Retirement System Gains 3 Weeks in CAFR Process with Workiva
The Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS) wanted more control over their documents than they had when working with an outside publisher.
- Shaved 3 weeks off the CAFR process, gaining time to focus on other work
- Saved an estimated 300 hours of employees' time preparing the CAFR
- Went from "all hands on deck" during CAFR season to freeing the accounting manager to focus on her accounting team
- Cost-neutral switch from using a traditional printer to using the Workiva cloud platform
Why They Chose Workiva
- User-friendly interface
- Easy-to-see benefits of automating menial tasks
- Features including blacklines to ease reviews between two versions of a document
- Control over their own documents from beginning to end instead of sending drafts back and forth to a traditional publisher
Try researching and writing a book in six months or less, and that's basically what it feels like to produce a comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR) every year. Yet Cheryl Jahnke and Tim Rekow of the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS) say CAFR season is one of their favorites.
"I would say it's the most fun project that I get to work on each year. It's a feat," said Tim, Chief Financial Officer of MSRS. "We're talking over 200 pages of tons of details, and we have to have every single figure right. It has to be accurate, it has to be supported, and it's an endeavor. It is a lot of time. It's a ton of effort."
Though finishing a CAFR on time can be stressful, Cheryl said she had no concerns about completing the 2020 edition on time, even as most people worked from home. That's due in large part to her team's decision a few years earlier to move the CAFR process to the cloud.
"It hasn’t even occurred to me to be worried about meeting deadlines this year," Cheryl said.
Transforming the CAFR process
Until a few years ago, the MSRS team would put documents and spreadsheets into PDF files to send back and forth to a contractor for editing and publishing. Staying on top of all the versions was "chaos," Cheryl said. Making a late change could throw off the layout of the final document, so it was an adventure to see what came back from the publisher, Cheryl quipped.
"I'm not necessarily a control freak, but it was really hard to lose touch with something that you're directly responsible for in multiple points of a process," Tim said.
When Tim learned that using CAFR software to streamline the reporting process wouldn't necessarily cost any more than contracting with a publisher, the hunt for a solution was on. They chose the Workiva connected reporting platform because:
- It had the friendliest user interface
- Users can create their own blacklines in minutes to quickly see what changed between versions
- By linking data across the document, they can automatically update all instances of a data point in the CAFR by updating information at the source
- They can attach supporting documents to specific pages so reviewers can access them easily
- The team can log in to their work from anywhere with a secure internet connection
- Everyone can collaborate in real time in the cloud and see each other's work, if they have the right permissions
"With Workiva, it was really quite easy to see the benefits right away," Tim said.
Losing stress while gaining flexibility and control
The MSRS team spent time up front initially setting up their first CAFR in the Workiva platform and linking data. In the second year, they shaved three weeks off the process, saving an estimated 300 hours. An accounting manager who once pitched in to get the CAFR over the finish line is now able to focus on her own team, and Cheryl has more time for her risk management responsibilities.
"It's made my life easier just because it's removed so much stress, so many time pressures," Cheryl said. "It's just improved the process with being able to do things electronically and not pass paper around."
Tim can review pages remotely, which gives him the flexibility to take a break from work to spend time with his wife and kids in the evening and log in later to review drafts and supporting documents from home. Reviewing work at home wasn't really practical in the past. "You'd have to pack up a suitcase with the documentation to be able to tie things out," Tim said.
The team can attend the annual P2F2 conference in October for public pensions without worrying about the CAFR work they're pausing and enjoy more fall weekends before the Minnesota winter sets in.
MSRS also is starting to use Workiva for risk management. Cheryl and Tim expect to see the same efficiencies and control in risk management that they did with the annual report that's read by retirement system members, the public, and bond rating agencies.
"To know that our CAFR is complete and accurate and that people can rely on it, it's a really nice feeling," Tim said.