Six months after Tyro implemented Blackline software, Casper Deman, Tyro’s Finance Project lead, joins Octane’s Amendra Pratap, for a fireside chat to discuss life after Blackline. Let’s dive into the learnings from Caspar Deman while implementing Blackline Software in a high-growth organisation like Tyro.
Download the full case study at the end of this article.
Q. Why don't you give us a quick introduction to your interactions with Blackline Reconciliation?
Casper: "I worked at News Corp for eight years. My last role at News Corp for the last probably a year and a half was heading up the financial services team. That included financial accounting, a much larger proposition than Tyro.
We had about 25 financial accountants on the team there with a reasonably mature Blackline consolidation doing the balance sheet recs for the whole business. We covered off probably around 1400 balance sheet recs a month. It was much larger than what we're doing now at Tyro which is probably between 100 and 120."
Q. Would you be able to give us a brief introduction to Tyro?
Casper: "Tyro is a fintech company. We're essentially the fifth largest payment processor in Australia behind the big four banks. Tyro has become one of the largest processors of financial transactions primarily in the bricks-and-mortar payments market.
The next time you go into any of your local shops, have a look at the branding on the terminal of your receipt when you wave your card or your phone. You'll be surprised how often it says ‘powered by Tyro’."
Q. What was your major motivation behind implementing Blackline in Tyro?
Casper: "Our major motivation was the automation of our manual reconciliation process. We had an extremely manual reconciliation process at month end. Getting to the actual closing of the GL was not too bad a process but then preparing balance sheet recs themselves were extremely manual as they were done in Excel.
In a broad sense, we were actually hoping to achieve Scalability, Collaboration, and Governance through Blackline implementation at Tyro which was simply not possible with the Excel-based workflow."
Amendra: "We’re working with new clients and when we get to talk to them, they tell us that one of the key reasons that they're putting Blackline in is to try and retain staff. Because they can't afford to have anyone leave. They also can't afford to have employees come in and live in Excel doing reconciliations. Because everyone's looking to get to the next level.
Putting a system like Blackline ensures the automation that allows people to work on things that matter and makes it easier for them to move up the ladder while ensuring the quality of work."
Q. So the Spreadsheet-based workflow was not working for you?
Casper: "The major problems with spreadsheet-based workflow were the linked comments and review points that were typed into the documents by the reviewers all over the spreadsheets.
Everyone used a different mechanism to sort and maintain the status of their spreadsheets. Some would color it green, some would make it bold and someone else would type something next to their recs that would only make sense to them. Basically, everyone managed it differently and it was not working for us at all."
Q. Are you starting to see changes in workflow after Blackline Reconciliation?
Casper: "After Blackline implementation, it's taking a lot less time for consolidation. The team members can all work simultaneously facilitating the collaboration which is starting to deliver. After our evolution, we have been able to get a clear reporting on the number of reconciling items that need an action plan. According to how old they are: 60 days 90 days whatever it might be."
Q. Tell us more about how Blackline improved collaboration in your Team.
Casper: "We've moved away from an environment where everyone was working in spreadsheets. All our team members couldn’t get access to the main spreadsheet, reviewers had to work consecutively. They had to wait until the spreadsheet was complete because they couldn't be in there at the same time.
Whereas Backline is a single platform. Everyone can log in at the same time. Everyone can be preparing their recs simultaneously while reviewers can review them in real-time. Once they're finished, reviewers can send back their clear comments on what needs to be addressed the following month."
Q. Do you think Blackline reconciliation has prepared you for Tyro’s rapid growth?
Casper: "With Blackline implementation, we now know that we have built-in scalability. We haven't actually increased the number of recs yet. But if we do need to start preparing more reconciliations down the line, we know that through the Blackline feature set, we will easily be able to achieve it. The fact that there is more automation and that it just takes us less time to prepare a rec simplifies our overall month-end setup."
Q. Does that mean you have been able to reduce your Excel dependence?
Casper: "Absolutely. We're not having to roll over spreadsheets and download the trial balances. We've sort of created an environment where if we decide we want to manage our balance sheet differently or we go through a process and acquire a business or whatever it might be we’ll be able to do it with speed and efficiency."
Q. How did Blackline implementation improve governance in your team?
Casper: "The governance really falls out of collaboration. The fact that you can track comments, the number of reconciling items and the age of such items help a lot. We can draft the action plan for the resolution of those items. But we're only about to come up to our third-month end with Blackline. So we’re yet to see it in full action as everyone at our organisation is getting used to it."
Q. Let’s step back and talk about the Risks that working with Excel introduced.
Casper: "There are a lot of risks involved while using Excel. But the major risk is accuracy. It's obviously very easy for someone to make a mistake in Excel. Mostly when you've got linked spreadsheets. You update a link while people are using lookups and pivoting tables. That increases the risk of error quite substantially.
There's also a commercial risk. Lots of items were just not getting resolved on a timely basis. Because with Excel we didn't have tools for any kind of reporting per se. All we had was the individual recs. And we'd have to go through the individual recs to identify the items and then as I mentioned earlier we’d try and figure out how old they are and what had happened to them while decoding through the comments that people had put in there.
Sometimes, there would be staff turnovers and we didn’t know what they meant when they put initials or color coding while working on the sheets."
Q. How has Blackline Reconciliation helped you mitigate these risks?
Casper: "With Blackline, you can very clearly have dashboards that are reporting on everything. Out of my 120 recs this is how many have reconciling items over this certain age and this is whom they belong to. You can then pinpoint and drill into the issues very quickly to see what action plan they've actually set up within Blackline to get it cleared."
Q. Can you give us a snapshot of your experience with the Blackline implementation process?
Casper: "Overall it went pretty well. I think that the difference between doing it here compared to doing it at News Corp was that they would generally throw money at it. Not just in terms of yeah we're going to pay for this system but also in terms of having a team of people focused on implementing this. Whereas with Tyro, we're a bit smaller and a bit more nimble.
We were working with Octane and our own employees were involved. Carving out people's time to focus on implementation was harder to do. We were holding ourselves accountable for delivering on our timetable.
I think overall there were times when I thought we were definitely not going to make it, but as you know in the end we did make it. So that was good."
Q.How long does it take to implement Blackline?
Casper: "Our implementation took probably around 6 to 8 weeks. I think that time can flex depending on how much time you can dedicate to the implementation from your side. The teams are stretched and so you can't really dedicate yourself full time to doing the blackline implementation."
Amendra: "We probably spend about under 20 days while implementing the Blackline Reconciliation. But sometimes we still have a few things to come back to. There are sometimes things like task management and everything else. A typical full implementation for a business of Tyro’s size is around 20 days or under."
Q. Is Blackline a GL system?
Amendra: "No, Blackline is not a General Ledger system. It sits on top of the GL systems bringing the relevant data that allows you to do your reconciliations at the month end. It helps you close your books quickly. Basically, it enhances your GL system. A typical GL system doesn’t have these functionalities."
Casper: "Just to add to that, we use it primarily for the preparation of the balance sheet reconciliations. Blackline ingests our General Ledger into its system. Then it enables an automated way to assign tasks, collaborate, and manage clearances of reconciling items while preparing recs. It’s a much cleaner system when compared to traditional Excel spreadsheets."
Q. Let’s talk about the benefits that you’ve realised after the Blackline implementation.
Casper: "We're only going into our third month. It’s hard to realize the benefits in the first couple of months because it's naturally just going to take people longer to get used to working with the system. But we clearly will be able to measure the length of time to achieve our month-end close.
We know how much we took before the Blackline Reconciliation, now we can target to complete it much earlier. The governance piece will become clearer over time once we actually start properly drilling down on the number of aged items. We'll be able to track it over time and see the number of reconciling items reduce.
We already have lots of anecdotal evidence of Blackline automating everything and facilitating collaboration among team members. As a whole, the morale of our team has been boosted as they’re not wasting their time on repetitive tasks. Moving forward, we’ll soon have benefits that we can empirically measure."