesk has cut administrative time by more than half, giving him at least an additional week of value-added research and other time to enhance the quality of the Company’s financial statements and disclosures.

Roper has one in-house reviewer and a group of external auditors from one of the Big 4. During review, he’d go through a long cycle of emailing the document to his auditors and having them send their comments and questions back. “You don’t really like to do that because you own the document,” he says. Beyond losing control over the document, the process created multiple versions that were difficult to track.

A simple choice

“We just knew we had to do something different. We were primed and ready,” says Roper. He asked colleagues and his auditors for recommendations and one name kept surfacing: Wdesk.

Roper didn’t hesitate. “Given the overall market share Workiva has, combined with the positive feedback we received without any negative feedback, it was a simple choice.” Selling the new solution to management was easy because the controller had the foresight to include a potential solution in the company's budget.

Roper says the transition to Wdesk was “seamless.”

Training was limited to a few online videos and an hour-long call with his Customer Success Manager (CSM). “The customer service I’ve received from Workiva has been excellent—very responsive.”

Once his CSM set up the company's files and he validated them, Roper was on his way. “In terms of what I needed to get going on my financial statements, it was pretty easy to pull that together.”

He says even though he’s not a technology person, Wdesk is easy to use. “Sometimes you can be overwhelmed by technology, but with Wdesk, I feel like I have a good handle on the vast majority of the features I need.”

National Vision's 2015 annual financial statement was the first report Roper produced using Wdesk. Even with the transition to Wdesk, he saved time compared to his previous process. He expects to save even more time on future reports.

Significant improvement

Data from National Vision's ledger system is easily transferred to Wdesk. “The format we have makes it easy for data to be moved right in,” he comments. Once his data is in the Wdesk workbook, it’s linked through his reports, so if Roper changes a source number, it’s automatically updated throughout the files. “The ability to key in the number, validate it, and have it appear in financial statements is a big time-saver,” says Roper.

“Wdesk has improved my reporting process significantly—now I have a one-stop shop,” says Roper. His auditors have seen improvements, too. Now they leave comments right in Wdesk for Roper to review and incorporate as he sees fit. “We received some positive feedback. It’s nice for them to go in and see the latest version and add comments,” he says.

With only one version of each report in the cloud, Wdesk reports are always up-to-date, and it’s easy for Roper to run a blackline showing what changes were made and when. “That’s a really good feature. If anyone wants to see any work that I have done, Wdesk has a full history from the beginning.”

The controller has also noted that Wdesk is “intuitive with a professional looking output.”

Would Roper recommend Wdesk to a financial reporting director at another private company?

“I would. Based on the quality of documents I’m preparing, I would want them to have the same experience I’ve had if they were mired in that old Excel and Word world. I use Wdesk every day, and I definitely recommend it.”

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