Can finance keep up with global operational ambitions?
First published on Financieel-Management.nl, March 27, 2020. by Frank de Smit. Translated from Dutch.
Operating around the world, being able to respond quickly to local and regional market developments, but with financial reporting that bumps weeks or even months behind. That is still the practice for many multinationals. How do you, as a global player, ensure that reporting processes and audits are not a delaying factor, but keep pace with operational activities and ambitions?
Financial reporting of a listed multinational is not only more complex due to the larger amount of figures. The central financial team has to deal with, among other things, the specific requirements of supervisors per country and continent and the changing systems and formats of local branches. For example, research by audit firm Ernst & Young shows that nearly 75 percent of all companies currently need to extract data and figures from more than six different reporting systems, such as ERP, CRM and HCM.
The rearguard action of finance
Even large, leading organizations such as NXP Semiconductors and Alcon, the world's largest eye care company, ran up against the fact that finance was always fighting a rearguard. Figures from various platforms first had to be linked before an unambiguous report could be produced. Charles Silvey, Alcon's Global Head of Internal Audit, which operates in 70 countries, explains how this happened earlier: "Until recently, it often took three to four months to publish an audit report."
Bryan Moiles, Vice President of Controllership at NXP, also looks back with some surprise to the reporting process not so long ago: "Previously, the team that compiled the files for the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for NXP had to manually Checking Word documents and Excel tables. If there were any last minute changes, it was quite stressful to say it carefully. " Moreover, a multinational has to deal with different time zones. A European finance team receives the figures from Asia early in the morning and those from the US late in the evening. That's tricky on regular working days, but with a deadline at the end of a reporting period, it can get really problematic.
The whole process in one system
The problem with fragmented systems and dispersed resources is not just the tough merging and integration process. If the data is disconnected from the source, there is a high risk that the information in the reporting system will lose the context and background of the data. This makes extra checking and validation a lot more difficult.
Both NXP Semiconductors and Alcon have now taken the step of linking their reporting in one system, with one central data source. Alcon currently uses the Workiva platform for audit, risk management and Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX) compliance processes worldwide. NXP Semiconductors uses Workiva to make files more efficient for the US SEC and to modernize SOX processes.
Huge time savings
For NXP, the benefits are immediately apparent. Bryan Moiles: "Having one 'source of truth' now is perhaps the biggest gain. That saves time and prevents mistakes." Thanks to the switch to the Workiva platform, users with the appropriate rights can request real-time data, compile reports and manage certificates.
Moiles: "Everyone always works with the most recent version." The teams can also always connect the reports to the source data, from the hundreds of input points. Moreover, there is always an audit trail; at any time you can see who made which changes.
In addition, there is the possibility to add comments in an editorial field, which shows which issues were at issue and how they were resolved. With Workiva, Moiles and his team can set up automatic updates, track every change and collaborate with colleagues around the world without delay to create reliable reports and regulatory records. "I think this is the first time in my experience that we have been able to approve the reports, well before the deadline."
Minutes instead of days or weeks
"We save a lot of time with Workiva," said Charles Silvey of Alcon. He also uses Workiva to build Alcon's risk management process. "We can combine all our risk and audit data and see immediate added value in the form of time savings." The ability to combine data from all spreadsheets and reports and automate processes was key for Alcon to use Workiva to monitor and test internal controls for SOX compliance. Silvey and his team can instantly combine their SOX risk management matrix, process descriptions and flow charts in their documents and reports with a simple workflow. "Now SOX administrators know exactly which step of the process they are in minutes. Before we used Workiva, it took days, if not weeks,
"The Workiva platform is the only solution that allows us to work around the clock without worrying about different document versions," Moiles concludes. "The Workiva platform is now the central point of reference for all our reports. Because everything is interconnected, we can respond faster if we get last minute changes."
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