May 14, 2020

Video: Can a Remote Close Be Successful?

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In this video, Partner Roderick Carmody and Director Jen Iwanicki take a look at orchestrating a close with a remote work force.

Got 5 minutes? Emerge Stronger: Executive Insights for Uncertain Times is a weekly video series where we share perspectives on what we’re hearing from clients and the market about what companies are doing to navigate these challenging times and plan ahead for success.

Watch here, or continue for the full transcript.

RODERICK CARMODY: Hi I’m Roderick Carmody and today’s topic is orchestrating a close with a remote workforce. My guest today is Jen Iwanicki, a Director at CrossCountry who specializes in helping clients improve their month-end close process, Jen thanks for joining me.

JEN IWANICKI: Thanks for having me.

RODERICK CARMODY: I appreciate it. I think even in the best of times that the close can be a challenge for clients – it’s stressful, a lot of late nights, always seems to be running out of time. And then you take that and you put it in today’s environment, exasperated by a remote workforce, technology solutions stretched to their outer limits – I can really only imagine that clients are reinventing the close on the fly.

From your perspective, now that we have a couple of virtual closes behind us, what are you seeing in the marketplace?

JEN IWANICKI: Sure. So you know surprisingly, and maybe it’s a little counterintuitive, we’re seeing clients use this current situation as an opportunity to reevaluate the close process, and in some cases, actually making progress and taking time off that cycle. You know what we’re seeing is a lot of clients tend to get stuck in a cycle of this is how we’ve always done it, and they’re jumping from close to close, and not having an opportunity to step back and think, is this the right way to do it, just because we’ve always done it this way?

So this current environment is allowing for a fresh look at what can lead to ultimate process improvements, and getting rid of some of the manual work that’s been happening. When you’re in an environment where you want to be more conscientious about people’s time, you’re going to look for ways to not be maybe processing lots of pieces of paper, and asking for a lot of emails, and walking over to someone’s desk trying to work through a reconciliation. So you really look for ways to automate the process and make it better for everyone.

RODERICK CARMODY: Thanks Jen. And maybe not what I was expecting to that question, but if a CFO called and said they wanted your advice, they did want to use this time to really think about how to improve the month-end close process, what advice would you give them?

JEN IWANICKI: Sure. I mean, I think I could boil it down to maybe three top things, the first having a full view of the close steps, that’s documented and used as a communication tool to track progress, escalate issues and be able to provide transparency to the leadership team as to where everybody is.

We’ve been working with a client where they had a very accounting function-focused calendar, and when we dug in with a lot of the different teams, we found out that there are things happening on the operations side that were holding up the accounting work. And so when we were able to document that and really kind of unwind it, we were able to shift some of the times and the efforts around so that they could actually get to that desired close date.

Another tip I would suggest is evaluating activities using a time and risk perspective. You know, looking at things like reconciliation and trying to tie things out to the dollar or to the penny, isn’t always the best use of time and probably doesn’t have a lot of materiality. So taking a pause and thinking, you know, maybe this worked when we were a $50 million business, or $100 million business, but now we’re much larger, we’re international, we don’t necessarily need to tie out everything to the penny. And changing that policy can help make some of the procedures go a little faster.

And then my final point is really around the people and increasing the frequency of communication. Having a daily huddle if you haven’t been having one before – maybe having two a day if you’re in a very critical part of the close process – is really effective and gets everyone together as a team. Having the post-close and pre-close meetings to align on what might be issues, what’s coming down, maybe there’s an audit, maybe there’s a system outage or an upgrade that’s planned. So being able to communicate that across the team builds transparency.

And then finally, making sure that that keeps the culture of the company right, so you want your team to still feel like they’re connected and part of the team and not just processing journal entries for the sake of journal entries. Having that communication line is really important to keep up morale and keep up the culture.

RODERICK CARMODY: Switching gears slightly, we’re hearing that a lot of clients are thinking about digital transformation in this environment. And I’m curious, are you hearing things from clients related to potential technology improvements to accelerate the close process?

JEN IWANICKI: Yes absolutely, and it doesn’t always have to be about a big BRP implementation or reporting tool. There’s three types of quick wins where the win is measured in a matter of weeks rather than a matter of months or a year – the first being implementing collaboration tools, having places to put secure files, like a Dropbox or a SharePoint, getting a license for DocuSign for critical journal entries and approvals, and other areas are PA. So looking at places where you can automate a repeatable process, like a reconciliation, like a report, that saves a lot of time and people can work on other things while that runs in the background.

And then finally, some more sophisticated workflow tools that help drive a close forward – so Block Line and Flowcast come to mind there – where you’re really being able to send alerts and have somebody, having a computer really, manage that close process and kick off other things as they finish. Really helpful to keep things moving forward.

RODERICK CARMODY: Thanks Jen. And last question, do you see long-term benefits for clients that use now as an opportunity to invest in improving their close cycle?

JEN IWANICKI: Yes absolutely. Anything that’s been implemented during this close is going to continue to help you when you get back into the office, particularly around the tools, so people may be able to come back and work on other projects and think about how to continuously improve. So I think that there’s really no downside to taking a look at the close right now.

RODERICK CARMODY: Sounds good. Well thanks Jen, appreciate your thoughts and perspectives and thank you all for joining us today. Hope you enjoyed it.