Accounting teams can’t be blamed if the sudden shift to remote work during the global pandemic led to hiccups in daily or monthly processes. Accountants typically sit in close physical proximity to one another, which allows them to quickly ask teammates questions or grab a piece of data needed for a given journal entry, reconciliation or analysis.
The day-to-day function of accounting teams is one thing, but the issue is magnified further for labor-intensive processes such as the monthly close. With so many moving parts in play, being forced to pull it off with a virtual-only distributed team at first seemed like a daunting, if not impossible, task.
Against all conventional wisdom, however, that has not been the case for the accounting team here at Marqeta. My team is proof that with a software-based approach, it is possible to actually shave hours — or even days — off the monthly close, even during the complete shift to a work-from-home model. To that end, the move to remote work has made us realize that modern accounting software such as financial close solutions is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. There are three major reasons why:
1. Seamless collaboration and teamwork: As I previously mentioned, most accounting teams typically collaborate in the same room or office. Our workstations are right next to each other, so we can lean over to ask colleagues a quick question (or even yell a team-wide question across the room when we’re really in crunch time).
With that ability currently impossible, financial close software not only helps bridge the gaps created by remote work, but in some cases, makes collaboration even more efficient. For example, since all necessary data is updated and viewable in real-time, it’s easy to see who is responsible for which individual tasks, as well as how far along they are with that task. If you need to ask a question about a specific aspect of the monthly close, you can save time by seeing who the exact person is who will know the answer or piece of data you need, assign a note and avoid wasting the team’s time with mass emails or Slack messages.
2. Team-wide transparency: When teams are distributed, it can be hard to know who is working on a specific task at any given point in time. SaaS-based accounting software addresses this issue by continually updating statuses in real-time, so team members know where they are throughout the close. This type of transparency is valuable in any setting, but it’s absolutely paramount in situations like the current one with each team member working from their home office.
Anyone who went from working in an office to working from home can probably relate to the accompanying increase in internal Zoom or video calls designed to make sure teams are aligned and effectively communicating. This has waned a bit as we’ve all become more used to remote work, but there are still times when the sheer number of virtual meetings can seriously cut into your day and negatively impact productivity. For accounting teams, this is another area where modern close management software has proved vital — instead of having to constantly ask the team for updates, we can see where we are throughout the close process, concentrate on tasks that are time-sensitive or even behind schedule, and focus our internal communication on these more important and pressing issues.
3. Continuous improvement with close data: Improving the monthly close process in terms of both time-to-close and the quality of close is a continuous process of learning. Having data to evaluate the close process is extremely useful to this learning, and close management software provides key data that can be distilled and analyzed. At Marqeta, we use the software to plot trend lines of when close steps are completed (including when we planned to complete the task and when we actually completed the task), by area and team member. And each month we review the close data and tweak our close schedule going forward to ensure proper load balancing of tasks.
As the team has become more experienced with the software, we’ve been able to set it up to meet our specific needs and refine our entire monthly close process. When I first joined this team nearly two years ago, a soft monthly close could take us up to 24 business days. Needless to say, that left us little time to get ready for the next month’s close.
As we implemented and learned to use financial close software, however, we were able to shave hours and days off of the close each month, eventually reducing it to a nine-day process. We would have been content keeping it at nine days when the shift to remote work set in, but somewhat remarkably, we have actually been able to shave another two days off the close, even in the face of the challenges presented by working from home. It’s a testament to the team’s collective hard work and willingness to adapt, but it also would have been impossible without software in place.
When I look back at previous jobs I’ve had, I’m kicking myself for not implementing modern close software to help with the monthly close. Delivering a high quality, timely close for the company requires extreme coordination of lots of data, processes and controls. It is paramount as the team moves through a close cycle that we have down-to-the-minute information on the status of all these moving parts. This allows us to quickly adjust assigned tasks, escalate and resolve issues, and then further refine our close cadence for future periods. Financial close software has allowed us to know exactly where we’re at throughout the close process, helping us avoid tension and stress while simultaneously boosting efficiency and productivity.