July 7, 2017
Two Views on How BlackLine Saves Time & Trials
Posted by Sean Batchelor
Using BlackLine to automate the close process will save you time and aggravation―something I’ve witnessed from two different perspectives. Not only have I seen how automation helps my Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) clients here at Armanino, I’ve also experienced the benefits of BlackLine firsthand, while working in the general ledger (GL) group at a large insurance company.
While I was with the GL group, we implemented BlackLine’s account reconciliation and task management modules, which enabled us to move away from manual reconciliations housed on a shared drive. Previously, we had been tracking task and reconciliation completion/review status on an Excel spreadsheet, which was inefficient and caused a risk of newly added GL accounts not being reconciled in a timely manner. We also had no dashboard to assess the status of the overall close process in real time, because the team was often too busy to update the status tracker immediately after completion of a reconciliation or task.
Automation reduced our month-end close by about three days almost immediately and made my life easier in multiple ways. For example, we no longer had to run GL queries to pull the current month activity/balance to see if a reconciliation was necessary, because BlackLine’s auto-certification feature took the guessing out of the equation. Tasks with dependencies (i.e., allocations) also became more efficient, because the BlackLine system enabled the use of dependency rules with completion notifications sent directly via workflow. Before, the preparer of the dependent task had to notify the other individual that it had been completed, either verbally or by email―which was not always done promptly.
BlackLine’s templates further expedited the review process, because they made the reconciliations uniform and enabled the preparer to attach or embed supporting schedules by individual reconciling line item. In addition, the system enforced the use of backup preparers, which helped the team cover for people who were out of the office, because there was no uncertainty about who was preparing what. The system’s cloud technology also made it easier to work remotely.
Here at Armanino, I’ve witnessed how automating the close process with BlackLine supports my clients’ SOX compliance. For instance, GL balance and sub-ledger balances are interfaced directly with the ERP system and can’t be manipulated by the preparer on the face of the reconciliation. This allows clients to spend less time proving completeness and accuracy by way of screenshots, etc.
Review precision is more easily apparent. Thresholds are clearly evident, and the face of the reconciliation has a reviewer comment section that can be rolled-forward each month automatically and can list review procedures performed (like a checklist). Considerations of outliers can also be documented, for management review controls, within the comment section. There is also less risk of exceptions or audit findings, because missed reconciliations and tasks are much less likely to fall through the cracks, thanks to the status dashboard and the system-enforced preparer backup assignments.
Another plus: BlackLine’s time-stamped workflow makes it easier to provide evidence of appropriate, timely review. The system also enables auditors to pull reconciliations and support themselves, which greatly eases the burden on the accounting staff.
Sean has over 8 years of public accounting experience with Armanino in both the audit and consulting departments with a focus on SOX (risk assessment, testing and documentation), SOC audits as well as full-scope financial statement audits (full cycle experience from client engagement to opinion issuance). In addition to his experience at Armanino, he has experience in corporate GL accounting with AAA NCNU Insurance Exchange. Sean has served clients in a variety of industries including high technology, manufacturing, financial services, private lending and insurance.